Q. You are also a trained actor. How, then, did photography happen?
A. I had been acting for about 10 years and was feeling like I just wanted to do something different — a change. So, I picked up my grandfather’s camera who was an avid amateur photographer. I was left with his camera and lenses after he died in 1996. In 2002, I picked it up and started photographing friends and showed the pictures to my acting agency which they loved. And they started sending me clients which led to advertising and corporate work. In a few months, I started my life as a photographer. So it all happened very organically, suddenly and spontaneously.
Q. What was the idea behind your latest book on Bollywood stars?
A. The idea behind the book was to document the lives of actors. And it happened as I was taking a trip to India in 2010 and thought to myself that I could do this book in India. It started out just as a sort of comparing and contrasting photo essay between Los Angeles and Bombay. So L.A. had been the first place of interest and I thought I could do this book in L.A. because I had been an actor there. I could document the lives of actors there. But at the same time, I started shooting and got caught up in other work, and then found myself in India in 2010 and that is when it occurred to me.
Q. Your photos capture some of the more candid moments of stars. How easy/difficult was to take such pictures?
A. I would say in general it was pretty easy. I mean, it is not difficult to capture moments if you know that you’re a good photographer. You just have to be in the right place at the right time and say all your prayers and hope that good things happen. And usually they do, if you have the right intention, so that’s really what I had going into it. I had the right intention and was at the right place at the right time, and just knowing my craft well enough enabled me to capture the moments as they unfolded.
Q. When did you start this project? How much time did it take to compile all these pictures?
A. I started the project in 2010 and I shot the majority of the book within the period of seven months, which seems incomprehensible but it just shows the kind of intense work that I was doing with the help of Guneet Monga and Shanoo Sharma. Before I met Shanoo Sharma, I met 20 actors through Guneet and from then I probably met 25 on my own. When I went to Shanoo, I had about 45 images of different actors, which happened between the periods of 6-7 months. These pictures make it interesting now, as we can look back just only a few years ago and see where certain people were and where they are now.
“The idea behind the book was to document the lives of actors. And it happened when I was taking a trip to India in 2010 and thought to myself that I could do this book in India. It started out just as a sort of comparing and contrasting photo essay between Los Angeles and Bombay.”
Q. Could you share some of the stars’ reactions when you told them that you wanted to click their pictures?
A. Everyone knew why they were a part of this project because I had pursued them and reached out to them telling them that I wanted them to be in this book. I also showed them what the book was looking like and what it is about. So everyone agreed to do it.
Q. While clicking the photos, how was your experience with your subjects?
A. My experience with everyone was really good. Everyone was completely open, genuine and honest. Some were really just sort of holding their cards close to their chest, but in the interviews the feeling was always good with everyone that I
Q. The images also speak of the hard work and struggles of both established and budding actors. Was it easy to capture this sense of struggle through your lense?
A. Doing a project like this, it requires a certain finesse, it requires a certain sensibility and sensitivity. So capturing their struggles is a very one-dimensional question. Capturing their lives is what I was going for and I feel like I did that. And everyone seems to agree — that this is a pretty complex portrayal as everyone knows the actor’s life in Bombay. So I feel like I have done exactly what I had set out to do.
Q. Are you planning any similar project with Hollywood stars in mind?
A. Yes, this is my plan but before that, my second follow up book to Living the dream, Mi Mumbai, which you can see on my website, which is a stylistically a 180-degree turn from my first book. In this, it’s only a black-and-white 8/10 portrait shot against the white background in natural light and it’s about my struggle here in Mumbai. It is my version of Mumbai and I am calling it Mi Mumbai because it is about all the people whom I have come across everyday. It’s a combination of my circle of friends and my circle of strangers.
Q. Can a parallel be drawn between Hollywood and Bollywood stars?
A. This question is focused on stars and I think that is a sort of problem on the outset of looking at this book which has all the stars in it. It’s not about Bollywood stars or Hollywood stars, but it is about actors and the acting community. Stars are one of the branches of that larger community. So I won’t be comparing stars per se but when I do this project in Hollywood, there will certainly be some comparison drawn between the acting communities of Mumbai and Los Angeles.
Q. How would you describe this photo essay?
A. I would describe this as bringing a humanistic reality to the Bollywood dream. This is a humanising story of the acting community in Mumbai. It’s not setting up to deglamourise it but to humanise it — that’s a big difference in philosophy. I think I have done that pretty well and everyone has taken a good look at the book. And everyone seems to agree about what life is really like for actors here, whether you’re an established actor or whether you have just started your journey or you have done a few films, TV shows, theatre or whatever else. But the life of an actor is really a rich, complex life. So these photos present that reality.
For a photo feature on Bennington’s images, turn to pages 30-31