By Kuldip Dhiman
When my friends learn that I have shot many pretty faces over the years, they say, "You were with all these beauties, and got paid for it as well! Lucky fellow!" Like many others, they have no clue what life behind the camera is like. Shooting a bevy of beautiful models is not all fun and games as I learnt from my very first experience.
WHEN it was my turn to use the camera, Mr Inderjit Gupta, the kind gentleman who taught us photography, suggested that I do portraits. "Why don't you ask one of the girls to sit for you?" he suggested. I agreed and was soon on the prowl, looking for my first victim.
As a student of applied art at College of Art, Chandigarh, one of my subjects was photography. Only two or three of us had cameras, the rest of us had to depend on the sole Yaschica Matt twin lens that belonged to the college. In the entire year, we got to actually use the camera just once, and this was done by turns. We were given a day to complete our yearly assignment. We could shoot anything, still life, landscape, or portrait, or composition which could mean anything.
As I walked around the college, I spotted a girl called Jatinder Kaur. I was quite surprised to find her alone that day, because she always moved around with a dozen other girls of her class. I mustered courage and made my request, and she very kindly agreed. The time was fixed at two in the afternoon, the same day.
Absolutely thrilled, I went back, and informed Mr. Gupta. We started making arrangements. The lights, backgrounds, props etc. Since I had hardly handled a camera in my life, I asked Mr. Gupta to be around during the shoot. "I will be right next to you," he assured me. I looked at the clock, 10 minutes more, and our good model would be here.
Just then, one of the office boys walked in and told Mr. Gupta that the Principal wanted to see him immediately. I looked at my teacher in utter despair.
"Don't you worry, my boy, I will be back in five minutes," he assured me.
"Sir, please, she will be here any minute."
"I will be back in a jiffy," he said patting my back.
With every passing moment, my heart began to pound harder and harder. A few minutes after the appointed hour, I heard the sound of footsteps in the corridor. I walked to the studio door to see who was there, and my heart sank at what I saw.
"Oh! My God, no!"
Before I could gain my composure, Jatinder Kaur was right in front of me, with a dozen or so other girls: Leena, Meena, . . Purnima . . . Nandita . . . Madhu . . . Soon the room was full of 'hi, hi, how are you . . . '.
And then all hell broke loose.
"So, you are taking pictures of Jatinder?" asked one of them.
"Yes," I said, sounding like a criminal.
"You don't find us beautiful, or what?" six of them said in unison.
"Of course, all of you are beautiful," I didn't know what to say, then suddenly I said, "Actually, I wanted to ask you, too, but this morning none of you were around. It was rather urgent you see."
"We will accept that. Well, it is not too late, aren't you lucky that we arrived."
Lucky? I would have considered myself lucky to be with a bevy of beautiful girls, but not today. And to make matters worse, there was no sign of Mr. Gupta. I tried to play for time by saying things like, "I think your hair is not all right, would you mind, tying it in a knot?"
"Oh, no, that would take a lot of time."
That's exactly the idea, baby, I wanted to say. In order to delay things, I said with a superior air that her dress was not right for the mood I wanted to create. Could she change it. Then I said her hairstyle was too formal, could she let her hair down. I did this until I ran out of all excuses.
I couldn't begin shooting because I had no idea about what shutter speed and aperture to set. Mr. Gupta had promised to be my side, and to my utter dismay there was still no sign of him. I hoped some other professor or friend would walk in, but sure enough, when you want help, no one is around.
Now the girls were getting restless, and I decided not to test their patience any further. Taking a deep breath, I went behind the camera, with my eyes still looking towards the door.
The next hour was the longest in my life. I shot one girl after the other without having a clue if Mr. Gupta had loaded a film or not. All the while, I pretended to be as calm and collected as possible. When the roll was finally over (thank God it was there), I declared "pack up" in the manner of great film directors.
It took them another 15 minutes to pack up, but now I was not worried, my ordeal was over.
As soon as the girls said their byes and left, Mr. Inderjit Gupta appeared.
"I am sorry, the Principal kept me. Did your model arrive?"
Then looking at me he said, "What's wrong with you, you are white as a sheet?"
"A bad case of overexposure," I managed to say.
That was also true of the negatives that I got, they were quite overexposed, but I could make just about acceptable prints. But I knew Ansel Adams (a famous American photographer) would never approve of them, so I tore them up.
Later, Jatinder and gang kept asking for their prints, but I successfully managed to give some excuse or the other until they forgot all about it.
But I wonder, if after so many years any of the girls even remembers the hell they unintentionally gave a beginner.