These Surreal Photographs Of Indian Celebrities Will Blow Your Mind

30/06/2015 12:56 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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Aj Raina

Photographer AJ Raina doesn't believe in cliché-perfect photography. Instead, he looks to highlight the finer details that will ultimately tell a story through his work (featured below). "I develop layers in a picture that continue to tell a story for the viewer, instead of a ten-second tale that finishes abruptly," he said in an interview with HuffPost India.

The Delhi-based photographer who has never professionally studied photography (he picked up photography in 2007 and started shooting professionally in 2010) claims that he would like to fuse his surrealist ideals while shooting with Indian celebrities to showcase them in a different light, quite unlike what they're used to being shot as. "Photography in India is on the horizon where actors and other celebrities will start experimenting in print, instead of just being concerned about how exquisite and perfect they look," he said. "We already know how perfect they look. If I were to show Shah Rukh Khan sitting on a sofa, it wouldn't really do much."

aj raina

A self-shot portrait of photographer AJ Raina, shot in his signature style.

To create his pictures, AJ sketches his scenes before he actually shoots, sometimes years in advance. He has always had to convince his subjects about the theme of his pictures and says that they have always loved it. "You have to be extremely organised before the shoot — I have left things out in the earlier years when I was developing these skill sets," said the photographer who won 18 awards in Paris at the Prix De La Photographie, one year after he started shooting professionally.

Deeply influenced by several artists from different genres (from Michel Comte to Rembrandt and A.R. Rehman to Kazuo Ishiguro), AJ aims at establishing his work as something along the lines of Annie Leibovitz in India. He wants to create sets that cater to his surreal sense of art, instead of having to rely on post-work tools (higher budgets are not easy to find in India). He would love to shoot with Priyanka Chopra as his next subject. "She's really edgy and experimental, and has already done shoots that are blurring boundaries," he said, also adding that he'd love to feature Kareena Kapoor and Saif Ali Khan in a fairy tale series.

"It’s not about just taking a picture — anyone can take a picture. In its finality, art should be entertaining and uplifting and make you smile," finished AJ.

  • Kalki Koechlin
    AJ Raina
    I love and admire Kalki so much, she's a thinker, writer, poet, actor, so much intensity... I think this image for me was her silencing the doubters, in her own quiet way.
  • Kalki Koechlin
    AJ Raina
    This image was taken at a really slow speed — the people walking across her are blurred while she's standing still. It's a representation of two things: the first is how life can seem to stand still for a certain individual, how in spite of their best efforts they haven't gotten anywhere, even though everyone else around them appear to be progressing really fast. The second is that the same person becomes the centre of attention when he/she starts doing well. This is symbolic of Kalki's journey, and what many creative people go through. She is profoundly creative. Somehow she wasn't immediately identifiable or relatable — so it was a struggle for someone as bright as her. It's perfect. A kind of sad that then becomes brilliant when you're in the centre.
  • Virat Kohli
    AJ Raina
    When shooting a star, I don't believe in always highlighting his face — after all he's already known. I could relate to Virat, because I played cricket in college, and I understand where he's come from and how much he's achieved. Beyond his talent is the ability to deliver in crunch situations, and that really comes from how strong you are mentally. He is reputed for coming in and turning an ugly game on its head — and I wanted to turn him on his (it was a quiet joke for me). So I shot it in a way where I just wanted to let him float there and relax.
  • Virat Kohli
    AJ Raina
    This was a quick 10-minute portrait session that Virat agreed to after the main shoot. We usually see Virat looking very intense, and I just wanted him to be extremely expressive. I had him laughing, had a tear going down his cheek, and tried to bring out a cooler side by using cool blue and grey hues. I guess it's always good to be reminded that there's another side to you.
  • Robert Vadra
    AJ Raina
    Robert is one of those people, who has been coloured in a certain way. I had the challenge of shooting this man (who people felt very strongly about) in a different light. I was initially briefed to show him in a powerful light, surrounded by his Porsche, his watches and his super bike. But to thrust him as a privileged person down people's throats seemed a little dangerous. I wanted to show his human side. Robert loves fitness, so we exploited that. We wanted something strong without the suits. We had a nice sky in the back. I remember people being really surprised.
  • Sunil Chhetri
    AJ Raina
    I think Sunil Chhetri has been born in the wrong country — he's playing a sport that we're not very good at as a nation. This was shot around the time he landed a deal with a club in Europe. The editor told me to shoot Chhetri as he was the 'next big thing', and he was going to achieve 'great heights'. The original shoot was supposed to be with him getting out of a car surrounded by women, and such stuff. Instead I decided to take the editor's words literally, and created Chhetri ascending.
  • Chitrangda Singh
    AJ Raina
    I love the whole surreal dreamy fairytale set — Chitrangda was perfect for it. We had these sets made (I had sketched them out before the shoot). She was a little apprehensive about the whole idea initially, but loved the shoot, five minutes into it.
  • Chitrangda Singh
    Aj Raina
    I have an affinity for little jokes, and I try to put whatever logic in my head at that point: For me, Chitrangda is smoking hot. She isn't one of those stars who need to be put together — she already is the complete package. So I had her breathing smoke.
  • Chitrangda Singh
    Aj Raina
    Chitrangda is so edgy and unique -I wanted a gentler picture of hers. So while she was clad in her feminine, Sleeping Beauty-esque gown, we created sparks at the back (a dicey technique). I also love the water element by her feet — the fact that she's not standing on a clean surface, but a rough one.
  • Chitrangda Singh
    Aj Raina
    Having a real rabbit in this picture was wonderful — it's soft and cuddly, and I just wanted to use it. For me, using the rabbit, and the weird walnut in the corner was a small step in the right direction. I love using animals or props or costumes that will take a narrative into even more dreamy.
  • Randeep Hooda
    AJ Raina
    The silent scream of frustration — Randeep is being strangled by the snake that represents the film industry, at a time when he was struggling to be recognised, and was put down because of his perfectionist attitude that was termed 'fussy'.
  • Randeep Hooda
    AJ Raina
    This shot shows the working guy — He's covered in oil and grease, he got his working hat on... You have to do other stuff that you don't want to do until you can realise your dreams. Those dreams are represented by the cloud in the picture — like when you have your head in the clouds.
  • Randeep Hooda
    AJ Raina
    Randeep had brought his dog, Candy, along for the shoot, and their story moved me — she's a very shy, skittish dog. She's a rescue but she still hadn't lost her fear. She only feels safe with him. I am an animal lover, and I have rescues of my own, and was inspired to shoot her with him. She would keep moving her head and he would adapt accordingly. It was quite funny.
  • Parikrama
    AJ Raina
    The music that rock bands throw out — their voice, the creativity that goes into their songs, whatever they say or do is picked up so quickly. They have such a great influence on the public. And I love playing with smoke. So this came together beautifully because the smoke coming from his mouth is almost like his 'illusionary artistic voice' coming forth and hypnotising those around him, almost like a drug.
  • Sushil Kumar
    AJ Raina
    Sushil Kumar is an absolute gem of a person — very grounded and extremely humble. He was very uncomfortable in the shoot — terrified that he was being shot with half-naked women in the vicinity. The women in swimsuits are what ordinarily grab people's attention — yet no one in the photograph is looking at them, because all eyes are on the celebrity.
  • Vikas Khanna
    AJ Raina
    It would have been typical to shoot Vikas Khanna with pots and pans — that's what people have already seen him as. So we had a ten-minute chat, where I told him I'd like to celebrate the food that has rendered him larger than life. So we exaggerated the food — showing the importance its played in his life. He was absolutely delighted!
  • Saif Ali Khan
    AJ Raina
    This was shot on a huge set that was built on location at a stud farm. Saif is extremely quick — probably the quickest I know. You have to keep up with him: I had a massive lighting crew on set, who ran about keeping different shots ready. This shot where he's fixing the broken fence on the ranch took just three or four minutes.

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