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Lucky lips

LiveMint logoLiveMint 16-05-2014 Dhamini Ratnam

Last year, while shooting for the Hindustan Times Brunch Bollywood Special Collector’s Edition, Natasha Hemrajani hit upon an idea that she now hopes will end in a “small, happy, coffee-table book”. The 36-year-old Mumbai-based commercial photographer was asked to shoot Nawazuddin Siddiqui among other character actors, such as Shabana Azmi, Irrfan, Pankaj Kapur and Manoj Bajpayee, for the magazine.

“The idea for ‘The Kissing Book’ was conceived at a celebrity shoot for an editorial assignment. My subject was Nawazuddin Siddiqui, an actor I adore because all his character roles never fail to move me,” says the photographer, who shot the actor last yearShe reached Siddiqui’s Versova home at 8am and found the actor ready—he was wearing formal grey pants and a blue button-down shirt with a waistcoat. Stepping out to capture the morning sunlight for the photograph, they chanced upon a handcart. Siddiqui paid the owner `100, and hopped on. Over the next 45 minutes, the Gangs Of Wasseypur actor lay down on the cart and allowed Hemrajani to direct him on postures and expressions.

“At the end of a wonderful shoot, I asked Nawaz if I could take a fan girl picture of myself with him, and he agreed. I asked him if I could give him a kiss on the cheek in the picture, and Nawaz broke into his first unguarded grin of the day. He blushed, laughed and agreed. And so I set up my self-portrait frame and got a colleague to take the picture. That was the beginning of ‘The Kissing Book’,” explains Hemrajani, who went on to make the rather unusual request of at least five other celebrities.

“Of course dear!” Shabana Azmi, the multiple National Award winning actor, told Hemrajani, who asked to kiss her after shooting her for a Bollywood special collector’s edition last yearMost agreed; Pankaj Kapur didn’t. “‘I don’t let people kiss me,’ he said. But he was sort of apologetic about it, even though he was also quite shocked,” laughs Hemrajani, who eventually extended her project to include objects that she chanced upon and loved. Like an upside-down rhinoceros in a workshop on the Karjat-Mumbai highway which was surrounded by other animals, including a pair of giraffes, a lion and an unfinished elephant, intended for exhibition at pujamandals, or a skeleton inside Leena Mogre’s gymnasium (“meant to explain bone structure and musculature to the trainers,” explains Hemrajani) during a photo shoot with the renowned health professional.

Hemrajani submitted this photo with Aparna Jayakumar when a Facebook campaign called ‘Gay For a Day’ kicked off a few days after the Supreme Court reinstated Section 377, which criminalizes homosexual intercourseOne of the self-portraits that Hemrajani shot with her friend and fellow photographer Aparna Jayakumar went viral on the Internet on Gay For a Day, a social networking campaign against the 11 December 2013 Supreme Court verdict which recriminalized homosexuality by reinstating Section 377. Thousands of Internet users put up photographs of themselves kissing someone from the same sex in support of the queer community a few days after the verdict.

Hemrajani’s photographs can be understood within the context of performative photography, as it references the role of both, the photographer who engages with the subject through his/her gaze and the collaborative nature of creation which lends photography its aesthetics. The photographs play an important role in breaking down barriers, even as they reference our current obsession for cellphone-driven self-portraits, which in itself is not a new phenomenon.

Irrfan, the ‘Life of Pi’ actor who only goes by his first name, was also featured in ‘HT Brunch’. He, too, readily agreed to the photographer’s project after she finished shooting him on a beach on a stormy day in MumbaiSelf-portraits have been part of artistic expression, through paintings and later, photographs, for centuries. “As a photographer, there is always a distance from the subject that one maintains,” says Hemrajani. “By kissing the subject, I am able to be part of the photograph and break down the artificial distance that’s created. With ‘The Kissing Book’, I explore a very personal, direct physical interaction with an experience, person, object, creature or place.”

“Also, we’re not a physically demonstrative bunch of people in this country, and I like the shock value of these photographs,” she adds.

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