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Shahid Datawala | Interview
GULAN KRIPALANI. But for the viewer, for me, the story would be very different.
SHAHID DATAWALA. Exactly. I have to tell my story and it all depends on how you want to connect with it. Your version of it will be totally different. That does not worry me or concern me. As long as I know that I have my underlying story, that there is a definition to my image — that’s important. That’s why I never ended up doing advertising or fashion or anything like that. I could never connect with that kind of imagery at all.
GULAN KRIPALANI. You don’t think advertising could give you that story-like quality?
SHAHID DATAWALA. I’m sure it does. Prabuddha (Dasgupta) uses his work very well with advertising and tells a lot of stories with advertising shoots or fashion shoots. For example, he used Louis Vuitton in Old Delhi — Louis Vuitton suitcases with the thelawallahs, Louis Vuitton outside a broken-down haveli. So the image talks about two eras, about two classes. It was great! The images were stunning. That’s what I really liked. Using a Louis Vuitton umbrella in Jama Masjid. That was a great piece of advertising photography.
GULAN KRIPALANI. The juxtaposition of two completely disparate things — spaces, times, classes, a conflict within the work . .
SHAHID DATAWALA. Absolutely. There has to be a sense of conflict. Like this one. Talaash and these people — they may be worried or happy .
GULAN KRIPALANI. They certainly look kind of lost.
SHAHID DATAWALA. Totally. They are almost waiting for something to happen in their lives. They maybe losers, loafers, wasters. It talks about a certain class of people. It relates to the poster. And that is how I construct my stories. And they are very simple stories. I’m not getting into complex issues at all.
GULAN KRIPALANI. When you say stories, you mean the emotions or strange connections they evoke in another person?
SHAHID DATAWALA. I want to tell a clean simple story and then leave it to the viewer.
GULAN KRIPALANI. And depending on the viewer, the story will change. For example, for someone who lives a life close to these young men, the story will be a very different one from that of those who are afraid of such young men.
SHAHID DATAWALA. True. And there will be various kinds of emotions — anger, jealousy . . . Like this one of the army man who may not see his family or kids.
GULAN KRIPALANI. This was a passing shot?
SHAHID DATAWALA. Yes, an incidental one. I like very strong graphic elements in my photos.
These, for example, are coolies who function in the old part of town, carrying cans from cinema hall to cinema hall or from distributor to cinema hall. So I thought I’d put a whole story together and call them “can coolies.” I could travel with these guys — a lot of them go out of town so one could go with them.
This man is tightening the reels before putting them back in the can. They collect them from the cinema halls and that’s why you see so many scratches. They really manhandle the prints.
GULAN KRIPALANI. Well, this another era coming to an end. It’s all digital and instant and satellites
SHAHID DATAWALA. But I think this one won’t go so quickly. The small cinema halls can’t afford the new technology.
I shoot a lot in low light and that somehow enhances these dimly lit cinema spaces. This is in Delhi, a cinema called Westend. If you ask anyone, they won’t know where it is. It’s tucked away somewhere but has beautiful architecture. Really nice lines, very well defined.
Those cinema halls were lovely. Large staircases . . . grand . . . Going to the cinema then was like going to Lonavala or something like that.
GULAN KRIPALANI. Yes, it was a big occasion. Not like now — “Chalo let’s see what’s playing.”
SHAHID DATAWALA. Yes. Now it’s, “We’ll go to KFC and then we’ll see a film and then we’ll go to XYZ pub.” And that’s it. In those days, going to the cinema was going to a particular cinema.
GULAN KRIPALANI. Was this series your idea? A personal project? Or an assignment?
SHAHID DATAWALA. No, I actually did this work with Sarai in Delhi. They wanted me to apply for something and I’d always had cinema on my mind — cinema spaces, how cinema spaces used to be designed, the hand-painted hoardings, the architecture. I’ve always had this fascination for old architecture. Even my car series or the Connaught Place series — each has revolved around the bygone era. So I thought, “Cinema!” And Sarai always wanted to do cinema research, work on cinema-going subcultures. So I applied for a grant and got it and did it for about six months.
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