Photographer Atul Kasbekar talks about the making of the Kingfisher Swimsuit Calendar 2018.
All photographs: Kind Courtesy Kingfisher Swimsuit Calendar
Rewind to 2003 when a 'booze calendar had to feature a hot model dressed in leather, seated on a bike, with cleavage in your face'.
Back then for photographer Atul Kasbekar that image was too tacky.
So he got down to creating a calendar with a 'sophisticated, sexy elegance' -- that's how the first Kingfisher Swimsuit Calendar was shot.
Atul has been associated with the calendar ever since and 16 years later, nothing much has changed -- the theme and the photographer are still the same.
Except for the fact that the locations are getting more exotic -- in a nutshell you can say this is 'one well-travelled' calendar.
Kasbekar, who started in 1990, will complete 28 years in the business this summer.
Here he talks to Anita Aikara/Rediff.com about shooting the calendar in Croatia, breaking stereotypes, the model line-up for 2018 and whether he will ever shoot with plus-size models and men.
The Croatian chapter
Over the years, the calendar has received praise for its locations and Atul's photographic talent and this year was no different.
"I basically spin the globe and throw a dart. Whichever island it seems to hit, we say 'let's go here'," he jokes talking of how the destination for the calendar is decided.
Croatia this year, was the photographer's idea. "It seems to be the new 'in spot' for Indian tourists, who want to take in a bit of the European Riviera," he says.
"You have the French Riviera, the Spanish, Italian, Greek and now the Croatian. The extremely well-heeled in the neighbourhood come there -- it is their little secret.
"When the Balkan Republic was the unified country of Yugoslavia, Joseph Tito's summer resort was in the island of Brijuni (it is a 20-minute ferry ride from the coast of north-west Croatia).
"The base line of the calendar is 'The King of Good Times'. The good times get defined by a lot of things and exotic travel is one of them," he adds.
A 16-year-old association
"I don't think there has been a longer association between a brand and a photographer that comes to my mind," says Atul who has been shooting for 25 years now.
"It is a really tough job. After 16 years of doing it, which is insane.
"But when mothers come to you and say they want their daughters to feature in the calendar, then you know you have done something right. Today when you think of calendar, you think of us!
"It's remarkable that there's no discussion about do I still want to shoot it (the calendar). We have never really had too much cribbing about the budget too!"
Shooting the calendar is no easy feat. There's a lot of hard work behind-the-scenes that rarely gets documented.
Tthe shoot lasts between 10-11 days to two weeks.
"That's the longest," exclaims Atul, who always goes on a recce, prior to the actual shoot.
"The shoot is planned like a military operation -- which girl, what time of the day, which clothing, jewellery, etc."
VIDEO: Atul Kasbekar talk about the making of the calendar.
The Kingfisher models
The process begins two months before the shoot. According to Atul, what they are really looking for is women with interesting faces.
"You have to be very fit. In the swimsuit space, it is more of an athletic body.
"Of course, long legs never hurt anybody!
"On a personal note, I think one of the many reasons the calendar has worked really well is that through the years we have treated women very respectfully.
"I keep telling the models that no matter what you're wearing, people will first look at your face.
"I tell the models that they're clad in 50 cm of fabric in an exotic location and have an absolute A-team working with them...after all this there is the option of retouch. So I don't need them to overtly try and work their face into being sexy."
"Each time someone gets into a pout, I ask them to stop."
Atul admits to being massively partial to dusky skin. As a personal moral rule, he has never shot for fairness creams.
"I can't think of a product that is more disgusting and manipulative, despite how much money you make," he says.
"There's something glorious about being dark, dusky and desirable.
"In swimsuit shoots across the world, models are chosen with particularly enhanced breasts.
"I feel that there are massively attractive women who are not that well-endowed. Hence, I have never felt the need to cast accordingly.
"The stereotype abroad is that if you are not 5"9' don't even bother having a conversation.
"But (in this calendar) we have used girls who are not that tall," he adds citing Priyanka Karunakaran's example, who is less that 5"5' and has shot for the 2018 calendar.
The model line-up for 2018
Atul usually shoots with five or six models. But this year, there were just four models including Mitali Rannorey, Priyanka Karunakaran, Priyanka Moodley and Ishika Sharma.
"With four (models), you know that every model will have a good shot of the title and has three pages minimum," he says. "Plus there is a cover, back cover and the credits page."
Talking of the stunning four faces who featured in the 2018 calendar he adds, "Mitali (Rannorey) has been a catwalk model for a while.
"She is a clean 6 ft with the most ridiculous legs I have seen in a long time. She is quite stunning.
"You just tend to inherently shoot someone to showcase their best feature and with Mitali, it was just the insane length of her body."
According to the photographer, Priyanka Moodley, who is of South African descent, had the best attributes needed for a swimsuit calendar -- great height, curvy Indian body and great moves.
"Just the prototype of what you need for a swimsuit calendar."
London based Ishika Sharma's most striking asset is her beautiful face.
"She's classically more of a print model and is likely to do a lot of beauty campaigns. She is skinny, but the face was priceless!"
As for the lovely Priyanka Karunakaran, a Keralite model and actor, her "West Indian meets Indian meets some kind of Hispanic blood" worked in her favour.
"She is not very tall -- probably 5"4' or 5"5'. She is dusky, very petite and has an intriguing look," says Atul.
VIDEO: The gorgeous ladies who graced the 2018 Kingfisher Swimsuit Calendar.
- Recommended for you: Seriously sexy! This calendar will make you blush
Kingfisher Calendar girls getting a break in movies
Name them and you spot them...Yana Gupta, Katrina Kaif, Deepika Padukone, Nargis Fakhri, Angela Jonsson, Esha Gupta, Lisa Hayden, Saiyami Kher, the list is endless.
"Some of them just lend themselves to the zone and it is fascinating to shoot with them. In no particular order, I thought Yana Gupta was fantastic.
"Esha Gupta was great and Angela Jonsson was unbelievable. I'd use her every year if she was available. There is a beautiful, fragile innocence coupled with this drop-dead gorgeous body and ample style.
"Tamara Moss didn't have a swimsuit body, but she knew how to work around beautifully."
"(There was a time when) we went down the route of checking what Bollywood wants and seeing if we could be a supply chain.
"Then we realised that a lot of the women they are looking for don't fit the swimsuit prototype. So we decided that we'll just make our girls look great."
Shooting with plus-size women and men
"There is no problem with plus-size. You just need to be proportionate," reveals Atul.
"You could be plus-size, but you need to be fit. All those women from Wonder Women, we could cast anyone of them. But for Gal Gadot, I could work for free."
Almost every year the photographer has a bunch of women coming up to him and saying, 'You need to do a calendar with men, so that we have something to look at.'
But Atul hates the idea of 'hanging out with a bunch of alpha males in their kacchas on the beach'.
"And I have no intention of doing that ever," he admits.
However, the idea of shooting with athletes does sound promising. "Hopefully it will happen this year," he says.
The journey as a photographer
Atul may have diversified into multiple roles -- entrepreneur and producer -- but photography is still his first love.
Having produced two movies -- Neerja and Tumari Sulu -- his partners in the business tell him that he has a limited attention span.
However, the only time when he is 'meditatively focussed' is when he is shooting.
That is the reason why he decided to quit engineering in his second year and took up photography.
"Nobody needed to tell me to take a picture," he says.
A bright student, Atul had got really upset for getting 97 in Mathematics in his school prelims.
"Not getting a 100/100 in the prelims upset me terribly. So I sent my paper to be rechecked."
He had the grades and got into the best engineering colleges in the country, UDCT (now Institute of Chemical Technology), Mumbai.
But then he discovered the chemical engineering had nothing to do with Chemistry, the subject he enjoyed.
So in the second year of engineering, Atul quit and decided to do a photography course from the Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara.
"It is just the happiness of shooting portraits in a known location with a face I'm familiar with.
"If history ever remembers me, that will be for photography," he adds with a smile.