Super, just super

November 6th, 2012

After coming out of a viewing of The Dark Knight Rises a while ago, I was struck by a thought - various superheros have very distinctive vehicles associated with them, and many of those would make for excellent driving companions in today’s insane driving conditions.

Take the Batman series of films, for example. The average person is likely to think that a Lamborghini (any Lamborghini) is a very cool car indeed. Right from the first ever car, the 350GT, to the current Aventador, and encompassing greats like the Miura, Countach and even the LM002 SUV, Lambos have always looked six ways to arresting, if not outright stunning.

Well, somebody out there thought that it would be even cooler to cross-breed a battle tank and a Lamborghini, and the result of that tryst was The Tumbler, Batman’s ride in Christopher Nolan’s three Batman movies (it was never called the ‘Batmobile’). A ‘car’ as fast as a Lamborghini, as tough as a tank, as agile as a gecko, with enough firepower to blow away cities AND with a motorbike incorporated into it? Are you kidding me?! Where do I queue up?

There is probably no other superhero who is as umbilically associated with a car as Batman is to the Batmobile, a vehicle that has been through various design iterations in its illustrious life. There are plenty of other superheroes out there with some pretty serious machinery as well, however, and all of them would make for the ultimate dream garage.

Take the Green Hornet, for example. The recent movie (with funnyman Seth Rogan hopelessly miscast as the titular character) may have been a steaming pile of tripe, but boy, how’s about the mid-‘60s Chrysler Imperial Crown, nicknamed Black Beauty, that the fellow drove? With a GM Performance 500 hp engine, three miniguns, two AR-15 machine guns, a flamethrower, twelve missiles, spiked wheels and a bulletproof body, it’s just the sort of car needed for daily commuting in Mumbai. Ooh, just thinking about what could be done to errant taxis, rickshaws, pedestrians and the like gives me goosebumps.

I wouldn’t throw Captain Nemo’s ‘Otto Mobile’ out of bed either. Again, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was a cinematic dud, but this quite extraordinary car, made of silver and ivory and with six wheels and a tracking device, is glacially cool. By rights, it should have the handling capabilities of an aircraft carrier on grease, but who cares? Roll up to the friendly neighbourhood nightclub in it and be prepared to make an impression like no other.

Need something more utilitarian, along the lines of a Toyota Innova? There’s always the Battle Van, The Punisher’s wheels of choice. It’s meant to look like a humble TV repairer’s UV, but it hides enough weapons of mass destruction and advanced communication systems to start WWIII. If you know how hardcore a character The Punisher is, you will pull over well in advance if you see the Battle Van coming. Just the thing for a daily runabout in Delhi, then.

These are all undoubtedly excellent vehicles, each with its own merits, but the one that would occupy pride of place in my superhero garage is the Batmobile from Tim Burton’s Batman films. It’s an Art Deco masterpiece on wheels, and with its gas turbine, Browning machine guns, oil-slick nozzles, grappling hook and smoke shields, among others, it gets my vote as the most amazing superhero car ever made. Indeed, for those ultra-narrow, heavily crowded mofussil streets, it even sheds its sides and transforms into a sort of Bat-missile, making it a breeze to simply blast through everything and everybody. As Val Kilmer’s caped crusader says in Batman Forever (not my choice of Batmobile in this one) ‘It’s the car, right? Chicks dig the car.’

 

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Shooting schedule

August 18th, 2012

It is now exactly nine years since I first picked up a camera in anger for Business Standard Motoring. I mean that literally – the first frame of 35mm film that I shot for the magazine (during my first ever road trip, to various parts of Gujarat) was taken when I was in a very dark mood, having just lost an argument with a truck, which adopted the simple expedient of forcing me and my Fiat Siena off the road. Soon after that, I came across a lavishly-turbanned man walking his camel, not unlike one would a pet dog, and they became Frame No.1. To say that the nine intervening years, between that picture and today, have been a hell of a ride would be a masterpiece in the art of understatement.

I wasn’t a photographer to begin with – or not a full-time one, at any rate. Having studied the art as part of my curriculum at college, I discovered that I enjoyed it and that I could shoot a halfway decent photograph (‘Remember to take the lens cap off’, as one of my professors said); this came in handy when I applied for the BSM job, because if there’s one thing we value here, it’s a multi-tasker who can drive, ride, write, shoot pictures, fight with the parking attendants, play Beethoven’s 9th and eat five vada pavs, preferably at the same time. Soon, from merely taking photos on my road trips, I was press-ganged into shooting the cars and bikes that fill these pages.

It was a bit of a steep learning curve. My very first automotive shoot was at the Bajaj test track, with a colleague astride the second-gen Pulsar, and me panning frantically with an old 35mm film camera (I had, er, left behind our only digital camera in a taxi. Painful story. Steep learning curve et al). The moment Param, our chief snapper at the time, examined the film that came back from the lab and cocked an eyebrow, I knew the outlook was dark – so dark, in fact, that it looked like I had photographed the bike in a dungeon, with a shroud around the lens.

Thankfully, things got better – and brighter. A new digital SLR was procured, which made life considerably easier, since I could immediately examine the results and, crucially, spot the mistakes I was making. A familiar routine set in – wake up obscenely early (I hate that part), get to the shoot location, spend the next few hours hanging perilously out of the boots and windows of tracking cars, climb all manner of heights to get a bird’s-eye view, lie on the road to get a worm’s-eye view, make whoever’s driving/ riding do hundreds of drive-bys and then decide the first one was the best, have breakfast at McDonalds/an Udupi restaurant, head back to the office and fall asleep.

All right, so it’s not all as mundane-sounding as that. Photographing cars and bikes is a tough job, given the limited locations that we have access to, so the challenge is to make every shoot look different, even if we’ve already used the location multiple times. On other occasions, when we manage to get hold of an all-new location, it’s a very liberating thing to be able to let your imagination run free in new ways. Of course, there’s also the cars and bikes themselves – making an already gorgeous machine look even better (or a dud look good – much harder to do) is a very satisfying endeavour, and when you nail that perfect shot, all the early mornings become worth it. Well, almost – I still hate that part.

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In a Huff

May 16th, 2012

I thought I had a pretty fun job, until I came across a website run by a chap called Steve Huff. Huff is a photographer, and I hasten to add that it’s not him, specifically, that I’m envious of (he does take some superb photographs, though, and the singer Seal, a photo nut himself, writes guest pieces on the website ), it’s what he does - he writes reviews of cameras and lenses; specifically, he reviews a lot of Leica gear, and I would happily become a drug-crazed, alcohol-addled, mass murderer of cuddly animals if it meant being able to get my hands on Leica cameras and lenses. As if this isn’t bad enough, he also writes highly in-depth reviews of all the latest Micro Four Thirds and other mirrorless SLR systems in the market (they’re the future).

Being an ardent admirer and keen user of this format, I envy anyone who gets to play with this sort of equipment. In addition, being a borderline-psychotic Leica fan (the affliction made worse by the realisation that I’ll probably never be able to afford one), I turn a violent shade of green when I see someone with unfettered access to the glorious world of Leica. When I find that some blighter (sorry, Steve, I’m sure you’re the salt of the earth) gets to use ALL this stuff, that all he has to do is call up Leica, Olympus, Panasonic and others and say ‘Right, I’ll have one of that, and that and, oh, yes, that’, I can’t help but make a sulky face.

You may well ask why I’m getting so worked up over a bunch of metal, plastic and glass. The answer is that… actually, I’m not sure there is a completely coherent answer, but I’ll do my best to explain. I’ve always been an old-school sort of guy, and I just know that I was born in the wrong era. My taste in music extends to about 1985 and no further; I still prefer the tonality of an LP record to that of a CD; I’ll take cars and bikes from the 1960s and ‘70s over modern ones any day; if I could still use a Bakelite telephone, I would; I’m convinced that the best films ever made were shot between 1960 and 1982 and, not the least of it, I absolutely adore film photography, especially with rangefinder cameras like the Leica M series – they’re indescribably beautiful, and wonderful tools in the right hands (I’d like to believe that mine qualify).

This being the case, it’s not surprising that I get so excited about new Leicas and mirrorless camera systems, because with both, you get the best of everything – digital technology, retro, rangefinder-type styling (this is especially important for me), compact dimensions, some amazing lenses, ease of use and jaw-dropping image quality, especially if you’re lucky enough to be able to buy a Leica. I never thought I would say anything like this, but Steve, do you need an unpaid assistant?

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How to make friends with influential people

March 5th, 2012

Here’s a word of advice - make friends in high places, and make them fast. Without them, you stand a snowball’s chance in hell in this country. Allow me to explain.

I have a friend who is an avid biker, and he’s also been fortunate enough to be able to afford his two-wheeled indulgences. He and his cousins are all keen motorcyclists and, along with other friends, are part of a biking club. Every Sunday morning, the club sets out early in the morning for a ride. Most of the club’s members are in their 40s or more, and a lot of them are respected members of the business community. They all share a passion for big, fast bikes, and they’re all very disciplined riders - nobody is allowed to ride without protective gear, and no irresponsible riding is tolerated.

One Sunday, while out on their weekly ride, there was an accident - a bad one. A person died and another rider was very badly injured and is probably still in hospital, as I write this. My friend and his cousins were among the first people on the accident spot, and they were the ones who called in the police and an ambulance. Everyone in the group was obviously very shaken, but things were about to get much worse.

A local TV channel got wind of the accident and ran a story on prime time news, where virtually every single minute broadcast was a fabrication. Using footage of other people doing stunts on completely different motorcycles (Indian ones, not the imported machines that the members of the group ride), the channel painted a picture of irresponsible, rich young boys with no regard for the law or human life, boys who indulged in ’stunting and illegal racing’ and who bet large amounts of money on it. A very senior police official saw the news piece, picked up the phone, called the concerned police station and ordered that four members of the group (any four, random, members) were to be arrested, charged with rash riding and sent to jail. These are the TV channels that people watch on a daily basis, by the way, and on whom they rely to get unbiased news, so that they can stay informed.

As a result, my friend and his cousins were called to the police station, on the pretext of them having to give evidence, and were then presented with a fabricated, pre-signed confession. The confession stated that they had been stunting in a completely different part of the city from where the accident had occured, and that they had additionally threatened to kill someone (a non-bailable offence). With a dismissive shrug, they were told that ‘orders have come from above, there’s nothing to be done, you’re all going to jail’. My flabbergasted friends protested their innocence as vehemently as they could, but to no avail - things had been set in motion and could not be stopped.

They all spent the night at the police station. Phone calls were made, to people who knew people who knew other people. It turned out that a member of the group knew the police officer who had given the order, and he phoned the cop to vouch for my friends. The cop said that it was too late to take his order back, but he would see what he could do. Finally, the charge of threatening to kill someone was dropped, and they were all charged with rash riding and had to make a court appearance, like convicted criminals. They all paid fines, for no fault of theirs, and were then allowed to go.

In the middle of all this, at the police station, they witnessed cops drinking on duty and rampant corruption. One moment, they were treated as criminals. The next moment, when the call came in to modify the charge, the cops fawned all over them, offered to buy them dinner and, bizarrely, asked for jobs in the companies that my friends run. In the morning, when the sweepers came in, my friend saw them sweeping up and throwing away case files that had fallen on the floor. These are the same cops who we’re expected to trust, to uphold the law and to watch our backs.

Like I said, make friends in high places, and make them fast. Without them…

 

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My friend Claudio

January 25th, 2012

This is old news, but I am going to write about it regardless. I was having a conversation with some fellow hacks a couple of months ago, during which one of them mentioned that Claudio Castiglioni, the head of the motorcycle firm MV Agusta, had just passed away. Normally, news of the death of a prominent business personality tends to briefly enter my consciousness, swirl around for a bit and then exit stage left – call it fatigue, disinterest or whatever you wish to, that’s just the way I function. The mention of Castiglioni’s passing, however, struck a chord; he was the first head of a company with whom I had had an extended conversation, way back in 2007, and I had come away impressed, just a little intimidated and also very pleased.
I had showed up at the MV Agusta factory in Varese, in northern Italy, in order to meet the man himself and hopefully snag a ride on the ridiculously sexy F4, and as his assistant bustled me through to the conference room (through an office where, among other things, I saw a nude calendar with a Honda logo on it), I felt a nervous energy course through me; the man I was going to meet was a legend in his own right, and I didn’t want to come across as a dithering idiot.
After a wait of about five minutes, Castiglioni didn’t so much enter the room as wafted in. He was clad in a fabulous suit, obviously bespoke, which looked like it had been tailored straight onto his person; his patent leather shoes shone brightly, and his long-ish hair was expertly coiffed – here was a gentleman just as stylish as the motorcycles his company produced. He extended his hand for a firm handshake and his face, although welcoming enough, had a slightly reserved look on it, as if he was sizing me up – which he probably was.
When he spoke, his tone was an intriguing mix of warmth and caution; it was like he was alternatively extending a carrot and a stick. Although fluent in English, he elected to speak in Italian through a translator, which added to the slight sense of distance that he seemed to want to project. To my fairly bog-standard questions, he gave clipped, polite answers, and I began to feel a bit hemmed in; I needed to figure out how to cut through his invisible veneer of propriety.
It happened when I abandoned my pre-written questions and attempted to turn the interview into an informal, freewheeling chat, beginning with my bringing up MV Agusta’s glorious racing heritage and the way it had influenced him in his running of the company. His eyes lit up at this point, and from then onwards, the only way for the meeting to go was up. He loosened up almost visibly, holding forth at length about his passion for speed and beauty in equal measure, a fact that had undoubtedly led to him buying up brands like Ducati, Moto Morini, Husqvarna and, of course, MV Agusta. In the process, he gave the world achingly desirable motorcycles like the Ducati 916 and Monster and the MV Agusta F4, all instant classics, and when he died, he was in the process of developing the F3, a 3-cylinder, 675cc version of the F4.
After a 30-odd minute chat, during which I saw him go from being slightly reserved to almost brotherly, it was time to wind things up; he was running late for another meeting. I did the fanboy thing and asked him to autograph an MV Agusta brochure and, with a flourish, he wrote something across its cover, shook my hand warmly and was gone. The translator looked at what he’d written and smiled – it said ‘To my friend Pablo, with best wishes, Claudio’. R.I.P, Claudio Castiglioni.

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Sales pitch

December 22nd, 2011

I was at the launch of a new sedan a while ago, and as I waited in the assembled audience, I wondered how the launch would be handled. Would it be the same old same old, as it were? I’ve seen so many launches done according to a standard template that I can almost predict the sequence of events. An important company official will step onto the stage, with the Star Wars theme song playing in the background (although, to be fair, these days they seem to have moved on to generic techno music). The official will deliver an introductory speech, and then he will invite another official on stage. After this, there will either be yet another official delivering a speech, or they will cut to an A/V presentation (which will quite possibly be accompanied by the Star Wars theme song). Following this, some sort of song-and-dance activity will ensue, the climax of which will coincide with the car being unveiled on stage. Everyone will then go and down a few cold ones, talk shop, eat a buffer dinner and retire for the night.
I have to say that this particular launch broadly followed the above template as well, but within those parameters, it was well done. Of particular interest to me was a presentation by the company’s VP of sales and marketing, in which he laid great emphasis on the fact that their sales and service experience was going to be of 5-star standard. Showroom employees were going to get over 300 hours of training each, there would be a 24-hour service hotline and the effort was going to be to grab a hold of the prospective customer’s mind space and not let it go. In the age of instant messaging and social networking, the gentleman said, even a minor issue at the showroom was likely to be immediately broadcast over the internet by the aggrieved customer, there to be seen by hundreds or thousands of his online friends.
This part interested me because of two car-buying experiences that had been narrated to me. In the first, a friend’s father, a very senior corporate man, had booked a Japanese premium SUV, been assured of a discount of Rs 2 lakh, paid an advance of Rs 2 lakh and received an official invoice. Delivery had subsequently been terribly delayed, and he was also told that the discount would no longer apply; if he didn’t agree with this, he could cancel his booking. Furious at this unacceptable behaviour, he shot off an email to the head of the company, threatening legal action. It was only after this that he received his vehicle, and at the originally agreed upon price.
In the second instance, my parents decided to buy a hatchback made by one of the newer entrants in the Indian market. While paying the booking amount, they were assured that they would be ‘very happy with the deal’ that they would be offered. When push came to shove, they were quoted the list price and offered free floor mats and mud flaps. They really liked the car, so they decided to buy it anyway. While taking delivery (which the showroom tried to delay by a day), they were confronted by clueless sales staff, and were handed feedback forms to fill that had already been pre-ticked ‘Excellent’ across all parameters. In both cases, the people I’m referring to were extremely happy with the product itself, and went ahead with their purchases despite their harrowing experiences at the showroom. They aren’t alone, of course – we hear of similar (and worse) experiences all the time, and it’s clear that many manufacturers take customers for granted all through the buying process and afterwards as well. ‘We want to offer the customer a business class experience at economy class fares’ said another senior executive at the launch. If they can actually pull it off, it would be a refreshing change from the norm.

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Lone ranger

October 11th, 2011

‘So, where are you travelling to this month?’ I get asked this question very often, and not just on a monthly basis; it’s normally a feature of most conversations I have with friends and acquaintances. I can almost predict the exact moment in a conversation when the query will arrive – that’s how often it happens. I usually smile to myself and answer as truthfully as I can; I say ‘as I can’ because I usually don’t know where I’m going to go until the very last minute. The next question that normally arrives is ‘Are you going to go alone?’ I’ve learnt that this is a no-win question. If I say ‘No’ then they’re disappointed, because I’m obviously going with someone other than them; a ‘Yes’ answer leads to yet another question – ‘But don’t you feel lonely?’ 

 

I always answer in the negative to that question, but I have to admit that it’s something I think about, every now and then. Is it nicer to travel on your own, or is the presence of a travelling partner preferable? Back when I first began doing road trips for BSM, my preference was very decidedly for the former. I had never before been given an opportunity to go forth and explore the country, and I was determined to do it all by myself; I didn’t want to be tied down by the preferences of a fellow traveller, selfish as that sounds. Thus I hit upon possible destinations at the last moment, often with my finger tracing patterns on a map, and set off for said destination, full of beans. In many cases, I never ended up at the point on the map that I had selected, because along the way, a right turn leading to a completely different place had looked more interesting than the left turn going to the original spot. 

 

This kind of thing is really only possible if you’re on your own – no debate, no weighing things up with someone else, just turn the wheel and go. The same thing applied once I had arrived at a given destination – on my own, I was free to explore at my own pace (or, indeed, to lie in my hotel bed and watch a cricket match, as I have done on occasion), without having to take anybody else’s opinion into consideration. Being a person who’s pretty intensely protective about my privacy, this works rather well for me. 

 

On the other hand, I would be lying through my teeth if I said that travelling companions are not fun. Two of the best trips I’ve ever done were memorable not so much because of the places I had gone to, but because I had travelled with my best friends; one of them later died in a car crash, so the memories from those trips remain deeply etched in my mind. When the Mahindra Xylo had just been launched, I ferried a close bunch of friends in it to Goa and back, and it was definitely a rip-roaring journey. Sure, multiple people (and their spouses) meant multiple points of view and various suggestions about everything from toilet-halts to how much fuel to fill, but we laughed and bickered through everything in a manner that was mutually acceptable to all, as it were – and I would definitely do it all over again, given the opportunity. As for the question of ‘feeling lonely’, I think the best answer is that I’m not lonely when I travel, I’m alone – and there’s a big difference between the two. 

 

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Dream on

June 10th, 2011

I recently received an email forward in which there were lots of photographs of nude women. Oh, wait – that was the other one. The one I’m referring to also had lots of photographs, but of the Google office in California, along with descriptions of what was in the photos. I’m sure most of you have seen this email, which essentially makes you feel like a complete moron for working anywhere except at Google. Free food and snacks of all kinds? Pets allowed at work? Near-Olympic level sports facilities? Igloos, cubes and yurts to work in? Massage chairs? Lava lamps? Scooters to commute between meetings? The Google office is every working person’s wet dream – only it’s all true. This set me thinking – in a situation of total fantasy, what would my ideal workplace be like? Well, here it is.

In my Utopian world, we would be required by law to report to work no earlier than 12 in the afternoon. It has been proven many times by highly scientific research (my own) that waking up by around 10 am and then getting to the office in a leisurely manner improves workplace productivity by a factor of 3.782(x2+y4 = a lollipop). The office itself would be situated inside one of Mumbai’s old mill compounds (I’m not quite sure why; that’s what I see whenever I daydream about it), except that instead of the glass-and-steel monstrosities that are now the norm, the building would be the original factory premises, suitably modified. It would be painted in bright, pleasing shades, like the Goan houses you see in TV commercials, and have greenery everywhere. It would also contain the following – a huge, temperature-controlled warehouse to store all our cars and bikes; a go-kart track; a cricket field with a bouncy wicket that takes turn on day 2; an infinity pool, a badminton court and a table-tennis table; a movie theatre; a fuel station dispensing only the finest petrol and diesel; a jacuzzi and sauna already occupied by Monica Bellucci, Paz Vega, Gong Li and Scarlett Johansson; a gaming arcade with every console and game known to humankind and a giant aquarium in which you could go scuba-diving. In keeping with the times, the entire premises would be solar-powered and all waste would be recycled.

The work space itself would be large and airy, with huge French windows overlooking a sun-deck, containing beach chairs already occupied by Victoria’s Secret models not clad in any of Victoria’s Secrets. All of us would have individual workstations designed as per our flights of fancy, with computers powerful enough to warp time and broadband connections fast enough to download the entire Internet at a click. There would be a spacious kitchen manned by a cordon bleu chef named Sabapathy (just for the incongruity of it), who would rustle up delectable world-cuisine and keep us supplied with endless quantities of hot chocolate, coffee and other beverages. Sabapathy would also double up as an expert test driver and rider, so that we could claim that he was the world’s fastest chef.

A typical working day would consist of a lazy, buffet brunch at about 12.30 pm, followed by a compulsory siesta of two hours (highly scientific research has proven that siestas make you live longer). Once awake, we would partake of light snacks and beverages and go and watch a landmark of world cinema in the movie theatre, to broaden our horizons. To keep ourselves fit and thus live even longer, we would then proceed to the sporting facilities, followed by a dip in the pool and a languorous session in the sauna, keeping Monica and Co. company. Then Sabapathy would treat us to a Michelin-star dinner, following which we would go home for a good night’s rest (there would also be a 7-star guest house on the premises, in case somebody didn’t feel like driving). When would we work, I hear you say? Well, outstanding stories would automatically get written as soon as we thought of them – a bit like now, really.

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It’s a shootout

May 11th, 2011

Those who know me will tell you that if you put a camera in my hands, any camera, I transform into the shutterbug to beat all shutterbugs. I become almost Japanese in my zest to shoot everything – doors, windows, locks, shadows, shapes, colours, faces, dogs, cats, flowers, you name it. Those who know me will also tell you that if you point a camera at me, any camera, even a pin-hole one, you are making a mistake – the resultant frame will either be blank, because I would have bolted, or, if you’re fortunate enough to have got me dead to rights, my eyes will be closed and my face will look like I’ve bitten into a lemon. From as far back as I can remember, I have been intensely uncomfortable being photographed; I’m not sure why, but it’s true. I feel like a deer in the headlights in front of a camera, and I do everything I can to avoid being caught in front of one.
This is why I surprised even myself when, upon receiving a phone call from a close friend who works in advertising, I found myself agreeing to audition for the lead (and only) role in a TV commercial. ‘You’re perfect for the part – do you want to do it?’ ‘Sure, why the hell not?’ I heard myself say, simultaneously asking myself ‘Oi, what on earth are you thinking?!’ The part was that of a young executive, speaking directly to camera after work hours and describing how he’d burnt his fingers in the stock market, until the nice people at XYZ Financial came along and showed him the path to monetary enlightenment, no doubt charging him a middling-to-hefty commission while they were at it. I duly auditioned, the agency pitched it to the client, everyone appeared to agree that I suited the part (and the director was Bengali, and he was aware who my father is – I have no doubt that eased things along) and that was that – I was to report at Film City in Mumbai at 10.30 AM on 24th February, 2011.

The day did not begin auspiciously – the security guards at the brand new studio at first denied that there was a shoot on, and it was only after I made a few calls that they said I could proceed. Then I ran over one of the guards’ foot, because he had inexplicably wedged it under the front tyre of the Polo, perhaps as an additional security measure. While he cursed and hopped about, I went in and met the crew, who were busy setting up lights and the set; a chaperone was assigned to me, a bright-eyed young AD, and she ushered me into my own make-up room, complete with bed, shower and big-screen TV. The make up and hair guy went to work, first cutting my hair into a more corporate shape (which I didn’t like, for the record) and then applying all manner of funny powders on my face until I looked like a wax figure. Then it was time to go and rehearse the lines and moves, especially the latter – the film was being shot in one take, with four different avatars of my character interacting with one another in different sections of the frame, all of which would be composited together in post-production.

I’ll be honest – I was having second thoughts and was this close to feet cold enough to freeze my toes. Thankfully, the director was absolutely wonderful, as were the rest of the crew, and the relaxed way in which they were operating rubbed off on me too. The rehearsals went well, and when we began filming, I found that this acting business wasn’t too difficult – as long as you didn’t take it too seriously and had fun with it. It all worked out well in the end – the crew was happy, the client seemed pleased and I discovered that I could, in fact, stand before a camera and not make a run for it. Just don’t point one too suddenly at me.

 

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Photo finished

March 8th, 2011

I think I can claim with assurance that mine is not an addictive personality – with the exception of the utterly lascivious world of the jalebi, of which I am a slave. Place before me a box of fresh, crisp jalebis, with a translucent, saffron hue and a propensity for splashing your mouth with bursts of sugar syrup at every bite, and I take leave of my senses. I am a man possessed. The point I’m trying to make is that I’m normally not given to addictive behavior – and that I have just found another jalebi-like world into which I find myself being irresistibly drawn. It is the world of old, manual focus, ‘legacy’ photography lenses, and I lay the blame for this addiction squarely at my colleague Aneesh’s feet.
It all began innocuously enough, when Aneesh walked into the office brandishing a battered, manual focus Nikon 35mm f2.8 lens that he had bought for a song. Using an adapter, he had mounted it on his Canon DSLR, and the results were outstanding. I was intrigued, but the matter retreated from my consciousness soon enough. Then, a while later, he announced the purchase of a Russian 58mm f2 Helios lens, from a seller on Indian ebay based in Surat. Now I was more than a little intrigued – I put thought into action, logged on to ebay and bought a similar lens (with a Russian Zenit camera from 1965 attached to it) for a paltry sum. That was the beginning of the end, as it were – when the lens arrived a couple of days later, looking all retro and just begging to be put through its paces, I was well and truly hooked.
Since that fateful day, I have developed behavioural traits that effortlessly qualify me for the photographic equivalent of Alcoholics Anonymous. I began by immersing myself in internet research about lenses, in general, and the use of manual focus lenses on digital bodies in particular. Every spare moment of my time was spent staring at a computer screen, absorbing such legendary names as the Pentax Super Takumar 50mm f1.4, the Minolta MD Rokkor-X 50mm f1.2, the Yashinon ML 24mm f2.8, the Leica Summilux 50mm 1.4 and the Voigtlander Super Wide Heliar 15mm f4.5. I learnt that my beloved Carl Zeiss lenses (some of the best pieces of glass ever made), which had criminally fallen into disuse because they didn’t fit any other camera body except my film-only Contax G1, could now be used on a Micro 4/3 format digital body with the help of an adapter. It was literally the work of a moment for me to contact a friend in America and have her buy me a used Micro 4/3 camera body off ebay, for a reasonable pile of cash, just so that I could put those lenses to work again. While I was at it, I also ordered an old Pentax 24mm f2.8 lens, and a whole bunch of adapters that would allow me to use various lenses on the m4/3 body and my existing Olympus 4/3 DSLR.
It didn’t end there. I registered myself on various photography forums that are dedicated to the use of old lenses on DSLRs, and began to have animated discussions with people in St Petersburg, Cambodia and Israel, to name just a few places. I bought four more old lenses, swelling my lens collection to 12 in a matter of a few weeks and considerably weakening my bank balance. I began to literally dream about lenses. I put away my new, autofocus lenses and began to rediscover the delightful art of manual focussing and prime lenses, where to zoom in and out means having to step forward or back, and where you take your time over the process of ‘making’, rather than merely ‘taking’, a picture. Yes, ladies and gentlemen – my name is Pablo Chaterji and I’m an addict, and I’ve never been happier.

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