On the flip side
On a working vacation in Mumbai in 2010, Hollywood photographer Mark Bennington went hunting for a flat to rent. It was serendipity, he said, that his roommate was a “Bollywood catalyst who made things happen in the industry.” Regular visits to Mumbai later, he had gathered enough dough to follow a star trek in our mainstream Hindu industry. The result? A coffee table book titled Living the Dream: The Life of the Bollywood Actor. “The book began in January 2010 during my maiden voyage to India. It started as a simple comparing and contrasting photo essay about the acting communities of Los Angeles and Mumbai, affectionately ‘Hollywood’ and ‘Bollywood’. I was to be in Mumbai for just two weeks and so arrived a fledgling in a new culture,” said Mark. A friend’s friend introduced him to film producer Guneet Monga, who agreed to set him up fo case studies of some actors.
“I had no real plan other than to meet a wide variety of actors and interview and photograph them. That’s it. It was at this time that I requested Guneet to write down an ‘interesting’ list of actors that he thought would work for my book. He put together a list of about 60 names and I realised that I didn’t know a single one on the list. I told myself that this is something really challenging that I have put myself into,” shared the photographer. Mark started his research for the project after he realised that he is totally blank about Bollywood. “The next month-and-a-half proved to be a crash course in the history of Bollywood culture and on the breadth of the acting community. Every night I watched multiple films and every day I was on the internet for eight hours reading up on the who’s who and the what’s what. By the end of December I had hit my stride.”
Before Bennington established himself as a leading photojournalist, he struggled to make it in the American film industry, taking up theatre projects and the occasional television stint. In 2004, after embracing photography full-time, a large chunk of his portfolio included portraits of American actors. Bennington still felt he needed to heed a calling. He planned a trip to India in typical Eat, Pray, Love style. “I was keen to represent every branch of the tree; the larger-than-life stars, of course, but also the supporting staff and aspiring actors, who queue up outside studios,” he said.
His project unravels a different side of the community. Away from the glitter and glamour, Mark tried to capture their natural selves and personalities, their human frailties and sense of realism. To make the shots candid, Mark chatted up his subjects as they went about their work. But he had to make do with the time they gave him. So while he had 48 hours with Salman Khan, Shilpa Shetty spared 15 minutes. Ironically, Vijay Raaz had to be chased for three weeks before he confirmed a time. To get access to Kareena Kapoor, he called Arjun Kapoor, who he had met during the casting for Ishaqzaade. “When I met Salman, he told me on the very first day that he sometimes keep quite just like that as he likes it that way and I should not feel bad about it. I replied to him that ‘It is the same with me dude.’ So it was quite good with him. Also after the project when I went to his place to meet him before I was leaving the country, I saw he was chilling at his place and was eating ghar ka khana. He also offered me a ride,” he shared.
Mark also wanted to clear a misconception about his book. “There is a misconception about the book which is that people think I have caught the actors off-guard. This is not true. I used to hang out with all the people I have captured and the pictures are simply candid shots,” he said.
Sharing his best moment from his project, he recalled the time he had to click pictures of Ranveer Singh. “I was to meet him in the dressing room. I waited an hour before the door opened, Ranveer roared in left in a few seconds to perform at an award function. I thought that I had missed the chance and I followed him to the spot where he was supposed to make the entry for his performance. I stood behind his guards, he was on the other side, all harnessed for a grand entry, getting the last touch-up. I took out the camera and clicked four shots of him before he disappeared from the sight and made his entry. It was all done in some eight seconds. There was a lot of rush in that split moment,” he laughed. The same photo became the cover of his book.
For his next project, titled Mi Mumbai or I Am Mumbai, he is shooting portraits of his friends from the film community and other Mumbaikars against a stark white backdrop. “The images are a combination of my Mumbai, my experiences in the city, my interpretations, my friends and the circle that surrounds me. The images are my attempt to break the Mumbai mould, rebel against standardised modes of identification, thwarting caste and class systems while simultaneously creating a vision of equality,” he concluded.
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