When he first experimented with cinema as a medium for his camera 13 years ago, things were different. And Dabboo Ratnani likes to think that his foremost contribution to still photography in movies is the respectability he has given it. “When I came in, movies was not really considered cool for photographers,” he says.
It is for this reason that Dabboo first assisted Sumit Chopra from 1990 only for the experience. But work began to pour in after he executed all the promotional photography for GP Sippy’s multi-star film Aatish, which he took up in 1993. Today stars who want to look special crave to have Dabboo’s eye on them – through the lens of his camera.
“Hrithik Roshan came to me to get his portfolio done even before he told his dad that he wanted to act!” recalls Dabboo with a smile. “He showed him the results and that is what made Rakesh Roshan decide on a launch vehicle for the first time.”
Dabboo adds that it is a great feeling to realise that he has helped so many newcomers in their professions. Since he is an established name who continues to be on the ascent more than 11 years after his first film released, Dabboo’s job is not so much to look for new faces and talents as to help those who do approach him.
“I meet the prospective star or model to understand his needs and vibe, and to get to know what I must highlight,” reveals Dabboo. “If they have complexes about some feature of theirs, or have faced ridicule or rejection due to, say, a particular blemish or defect, they usually confide in me.”
Considering his own star-status, those who come to him usually give him complete autonomy. “If things are really bad, I suggest corrective surgeries or procedures in nose, teeth or other features before we proceed. The results of these really boost their confidence. Then I suggest the complete look, hairstyling, garments and accessories depending on what they are looking for, as well as the people who will execute them.”
When success finally arrives and sustains, Dabboo is also there to lend a helping hand to reinvention, which is so crucial for a professional to survive. “Obviously the emphasis may shift to different aspects once you are already a top star or model,” says Dabboo.
He adds that star and celebrity attitudes have also evolved. “Most stars have realised that being photogenic is more about a feel-good and pleasant attitude. This has made work easier.”
Though Dabboo tailors his work to client requirements when he gets an assignment, he satisfies his own creative urges with what he calls his ‘calling card’ - the annual Dabboo Ratnani Calendar, now into its 7th edition.
“Though the calendar has no theme, individual photographs are worked on a concept.”