Since it’s launch in 2003, the Kingfisher Calendar has become one of the best platforms for Indian models. Photographer Atul Kasbekar, who has shot the calendar since the first year, is now ready with the 2015 edition. In an exclusive preview for HuffPost India readers, Kasbekar is introducing this year's shoot in Turkey. We spoke with the man with the most envied job in India.
Who’s the best you’ve worked with…?
I’ve worked with lots of spectacular models. But Malaika (Arora-Khan) is really special, also because she has sustained herself for a long time. Sheetal Mallar is another. That said, this lot of models is possibly the best set I’ve shot—as a group they were fantastic.
What separates a model from a super model?
There are lots of pretty faces, and everybody has a great body: all have six-pack abs, all are super-fake (laughs)… No actually it’s a great thing that they have good bodies, it shows professionalism. But there are very few with soul, that extra spark. You know, the kinds who can work a picture without any kind of prop because they have this different energy. A truly great test of a model is if she shoots against a plain, white background, and still makes it look spectacular.
Who’s headed straight for stardom from this year’s lot?
There’s Dayana Erappa who has no interest in Bollywood and is too tall as well (5’10” at least). But she is a fantastic model, and the ramp loves her—she’s in Milan at the moment. I think she’ll do really well as a ramp and print model. Then there’s Elena Fernandes. One heck of a cocktail—she’s half-Goan and half-Peruvian, and owns an English passport. She fits the item number space, and she’s got those South-American hips that will work for it. She’s all for going on the screen, and not interested in having a conversation. Keesha Lal, an Indian girl of West-Indian origin, is probably the best-suited face for Bollywood—she has this beautiful porcelain face. Sarah Jane Dias has always been a good friend, and a great model. People were surprised when I cast her. She has already been in the movies and is a fantastic singer. In fact she has an album coming out this year: But she is immensely talented, and one of those people who just hasn’t got her due.
Is there a heavier focus on foreign talent?
No. The calendar always features women that have some Indian connection. It’s extremely rare that we cast someone of foreign connection. Otherwise, there’d be no difference between Pirelli and us, and in that case, we’d be competing with the best fashion calendar in the world! We pride ourselves on being a launch pad for talent here.
What new things have you done this year with the Calendar?
For the calendar and I, it’s really the location that counts: This year we were in Turkey. It’s a very progressive Muslim nation. There are people who are ultra conservative, and people who are super modern, and they all coexist very happily with each other. We shot everywhere apart from Istanbul (because it’s been done to death) in some beautiful places like Cappadocia and Pamukkale.
We’ve also put in a whole lot of intelligent photoshop work; we’re talking another level of post-production. It’s a different kind of finesse, and I really think this is one of the best Kingfisher Calendars ever.
Shooting beautiful women in exotic location is the ultimate dream job for many…. Is it really?
It’s a great job but at the end of the day, it’s work. It’s not one gigantic party: there are recces to be done; I am in charge of 23 people including camera crew. It works like clockwork, but there are tempers and egos to deal with. And inclement weather: In Cappadocia, the temperature dropped to zero degrees! It was clear blue sky, and sunshine, but freezing and we had women in swimsuits… which is why we always take along five or six extra models in case one of them freezes of hypothermia. I'm kidding.
What sort of impact has the Kingfisher Calendar had in India?
A friend of mine, Debu Mukherjee from Coca Cola, put it best: He said that before 2003, there wasn’t a single A-list girl among the actresses who did a swimsuit shoot. It was only the villainous vamps lot: all the bad girls whose pinups appeared in sleazy bars as part of the ‘booze calendar’. After 2003, every A-list actress, without exception, has been featured in swimsuits for print or in movies, and he said we should take some credit for this. There’s definitely a change in the Indian mindset and how people perceive beautiful women.
How do you make sure the shoots are classy and don't go sleazy?
When we started out, Vijay Mallya approved this idea only on the grounds that it wouldn’t embarrass anyone. The women I approached, even good friends like Dipannita Sharma and Sheetal Mallar, declined. It was only the women who had some sort of a foreign connection who accepted, like Katrina Kaif who was fresh off the boat from London, Yana Gupta of Czech origin and Shivani Kapoor who has lived abroad all her life. When I started shooting, I told the models that they were at a great location with a great crew in great swimwear, and should feel like a million bucks in front of the camera. So they’re not wearing a whole lot… big deal! We focused on gentleness, calm eyes and exuding niceness. And this concept has worked really well! No one’s ever called us cheap, and we’ve never had to pick up the phone after the first year to call models—they call us!
Will you ever give up the Calendar?
Honestly, every year I keep thinking, someone will come and tell me, “dude you’ve had a good run, but it’s time for a change.” But after shooting this, Vijay asked me where I wanted to go next year. So we’re shortlisting places in Europe, Southeast Asia and an island in the Indian Ocean. I think we’ll go on recces for all three! But I’m never going to start shooting men on a beach. I routinely get asked by women why we haven't done a men’s version of the Calendar. And I always tell them to go ahead, and get one done, but not call me to shoot it. I think this is something the female photographers in India should take on!