Atul Kasbekar in conversation with Indulge about the pandemic, the Kingfisher Calendar 2021 and his next film Loop Lapeta
He's put many women in the spotlight, but for once, we put Atul Kasbekar in the spotlight for an exclusive chat with Indulge over a Zoom call. Wearing a black T-shirt and sporting a Traveltec timepiece from Swiss watchmaker Carl F. Bucherer, the ace photographer sat in his study at his Mumbai home looking totally relaxed and rejuvenated.
Though Atul has been spending time indoors, like all of us, he has been quite busy doing everything that’s come his way, thanks to the lockdown. The celebrity photographer raised funds through a charity initiative to source 20,000 PPE kits for frontline workers at over 40 hospitals across the country, and as a producer, he has initiated a dialogue about implementing COVID-19 insurance that covers shoots in these unprecedented times.
He explains, “The current policies do not cover COVID-19. For instance, if we arrive at a particular place to shoot for a schedule of 20 days, and abruptly the government announces a lockdown, as a producer, my business has to be protected.” The shoot of his next film, Loop Lapeta, a remake of the 1998 German experimental thriller film, Run Lola Run, starring Taapsee Pannu and Tahir Raj Bhasin, was supposed to begin in April. However, it had to be pushed due to the lockdown. It’s because of such uncertainty that Atul is pressing for an updated insurance policy. The shoot for the film is now scheduled to begin in November.
A charity initiative might not sound like an apt idea considering the tough financial times the world is facing. However, Atul’s pragmatic approach worked. “I firmly believe that charity should have gratification, only then will more people be motivated to offer it,” says Atul, who partnered with Tring, a gratification platform. Those who contributed had a chance to get their name mentioned in a video or a social media post by one of the celebrities associated with the cause. “It’s like going to a charity dinner where you get to meet Prince Charles. You have paid more than the dinner cost, but you also get an opportunity to get a picture with someone well-known,” explains Atul who roped in names like Vidya Balan, Harbhajan Singh, Harsha Bhogle, Mandira Bedi and others to be part of the initiative which concluded on July 1.
Thank you messages and tweets are pouring in on his social media timeline for the work he did, however, Atul does not want to take credit. He says, “At a time like this, everyone should do something for others.”
"You never want to be a Coca Cola bottle, there are millions of them and you can’t tell the difference. That’s my idea of beauty; you need to be different to be memorable," says Atul Kasbekar
In the last three months, the lensman who was already fit, and disciplined about his workout regimen, achieved yet another goal — he lost nine kilos. His vigorous workout videos posted on Instagram bear testimony. “I was neurotic about gaining weight (during the lockdown). I have always been fit and strong as I worked out on all seven days. I read and figured that the only way to keep weight gain in check was to eat less. I downloaded an app and started tracking calories consumed and kept it at less than 2,000 per day,” he explains.
Although a self-confessed gym addict, the photographer admits yoga has changed his body ever since he started practising two years ago. While he continued with weight training, core workouts and push-ups, he has also managed to get better at some complex yoga asanas during the lockdown period. “I recommend yoga to everybody; it has been a life-changing experience. I was talking to Shilpa (Shetty, actress) and told her about the changes I have noticed. She said I have achieved this because I have been so diligent. This is very inspirational, especially when you get encouragement from a yoga exponent like Shilpa Shetty,” he enthuses.
"Lisa Haydon and Malaika Arora are phenomenal. You just aim the camera at the general vicinity of their presence, and they’ll do their thing," says Atul Kasbekar
While he waits to begin shooting for his film, Atul is prepping for his signature project. The master photographer will be behind the lens once again to shoot the coveted Kingfisher Calendar. “We’ve shot for 18 years. It’s a fantastic property by the UB Group and we are looking for a location where there will be no quarantine or flight issues,” reveals the ace lensman who has shot the likes of Katrina Kaif, Lisa Haydon, Deepika Padukone, Nargis Fakhri, Esha Gupta and Shobita Dhulipal for the calendar.
When asked what he looks for in the models, he says “If somebody is a model, it’s assumed that you aren’t doing anyone a favour by being beautiful and in shape. I am always looking for something more. A little bit of an X-factor. It’s difficult to define it.” Most of those who have been shot by him have made it big, either in the fashion industry or in Bollywood.
But of all the names, Atul says only two qualify as his muses. “Lisa Haydon and Malaika Arora are phenomenal. You just aim the camera at the general vicinity of their presence, and they’ll do their thing while I can keep looking wherever I want to and keep pressing the shutter,” he signs off with a smile.
We think you post some of the funniest memes on Instagram. Where do you find them?
For me, sense of humour is of paramount importance. We have a WhatsApp group of friends that has existed for almost seven years now. In all its irony, it’s called the Very High Class Humour Club. The group is all about quality over quantity. If someone is sending something, it has to be genuinely funny. So sometimes we have as few as three messages in a week. If someone is slipping below standards, we immediately say, “That’s not very high class.”
Tell us about Barfee, the dog who features in some of your Instagram videos…
It’s a friend’s dog, who we puppy sit sometimes. We usually get to play with him on weekends.
Where do you look for inspiration?
The key is to have a deep sense of interest in other arts. I think cooking, painting and sculpting are great arts. You should be mindful of what’s happening in these arts across the globe. I strongly recommend Pinterest, which is a great source of inspiration.
What is beauty to you?
It lies in the eye of the beholder. But it is also about being memorable. I remember reading a line somewhere that says, ‘You never want to be a Coca Cola bottle, there are millions of them and you can’t tell the difference.’ That’s my idea of beauty; you need to be different to be memorable.
Tell us about your love for Arsenal Football Club.
My friend Rahul Guha introduced me to it when we were playing Pictionary, over two decades ago. I have been following the team since then. I have watched about 24 games live at the stadium. I know the Arsenal players reasonably well and have met a lot of them. Whenever I plan a trip to London, I plan it to coincide with the matches.
What other interests keep you engaged?
I have an extensive interest in food and it is not price-conscious. If someone tells me that on Hampstead High Street there’s a guy serving incredible waffles and pancakes, I will stand in the queue for it. But at the same time, I will make a reservation at Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck and pay some stupid amount for an insanely memorable meal. I am also passionate about gin and tequila and have an extensive collection that you won’t find in duty-free shops.
We hear you have an enviable collection of sports memorabilia…
Yes, I have a huge interest, so I keep bidding at auctions. I have a bat signed by Vivian Richards, I have an MRF bat (one in 10 in the world) signed by Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar and Steve Waugh, I have Mohammed Ali’s boxing shorts, and I have Kobe Bryant’s signed jersey. The year Sebastian Vettel won Formula One, I got his fire retardant inner that he wore for it, and I own a signed cap by Michael Schumacher. My kids will have a fairly big collection to put on auction one day when I am dead.
Watch the full interview on Indulge YouTube channel