How to shoot a Parsi

With her first photography exhibition, Parsis, on display at Chemould Prescott Road Gallery, things have come a full circle for award-winning screenwriter Sooni Taraporevala.

“I am a full-time screenwriter and part-time photographer, and all I needed to actually go out there and showcase my photographs was some gentle prodding by Shireen Gandhy (the gallery’s curator).

 A still from Sooni Taraporevala’s exhibition titled, Parsis

The photographs on display try to show a changing city through a changing community, says Taraporevala. “There isn’t much about famous Parsis here. I think they have been chronicled widely. This exhibition is all about the ‘ordinary’ Parsi on the street – s/he could be my neighbour, my family or the senior Parsi with the quintessential soli topi,” she adds.

Taraporevala shot these images between 1977 and 2013 across Mumbai’s nooks and crannies. “So much has changed in and outside the community – the photographs, for instance, trace how younger Parsis are way more stylish than we were. I have a photograph of the red-haired Ayesha Billimoria, and I can assure you we weren’t this fashionable back then! There are many pictures of old Parsi men wearing soli topi — nowadays, that’s as difficult as finding an Ambassador car on Mumbai’s streets,” the screenwriter smiles Taraporevala.

The exhibition also celebrates the few things that have remained the same – Taraporevala’s childhood home at Gowalia Tank and their neighbours, she says, haven’t moved in decades. “I am drawn towards Parsi seniors and children, so you’ll notice that they feature in many of the photographs on display,” she adds.

One of the photographs features a friend who had an inter-caste marriage but a traditional Zoroastrian ceremony. Another one features a navjot ceremony of a child of mixed parentage. Though Taraporevala believes in these causes, she says she isn’t trying to make a statement through these photographs. “I think films are better suited to make a statement. This exhibition is more about letting people see the Parsi way of life in Mumbai, Navsari and Udvada.

People in Mumbai know quite a bit about the community, but the rest of the country doesn’t. This is more like a mini history lesson, because I haven’t forgotten how I struggled to tell my classmates in the US about my community. They’d never heard of Parsis or Zoroastrianism.” Taraporevala also hopes to take the exhibition to other cities. “I hope these pictures make for a rich visual record of a community that’s changing so rapidly.”

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