Why I shot Baba Ramdev the way I did for India Today cover
Babaji's statement about making MNC executives do shirshasana flashed in my mind.
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When India Today decided to do a cover story on Baba Ramdev, my biggest challenge was to create an image which people have not seen. An image that would arrest attention and draw you to pick the issue up to flip inside. In the barrage of celebrity images that leap at you in the public domain, Baba Ramdev’s face is as ubiquitous as Narendra Modi’s.
How do you photograph a news celebrity who is now also staring at you from every hoarding of Patanjali - which is fast becoming a remarkable business success story to come out of India in this decade. The picture had to somehow reflect this. Whew.
Here is a peek at my thought process: “So this is a dramatic rise... think Babaji as a corporate – but then he wears saffron and wooden slippers... maybe we can get him to wear sunglasses (as I had seen Sri Sri Ravi Shankar wear them)... yes that is it... shades and a 'cool' laid back posture".
I thought I had nailed it. When I met Babaji in Haridwar it was "curtains" on my idea. He doesn’t wear shades - in fact he doesn't own a pair. “Now what? Him with products? Naah... too predictable. But then this is exactly what someone in the edit meeting will ask: the story is about his consumer products - products ke saath nahin shoot kiya? So products in some way have to be there..."
All this was going on in my mind while Babaji was offering the perfect PR picture after PR picture. Getting himself shot in the midst of a herd of cows showing dung heaps of organic compost doing a small round of the estate on his old scooter, even ploughing fields, doing pushups, lifting a watermelon. Still no products. Darn it.
We moved towards the Patanjali Food Park... I finally had him at the product store. But it's so been there, done that - the predictable shelves of products. I tried some visuals... it was not working... boring, boring, boring images of him smiling while reclining on the shelves.
There were some with factories coming up... hope flooded me again. So did sweat. It was May 11 and I was running from one plant to another looking for the right image to bring all together. We arrived at the herb warehouse. What? Who has seen an industrial warehouse filled with just sacks of herbs?
”It’s the nerve centre of Patanjali,” said Baba. Now I had to do an image at the "nerve centre". I set up my shot. Babaji on a forklift in the middle of rows of shelves. Would he do it? He did. I now had a possible cover.
On my way back I was thinking it is a great image but it was too much of a stunt, wasn't it? He doesn’t really stand on a forklift as a part of his daily work. The image was also too large for a cover to get all the body text in. It had to be something simple.
On our way back I hear my colleague Kaushik Deka and Baba Ramdev discuss his business mantra. I am doing the "ulta" thing of being my own brand ambassador. Now I was scheduled to do a photoshoot with Babaji doing yoga at his ashram. The moment I heard the word "ulta" it was an eureka moment.
I was already thinking yoga postures and I heard "ulta". That was the shirshasana. Babaji's well-known statement about MNCs flashed in my mind. "I will make all of them (MNC executives) do shirshasana," he said somewhere. I was now feverish with excitement.
A Baba taking on the multinationals and in the wake creating a mega brand with hundreds of products of daily use and a profit line that is going into astral space. It disrupts many stereotypes. It's actually turning corporate logic upside down and in the process spirituality upside down - a shirshasana! I had my concept.