If there is one thing Hindi movies have taught us it’s that the most important thing in life isn’t gari, bangla, rupaiyya, adventure sports or conspicuous consumption.
It’s love.(pronounced lowe)
Which is why when painting the panorama of perfection that is your life on the canvass of social media, one must reserve the most expansive brushstrokes for love.
Remember har kisi ko naheen milta yahan pyar zindagi mein. And even if they do get pyar, not everyone gets gigantic-sized stuffed toys for Valentine’s Day, or a hand-written note that says “Because you are there for me” or a new iPhone <latest model number> for their birthday or a dinner for two on a romantic yacht for their anniversary (may be substituted for a surprise “breakfast in bed” every alternate year for that sweet spontaneous vibe) or comments on their Facebook Wall that say “Janooo I love you: your Sanam” even though the Sanam may be sitting in the same room as the Janoo.
Which is why if you are the few who indeed are blessed suchly, you must remember to rub your fortune into the faces of the other denizens of your social media world, keeping in mind that the perfection of your life is contrasted only by the imperfection of the others—-the lonely, the broken, the one whose love only texts her four times a day from work or does the anniversary dinner at a chain restaurant (Burger King) or never “Likes” her photos or forgets to give sweet comments like “You are looking so beautiful” on her profile picture.
Because only when someone somewhere in the world screams, “Why can’t you love me like he does her” or weeps into a handkerchief ‘Why isn’t my marriage like his?” does your chronic posting of pictures on Facebook find fruition.
Once wedding photography used to be simple. Any relative who had the glory of owning a camera was delegated the job of being the official photographer. No one much minded if he sucked at his lenswork or the prints came out all washed out like spectral images at a haunted house because there were more serious problems at hand. Like Sanjay Gandhi and long lines at ration shops.
Then came the age of specialists. There was the photographer, a little-mustachioed thin man from Baruipur with a SLR camera, whose portfolio included marriages and local CPM “Lenin-garlanding” functions and who for a few hundred rupees more would include an album with “alpana” and turmeric paste at the corner, with the pictures tastefully attached and arranged. There was the videographer from Barrackpore who did his hair like Anil Kapoor and whose second job was running a video parlor.
The photographer would arrive quietly with one large handheld lamp, make the bride pose with her fingers made into a leaf-mudra and with the head turned to the side and above, make the bride and the groom repeat the exchange of garlands once and then again (because he wanted to make sure he got the best shots), would maneuver relatives to stand next to the bride and the groom, and take a few pictures of the bride’s sister when she was not looking (these pictures would not make their way into the final album).
The videographer would also arrive quietly with one large handheld lamp and an assistant, do more or less everything the photographer had done, not caring a bit for how silly it was to video-record people standing posing for pictures. Then he would capture on VHS tape about twenty minutes of footage of people eating, chicken curry dripping down the side of their mouths, focussing on glistening nose-hairs for a realistic Mrinal Sen feel. After a few days he would deliver one VHS tape and a copy (again for a few rupees more for the groom’s side), expertly video-edited, with Lucasarts-approved special effects like fluttering butterflies, rotating kaleidoscopes, bride face reflected in a container of sindoor, and a personalized background score, that included stock-shehnai, Sandhya Mukherjee’s immortal “Laaje ranga holo kone bou go, aaj mala bodol hobe e raate” ( “The little bride blushes red, they will be exchanging garlands tonight”) and Kumar Sanu’s “Eto je sagor nodi” (“Many a river-ocean have I traversed but not met one as beautiful as you”). The wedding album and the VHS tape would then become part of the family’s most prized possessions, to be shown to every relative for the next year or so, particularly those that did not attend the wedding, till finally babies would arrive and the album and the tape would be buried below old clothes.
Now of course everything has changed. Everybody who has a digital camera and a pirated license of Photoshop is a photographer, and everybody who has a digital SLR has a Facebook page called “First-name, Last Name Photography” . As a matter of fact, putting one’s hobby as photography is the new default, what used to be in my days “reading books” or “collecting stamps”.
Of this new class of photographers, a subset graduate to wedding-photographer, the ones who can use the words “light”, “composition”, “filters”, “autoexposure bracketing”, “chromatic aberration”, “prime lens” without looking at Wikipedia once. There is a class difference between the wedding photographer of today and those of yesterday, today’s are more word-savvy, as in they not only have to take pictures that make the bride look thinner and the groom less old but also convey to their clients (usually the bride and the groom) that what they are doing is art, or at least that it is cute and original.
Wedding photographers come in different budget ranges. Those with online portfolios are usually at the high-end with every new original-buzz-phrase (“guerrilla-style”, “spontaneity-capture”,”memory-snaps”) adding twenty-five-thousand to the base price. There is also fifty-thousand bump-up for each exhibition cited in the “About section”, and one lac premium for every celebrity wedding catered to. Those with just Facebook pages are usually low-mid range of less than twenty-five thousand, with some even desperate enough to work for wedding food.
Wedding photographers no longer just arrive on the day of the wedding, chewing paan and smelling of talcum powder and sweat. No sir. That’s so 80s.
Now the photographer first does a sitting with the bride and the groom. It’s billed as an exchange of ideas. And billed.
The photographer explains his philosophy. The couple details their Jab We Met. This sitting is essential because as per the pricey photographer, he cannot create a digital narrative unless he internalizes their story. It does not matter if the love story is fake because truth, as all of us know, is what others believe happened. Important relatives are explained and the photographer notes it down in his Apple device, a process known as “making a mental graph of relationships”. Depending on how much is being paid, a number of pre-sittings are done. The ice is broken. The couple is then captured in their natural surroundings, i.e. in light make-up only and minimal photoshopping only for double-chins, while making light body contact in G-rated positions that may, in some cases, graduate to “Suraj Hua Madhyam” configurations but not beyond.
Sometimes the couple are made to go to the cafe where they proposed, and made to recreate the scene, typically of groom bending on knee and proposing, and if the wedding was arranged by parents, they just make a story up on the fly. A particular innovative touch is to for the photographer to come prepared with hand-drawn signs, usually made in pairs. One says “Do you love me?” other says “Yes I do”, one says “Mujse shaadi” and the other “Karogi”, one is an incomplete thought bubble and the other completes it. The bride and the groom are then made to hold these complementary signs against different backdrops. They look into each other’s eyes and smile and giggle spontaneously as if they were in an advertisement for sanitary napkins while the camera clicks away.
Sometimes the wedding-card is made like this also, with the couple holding a sign that says “Humare shaadi mein aana” with only the color of the sign in red and the rest black-and-white, the latter being accomplished through nifty Photoshopping.
And so this goes on, for sangeet and every ritual before the marriage, with different lenses and filters.
Some cute shots of grandmother.
Some cute shots of cute kid.
Someone elegantly wiping a tear.
Garlands exchange moment. Demure bride-glance. Bride making face at camera.
Mehendi hands. Mehendi feet. Bride’s head thrown back in laughter. Groom winking naughtily. Just the bride’s eyes. Just one of the bride’s eyes. Posh make-up artist doing the bride’s eyes. (You wouldn’t believe, they took Rs 15,000 to do just my eyes. Can you believe it? No….)
A husband-wife kiss which is not quite a kiss because culture and all.
Frozen in time and shrink-wrapped, airbrushed and clone-tooled and sepia-ed, a carefully curated montage of romantic and familial bliss is thus synthesized by the wedding photographer. It’s our own Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge meets Hum Aapke Hai Kaun fantasy, a world that screams to the world that we are loved and that we had the perfect fairytale wedding and if you don’t believe us, there are 343 more pictures I have on my external drive that I did not upload on Facebook.
What about the videographer you ask? Indeed, what about him? And just because the wedding is done, can the wedding photographer go home?
For these answers and more, wait for the next part.