Snapshots of Life
- Anjuly Mathai
Story Dated: Saturday, August 18, 2012 10:23 hrs IST
I remember my encounter with Prabuddha Dasgupta. It was nearly three years ago when I was just starting out in entertainment journalism. I had begun to emulate a reassurance which I didn’t always feel while meeting big names in the fashion and entertainment industry. I was learning the art of tip-toeing around atavistic egos and milking interesting interviews. There is never any fixed formula for it. You so often bump into an intractable ‘Yes’, ‘No’ or ‘I’m not willing to answer that’ from which there seems to be no way forward.
When my editor asked me to go and meet Prabuddha I had no idea who he was. A quick Google search revealed that he was one of the most prominent fashion photographers in the country. ‘Good luck trying to make him talk,’ my colleague told me. ‘He’s known to be fiercely reticent.’ Reticence is every journalist’s worst nightmare but his, I discovered, was not masked condescension or disinterest. It was merely an absence of superficiality. He didn’t do small talk. He didn’t do ‘muahs’ or ‘dahlings’.
I met him at the Chivas Studio at Grand Hyatt in Mumbai where he was exhibiting a suite of fashion photographs taken over a period of ten years. At first, I couldn’t catch hold of him as he was entombed in a cackling entourage of fans. It was while I was admiring one of his photographs – the blurred silhouette of a whirling dervish – that he approached me.
‘I’ll answer your questions on one condition.’
‘What’s that?’ I asked.
‘If you spell my name correctly.’
‘P-R-A-B-U-D-D-H-A,’ I dutifully recited.
‘Ok,’ he nodded. ‘It’s just that I’ve had my name spelt frequently with a severed ‘D’ or an added ‘B’. It’s just very unpleasant.’
It isn’t very often during an interview that you forget what it essentially is – a question and answer session. The interviewer’s always conscious of hunting for printable quotes that’ll elevate the interview and the interviewee is aware that, more often than not, what’s taking place is a PR exercise for him. But with Prabuddha, at some point in the night, the interview morphed into a conversation. There was one reason for it: his honesty. He seemed not to care an iota about his ‘image’ or how he was going to appear in print. I think it was a defining principle of his life.
We meandered from the topic of his arrest on charges of obscenity in connection with the Tuff shoes ad to his relationship with supermodel Lakshmi Menon and his controversial nude portraits of women.
‘It’s an explosive place where the woman is exposed at her most vulnerable,’ he told me. ‘It would be hypocritical on my part to say that the atmosphere is completely antiseptic. What is necessary is to treat the woman with respect and sublimate any kind of sexual tension you might be feeling and direct it towards the picture.’
Being a half Malayali, when he learned that I was from Kerala he seemed intrigued.
‘Evideya veedu?’ he asked me in Malayalam.
His accent was so thick that I couldn’t untangle the syllables. Seeing my blank expression, he laughed. And now, three days after his death, that’s how I’d like to freeze-frame him; the sudden laughter on a face whose habitual expression was one of pensive sobriety.