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Shahid Datawala | Interview
Shahid Datawala interviewed by Gulan Kripalani
SHAHID DATAWALA. You know when you see a space, it’s just a space. But it changes with every moment of the day, with the light. It becomes like a backdrop, like a set. People perform in different ways at different times. The hoardings, for example, actually form the backstage for the film being shown and people, absolutely unknowingly, interact with them. A space keeps changing constantly. It’s the space within that space — like a hollow piece —
GULAN KRIPALANI. It can be whatever it is depending on who is there at that moment.
SHAHID DATAWALA. Exactly. It’s like anything in our lives — like our homes. There is, say, a set of vibes when you are here. Then someone else comes over and there is a different energy. It’s a constant thing that keeps happening; there will be crying, people will be laughing . .
GULAN KRIPALANI. So you construct your frame, fix it, and say, “This is my frame and I will wait for something to happen inside it?”
SHAHID DATAWALA. I actually construct it in my head and then I wait for that thing to happen. It’s very tongue-in-cheek when it does. Sometimes I see a frame and construct a story instantly. And then I wait. And that wait can be indefinite.
GULAN KRIPALANI. So you think something will happen within that frame that will make it come alive?
SHAHID DATAWALA. Yes. Come alive, tell a story, whatever.
GULAN KRIPALANI. So here we have a poster of Akshay Kumar and a man standing in front of it with the exact same expression.
SHAHID DATAWALA. Yes. Sometimes you construct an image but the story takes a different turn altogether. I did not expect exactly that to happen.
GULAN KRIPALANI. No, how could you have known.
SHAHID DATAWALA. And then it’s like catching the moment, a moment you have already constructed. It’s very surreal when that happens because you couldn’t have planned it. It’s fascinating! And a lot of times it’s been bang on with what I’ve wanted.
SHAHID DATAWALA. Yes, for example, with this image, I wanted some very perverse- looking men staring at it and I found a very perverse-looking man, bang on! With his hand in the right place! Very Delhi. It is indeed. So you were waiting —
SHAHID DATAWALA. I was waiting for something perverse to happen, and it did, and I got it. These people were telling me, “Kabse khada hai, lo na photo, niklo na.” People get irritated. They don’t know what I have in mind. So they hound me, ask me silly questions. I have to ask, “Tumko kya problem hai?” Every day I have some argument or the other. And if you point a camera at the cinema halls or at any architectural building, there is a problem.
GULAN KRIPALANI. I find it extraordinary that you wait for something to happen and you do get what you want. It’s like auto-suggestion.
SHAHID DATAWALA. Absolutely. Like radiation. “Jao, jao, udhar khada raho, haath aise rakho!” I get excited like a child when I see it happening. My hands start trembling and I quickly get out my camera and shoot. And I don’t take ten shots of the same thing. Two or three and then I move away. I usually work on the tripod and I keep looking till I get it.
GULAN KRIPALANI. What’s the longest you’ve waited for a shot?
SHAHID DATAWALA. Three, three and a half hours. I like this one — the loneliness in the man, walking away, Sathiya . . .
GULAN KRIPALANI. There’s a whole story right there.
SHAHID DATAWALA. Yes, for me the image has to be a story, otherwise it’s pointless. An image has to have a lot of layers within it. You have to travel into the image. And every little thing within it has to speak. I have to see an image and it has to do something to me instantly.
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