Shot amid coronavirus pandemic in the southernmost state of India, Kerala, the much-awaited The Kingfisher Calendar 2021 is now out and with it are five new faces that adorn the calendar making their mark in the world of modeling.
Celebrity photographer Atul Kasbekar who has been associated with the Kingfisher Calendar since its inception spoke to WION about The Kingfisher Calendar 2021, shooting an edition for the first time amid pandemic and reflects upon changing dynamics of fashion photography in times of crisis.
What’s special about this year’s edition?
The Kingfisher Calendar is known for its glamorous portrayal of exotic destinations. It is a location-driven Calendar that is inspired by each of the beautiful locations we shoot at and 2021’s edition was no exception. For the 19th edition, Kingfisher and I thought it prudent to bring the calendar back to home base which gave me a reason to go to one of the states I admire fondly – Kerala. This was my very first time visiting the state in a professional capacity and I can definitely say, the experience was an absolute delight! The shoot was an all-encompassing visual journey that takes you through the lush vegetation and meandering water bodies of ‘God’s Own Country‘.
How did you maintain COVID guidelines while shooting an intimate experience like the Kingfisher Calendar?
Keeping in mind the current circumstances, we worked in a relative bubble to ensure the safety of all. The team was not allowed to move outside the hotel and meals were strictly monitored at closed off buffet areas. The cutlery was well sanitized. Wearing of masks was mandatory at all times, as was social distancing. We made sure that only a few people boarded the buses and cars at a given point in time. The properties ensured temperature checks at all times as a precautionary measure, and hand wash and sanitizers were everywhere.
We also took it upon ourselves to follow strict protocols. And in any case, the cities we were shooting in were mostly closed, so we were restricted to the confines of the hotel properties. All in all, we crossed our fingers and toes hoping we came through the experience unscathed and without a COVID casualty. Thankfully, by keeping all safety measures in complete check at all times, we were able to successfully go through with this shoot with no COVID scare.
The Casino Group and the Taj properties deserve special thanks for their unbelievable attention to detail, service and for making Kingfisher Calendar 2021 a success.
How has Kerala been used in the images? Have you explored the backwaters?
The shoot took place amongst a host of properties in Kochi and in and around Kumarakom.
From the converted Baker’s Retreat, Taj property to the tranquil Marari Beach, Kochi, the picturesque journey went onto a Victorian-style boatyard called the Brunton Boatyard, and finally to the heritage resort, Chittoor Palace. The Coconut Lagoon too, the famous backwaters of God’s Own Country was a part of the shoot location.
Marari Beach is quite fabulous and we also found the waves to be quite aggressive which gives you a nice break in the water. We ensured, however, that each image shot spoke a thousand words, while the state’s poetry was translated through the Calendar.
As someone who’s been a part of the Calendar and its making so closely over the years, what are the key changes you can reflect upon in these years of fashion photography in general and in the context of pandemic?
There is a lot of maturity in the work. I feel the images appeal to a broader spectrum of the audience. We have also consciously photographed beautiful women of varying heights. Some of our talents have been no more than 5.5 ft. Most of the swimsuit editions and lingerie editions shot abroad have almost a mandate that all talent used is 5.9ft and above. I sincerely believe that it is completely possible to have a greater variety in the kind of models we have chosen. It is to our credit that a lot of them find their way into the Indian film industry.
I must give the credit to UB group for unequivocally backing me every year & allowing me to express myself creatively. I take up every shoot as a challenge and do my best to produce imagery that is fresh and current. To sustain the level of relevance after being on the same assignment for over 2 decades is certainly not as easy as it may seem from the outside.
Has much changed due to the pandemic in the world of glamour?
Well for the fashion industry, I believe that there has been quite a lot of stress on numbers last year and that might continue for a while. I do although anticipate things to pick up all-around retail but it is most likely to be a sore point for many. Models will lose a lot of income that they would normally make from fashion shows and appearances and with most of these fashion shows going digital, I do not see any kind of increase in their remuneration as well.
Is it easier to work with known faces than new ones as they would know ropes of the industry?
We take pride in the fact that the Calendar has served as a launching pad for so much talent in the past. From Yana Gupta and Katrina Kaif in the first edition to Deepika Padukone, Nargis Fakhri, Nora Fatehi, Saiyami Kher, Esha Gupta, and the list goes on. It’s something that we look forward to each year.
For me personally, it’s always exciting to unearth new talent and mold them into formidable players in the advertising/ editorial/ film business.
How much time does it take to plan, shoot and make the Calendar happen?
The process of putting together the Kingfisher Calendar has many layers, right from choosing the locations, the models, outfits, hair, makeup and ensuring the entire experience runs smoothly. To begin, we do a recce in advance to identify the locations and decide the time of day. We go ahead by scouting for places which leads to zeroing in on a place where we decide to shoot. Following that we understand where the sun will be shining in the coming weeks and after 2 to 3 weeks, we come back for the final shoot. A detailed study of the location is made with the stylist, she identifies the swimsuits that will be chosen to be worn at which location, model and time of day. One thing I can say is, always be absolutely sure of the plan of action especially when shooting with a unit of 20 odd people. I have been blessed with an immensely talented team of professionals- stylist Allia Al Rufai, make-up artist Maniasha Fialkina and hair stylist Flavien Heldt were absolutely brilliant with their work. My assistants Vinay, Yogesh, Rahul and Abhijit were as always on top of the game with their efforts. My producers Vidyut and Vandana have been veritable rocks by my side every year of the Kingfisher Calendar. We work as an extremely democratic set up where anyone has an open floor to voice ideas which could be absolute gold!
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