As the official photographer of the Kingfisher Calendar for its eight editions from 2003-2010, mine is arguably the best job in the world. At least my friends insist that it is. Vijay Mallya calls me the “Prince of the Good Times!” But, regardless of the fact that I shoot with bikini babes for a sensual booze calendar, I believe women are the reason worth living for. They are incredible human beings, strong and beautiful, and this has nothing at all to do with their bodies.
But as a job, this too comes with a ridiculous amount of pressure. If some of you believe taking photographs of women who wear less than 40 cm of cloth is endless fun and games at breathtaking, private beaches, think again. Anyone assisting me in the making of the calendar, including the man who directed the television show to hunt for the faces, turns professionally clinical in just a matter of five hours. Then all that “dust the sand off her butt” or “add some cleavage” is just a matter of photographic precision and aesthetic.
The Kingfisher Calendar has been the launch pad for some of the biggest names in the glamour industry. Unlike beauty pageants, which require contestants to make promises to end world poverty, models chosen for this calendar have to do just one thing. Look great. This also means having endless legs. Most men are obsessed with big breasts but I am not. Anyway, for a swimsuit model, it is the legs that make the cut. Boobs can be enhanced by silicone, lighting, makeup or Photoshop, but you can’t fix the legs if you don’t have them. If the flare of the hips is high and the legs long and lean, girls give the illusion of being tall, even if they are only 5 feet 6 inches.
Here is a list of my personal favourites down the years. All of them owe their initial success and media attention to the calendar.
Katrina Kaif - 2003 Katrina was fresh off the boat from the UK when we shot her for the 2003 edition. Frankly, she was too chubby then to be a swimsuit model but we believed in her future potential. After a few other attempts, the captivating horse image happened. We also ensured that all the pictures of chief guest Shahrukh Khan at the calendar launch were taken in front of Katrina’s image. The phone started ringing for her almost immediately and hasn’t stopped since.
Deepika Padukone - 2006 She was a star even when she was 17. I saw her and, instinctively, knew she had rare oomph. But I wanted her to wait a year or two to get a mature body language. So it was only a matter of time that she became our swimsuit model. Given those athletic genes and an endless frame, her calendar images were iconic and continue to be used by the media even now, five years later. Her appearance in the calendar put her in another orbit. Everyone sat up and noticed the next bright big thing and, for her, a continuing fairytale ensued.
Deepti Gujral - 2007 Deepti’s amazonic proportions were a challenge for me to shoot. She trained diligently for three months and followed the advice of a nutritionist to whip herself into swimsuit condition. The image with killer whales was the most published from the 2007 calendar. The French whale trainer cautioned her, in total seriousness, that sometimes the Orca tend to slink out of the water and take a bite at people they don’t recognise. Deepti survived.
Tamara Moss - 2008 She is a unique model. I have learnt that it is best that I let her know the area she’s being photographed in and then to leave her alone. She proceeds to do the strangest things, from bursting into song to a pole dance. All of which is magical. No two pictures of hers end up looking alike. She made best friends with Rajan the elephant in the Andamans and the tusker got so possessive that he would nudge even his mahout away. That’s sex appeal.
Monikangana Dutta – 2009 To me, Moni defines the word photogenic. It is an altogether different person you see when you pick up the camera and look at her through a lens. I have always promoted dusky girls and have avoided shooting for fairness creams. I’m delighted now that she has an important role in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s next magnum opus, Guzaarish. Word has it that ‘SLB’ considered her calendar images magical.