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Living through the lens

Ace photographer Atul Kasbekar reveals how switching lanes from chemical engineering to photography changed his life forever and why his twins are his best friends

Atul Kasbekar, Owner of Bling! Entertainment Solutions

Standing tall at 6 feet 3 inches, with a million-watt smile and a lean physique, he can easily pass off as a model. But award-winning photographer and owner of a celebrity management company, Bling! Entertainment Solutions, Atul Kasbekar likes to be behind the camera instead of in front of it.

Atul Kasbekar, award-winning photographer and owner of a celebrity management company, Bling! Entertainment Solutions, in the studio. Photo courtesy: Carl F Buchere
Atul Kasbekar, award-winning photographer and owner of a celebrity management company, Bling! Entertainment Solutions, in the studio. Photo courtesy: Carl F Buchere

The 49-year-old has a job any man would die for. But he admits that being surrounded by striking, ravishing supermodels is just another day in his life. The visionary lensman behind the success of the Kingfisher calendars calls it “just a job at the end of the day.”

Changing gears
Born into a Gaud Saraswat Brahmin family in Mumbai, Kasbekar studied at Campion School in Fort and went on to join Jai Hind College at Churchgate.

Atul Kasbekar with cricketer Rahul DravidAtul Kasbekar with cricketer Rahul Dravid

After his graduation, like any other middle-class Maharashtrian boy, he was prodded by his family to pursue chemical engineering at UDCT (University Department of Chemical Technology of the University of Bombay, now known as the Institute of Chemical Technology). But he dropped out, of the course, a year later.

“I had a different idea about the subject and eventually realised that if I continued, I’d be the world’s worst chemical engineer. Besides, there were no girls in the batch,” says the photographer says sheepishly. The epiphany that he wanted to be a photographer didn’t dawn on him all of a sudden.

He admits that it was his friend, adman Prahlad Kakkar, who gave him the right advice at the right time. “Prahlad told me that 95 per cent of people go to work every day but only five per cent make a living out of doing what they love. He told me that if I do what I love for a living, I would never have to work for a single day in my life.”

That’s when Kasbekar realised that he needs to pursue his love for photography seriously. He says, “Have you seen 3 Idiots? R Madhavan’s storyline (where the actor’s character gives up engineering to become a wildlife photographer) is my life story. It’s a great feeling to do what you love for a living.”

The lensman joined the Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara, US, to learn the nuances of professional photography and was the topper of the batch in 1988. After completing his course, he worked with photographers such as Dennis Gray, Ron Slenzak, James B Wood, Jay Silverman, Jay P Morgan, Bill Werts and David Le Bon in Los Angeles to learn the tricks of the trade.

Picture perfect
Kasbekar returned to India in the early ’90s and started his career as a professional photographer by setting up a studio called Negative Space. Over the last two decades, the father of two has shot the crème de la crème of Bollywood and Indian fashion industry.

Ask what does it take to look great on camera and he says nonchalantly, “It’s relatively easy for models who go on to become actresses because they are fairly easy on the aperture already. However, actresses have enough practice of facing the camera and do a good job, too. Most of the people I have worked with are delightful.

I consider myself lucky to be a part of both worlds — analogue photography and digital media. Even today if you look at the works of Richard Avedon, they are timelessly beautiful and relevant, even to this day. A ray of light against the grey background has an inherent beauty to it.”

Kasbekar has also played an instrumental role in the success of models such as Yana Gupta and Angela Jonsson who have graced editions of the Kingfisher calendar. Since 2003 he has shot 10 editions of the calendar.

He says, “The Kingfisher calendar is so much more than a swimsuit calendar. It’s classy and it is a matter of pride for a model to be on one. I have always taken great pains to make sure that the pictures have a certain level of dignity to them.”

A people’s person
His close association with celebrities prompted him to set up Bling! Entertainment Solutions in 2007. His company has partnered with several FMCG brands. Kasbekar, however, confesses that it’s not easy to handle celebrities.

He explains, “It’s basically a business of expectation management. You have to meet people’s expectations, which are sometimes real, sometimes, unreal. We manage people who have struggled to get to where they are and they are still struggling to go higher.

The top is not an easy place for celebrities to be in. There’s always another celebrity wanting to be where you are. We aim to maximise the returns they get.”

Recently, the photographer decided to venture into production with the Hindi film Bobby Jasoos, which hit the marquee earlier this month. Explaining what prompted the decision, he says, “My company manages both Vidya Balan and Dia Mirza. Dia had a script that she wanted to make into a movie and we thought it was really interesting. We had access to the producer, script and the actor, so we helped put the project together. The movie’s content was solid.”

A man of many moods
The lensman maintains that he is an early riser and is fairly disciplined when it comes to his personal and professional life. “No matter what time I sleep, I get up latest by 7.30 am except on Sundays when my body collapses after a long, hard week,” he laughs. He loves spending time with his twins Naomi and Arnav, who are also his two best friends. “They are a cool twosome,” beams the proud father.

One might presume that a perfect day for Kasbekar would mean spending time with a bevy of beauties while capturing them in his lenses but he begs to differ and says, “It starts with having dosas made by my mother for breakfast, an acupressure massage, spending some quality time with my kids followed by a lazy lunch with friends and some iced lemony tonics lashed with gin. If I pass out after the gin, then all it takes is Arsenal FC winning a soccer match to rouse me up,” Kasbekar signs off.

My favourites
Destination: London
Sport: Football

Inside Track
Born: April 22, 1965
First break: Sheetal Campaign under Forefront Advertising 
Best advice: If you do what you love, you are never going to work a single day of your life
Would love to shoot: Uma Thurman

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