Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Charlie and the photo factory

Yep, that’s my version of the tale so you don’t get chocolates but photographs. It was my day out with a mime who plays Charlie Chaplin at a restaurant for a living. So for all intents and purposes, lets call him Charlie shall we, for the real one would’ve been proud of this 21st (or is it 22nd) century copy!

Basically, coming to terms with vague themes, I decided to be vague in my own way and decided to shoot a photo series with Charlie because he in himself is such an interesting prop, I only needed to place him and viola! I have a photo story. Quite what the story says, I haven’t decided just yet but something will come up. Maybe something to do with surrealism and juxtaposition and contrast etc etc. hmmm. So back to the day.

Charlie, though very decent was quite tardy, he made me wait for two hours before he arrived and then put on his make-up while I was hanging around waiting for a ready made painted one. (While waiting I checked out hideously expensive overcoats and exchanged gossip with recession worried Anjali and Pia. We were depressed with the prices and decided to wait till the sale becomes more aggressive).

Since he had a 4 'o' clock birthday to attend and I had an evening book launch to rush to, my panic button was all but blinking red since the day being his holiday, it was all I had. Phew. I get jitters just thinking about it. But we managed. Almost.

First of all I took him to Jantar Mantar where the unique architecture would provide an interesting contrast and setting. What I did not expect was ‘Charlie Charlie’ and ‘One photo please’ requests from everyone, be it 6 or 60. Seriously, people were fascinated. It makes me wonder why I was and am always so blasé about this. Charlie Chaplin appealed to me as a photographic subject, but as entertainment, I probably would not be so enamored. But maybe my idea of creating contrast by placing him in dramatic or just different surroundings worked too well. People gamed. People stared. And people called out.


‘Areey, hello yaaar’

‘Charlie Bhai’

‘Charlie paaji, oye hullo’

‘Hello Mr India!’

and you can add your variations.

This Charlie was as pleasant as was possible considering we were almost mobbed! Everyone wanted a piece of him. And I never once imagined this aspect of the shoot while I bit my nails thinking of locations and lighting.

As the day went on and we proceeded from location to location- in an auto, I was constantly amazed by the number of people who peeped out of their cars, turned their heads, hung their heads out of the window- just for Charlie. And he of course never failed to oblige. He shook hands with kids, tipped his hat to strangers, raised eyebrows for strangers, mimicked anyone with a funny expression and well, he did what he does best- entertained people. Pretending to trip while in Janpath, swishing his stick nonchalantly while checking out handicrafts or just making faces at a very old, amused lady- he was in his element. And I know he’s an artist and this is how he earns his living but the simplicity with which he adopted this role and proceeded to entertain everyone- policemen, beggars, our auto rickshaw drivers, security guards, aunties and uncles and little sardars- it was amazing.

Which is why, when we reached India Gate and some 15 unruly school children (probably bursting with post-puberty hormones) started to jostle, push and just misbehave with Charlie, I was furious. With myself for not thinking about it, since he was pretty much my responsibility and with people, who have no respect. Obviously, screaming ‘Don’t touch him’ and ‘Get away’ did not work. I wonder if my voice was within the audible range, but capable Charlie swished his stick and off we were. He was upset but within minutes he was entertaining ice-cream vendors with swashbuckling antics. Needless to say, I was charmed. Here was a boy, who hardly earns enough to keep house, is extremely talented and who likes being Charlie Chaplin and he gets over such incidents like a forgotten itch. I don’t think I would be quite so forgiving, or forgetful.

But mostly, it was his quiet pride in what he does, the smiles and the responses that he generated from every and I do mean every pedestrian we crossed (not to mention a group of very persistent south Indian NCC cadets. ‘Char-lay own photoh’) that kept him going I think. From Lodhi Garden to the National Gallery of Modern art, a book shop or a bus stand; everywhere we went, he drew smiles, if not awe. And me, I just kept wondering- how many lives has he touched today by a simple lift of an eyebrow?


marvin the paranoid android said...

touching... not in the conventional way... but the fact that by doing little, he made the day for so many people.. kudos to him...

Anjali said...

its a sweet account...well written :) i always end up feeling bad for these people. They are talented, honest to their work and are so underpaid...plus subjected to lot humiliation from rude people...

life! sigh

rain girl said...

touching post. very meaningful...

good work, girl..would love to see whatever pictures you took :)

Abhishek/Calvy said...

...covers so many insightful perspectives of a mundane SOMEONE we all might have come across...I hope the classic adage holds ground,'in the end everything gets in order'

Debasish said...

would love to see the pics, and I must say the post is really well written.

Piya said...

i've been wanting to comment for quite some time now.. sorry for the late response.. I love your photography, each picture narrates something unique and i feel sorry for charlie, what all people do to survive.. you're close to becoming an expert with every shoot :D

jasmine bhasin ;) said...

So true Piya....Nandini is just so close to becoming an expert. To be able to take the kind of pictures she does a photographer definitely needs to understand the magnitude of the emotions playing in the mind of the subject.

Brilliant work. Very well written :) :)

Nandini said...

Thank you everyone, for being so encouraging and also for the empathy :)
Clearly, so long as people like you are out there, they will always be someone in the crowd who would appreciate an honest man's right to dignity

jasmine bhasin ;) said...

:) :)


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