India Insight

Wedding photographers in India beat economic gloom

Rising costs and a slowing economy haven’t darkened the mood of wedding photographers in India. More couples than ever are willing to spend thousands of rupees on photo albums, pre-wedding shoots and videos, allowing photographers to take a bigger slice of India’s $30 billion weddings business.

“People are willing to spend more money now compared to what they were spending three years back,” said Delhi-based photographer Vijay Tonk, who charges around 100,000 rupees for clicking pictures at a two-day function, 10 times more than what he charged in 2010. “It’s a status symbol now to spend money and have good (pictures).”

Professional photographers, some of whom charge as much as 100,000 to 300,000 rupees ($1,600 – $4,800) for a single day, have not seen any slowdown in client queries. With 20 confirmed wedding assignments in the next three months, 26-year-old Tonk has been forced to say no to some couples.

People increasingly are looking to pay premium prices for photographers who can capture the essence on their subjects through candid shots. Sonal Kalra, who hired Tonk for her December wedding functions, said such pictures “help capture the mood better”.

Some of the price rise comes as photography supply costs increase. Much of it, however, comes from an increasing willingness on the part of Indian families to not only spend big on weddings as they have always done, but to spend even more on higher-quality photos and other aspects of the ceremonies.

Meet Prakash Tilokani, the man who clicks India’s rich and famous

When Prakash Tilokani started taking pictures at the age of 16, he had no clue that one day he would be the man behind the lens at India Inc’s weddings.

From selling pictures at 20 rupees (32 cents) each in 1984 to charging at least 300,000 rupees ($4,800) for a day now, it’s been an eventful journey for 47-year-old Tilokani, one of India’s most famous wedding photographers.

Today, with offices in Delhi and Baroda in Gujarat, Tilokani has a team of 40, including his son Rahul, who specialises in video editing. Other than India, the team travels around the globe to shoot the weddings of the rich and influential. Their client list includes families of the billionaire Ambani brothers, Essar’s Ruias, Hero MotoCorp’s Munjals, Videocon’s Dhoots and Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty.

from Photographers' Blog:

A farewell message to the telegram

New Delhi, India

By Mansi Thapliyal

At 10 p.m. on July 14, India will send its final telegram before the service shuts the following day, signaling the end of a service that has been going for over 160 years. It is the latest means of communication to be killed off by the mobile Internet age.

From families waiting to hear from their children who migrated to India’s cities for work, to soldiers in remote areas for whom the telegram was the only way to stay in touch with relatives, the telegraph service has been used to connect millions of people across this vast country since the mid-19th Century.

Charged per word, some messages went on and on, while others chose to write single words like “love” – a simple message to express how they felt.

from Photographers' Blog:

India’s missing daughters

New Delhi, India

By Mansi Thapliyal

Atika, 10, woke up early one morning in August 2008 and was sent by her mother to buy a few items from a nearby shop. She returned and told her mother she would prepare tea for her father before quickly going to use a communal toilet close to her house. She never returned.

Ambika was a feisty 15-year-old high school student who took wrestling classes. Her mother returned home from work late in the night on October 10, 2010. She woke up the next morning and found her daughter missing.

Atika and Ambika are among the thousands of children who go missing from India's streets, schools and homes every year.

from Photographers' Blog:

Bollywood dreams

Mumbai, India

By Danish Siddiqui

The Hindi film industry or Bollywood can make a star, a household name out of anyone overnight. It can bring instant money, fame and the fan-following of millions from across continents.

Bollywood is an addiction for many that attracts thousands of aspirants to the breeding grounds, the city of Mumbai, everyday. I was keen to look at this other side of the glamour world. The side that entails the struggle to enter the world of aspiring dreamers and their struggles to become a star.

There is no time limit to becoming a nationwide sensation, a star in Bollywood. As one of the aspirants told me it's a gamble you take, forgetting all your worries about the results.

from Photographers' Blog:

A widow’s refuge offers solace to the sorrowful

Vrindavan, India

By Adnan Abidi

The sound of applause echoing in the dingy shelter forced a smile on the face of Tulshi Dasi. An expression she had almost forgotten since her world turned white. The reason: she could now write and had just finished writing the English alphabet on a blackboard. And all this at the age of 70! She had never felt this empowered and never knew that learning was so much fun. As Dasi wrote a new chapter in her life in the grimy shelter in Vrindavan, that she shares with many women like her, her companions, around 50 odd widows applauded her progress.

GALLERY: WIDOW REFUGE

Widows, either abandoned by their family members or shunned by society, find their life's last refuge in various government run shelters such as this one. They come here from all across the country, but mostly from Bengal, where they survive by begging and chanting hymns in temples.

Hindu widows are branded as inauspicious by society and are forbidden to wear any form of color or be a part of any kind of celebrations like marriage and childbirth, hence most find respite amid their own kind, and seek solace in sorrow. As I spent my day with them I realized that learning was the best part of their day. Each of them would get up early, bathe and offer prayers together in the hall before resuming their daily chores of making prayer beads and flower garlands.

from Photographers' Blog:

Riding India’s railways

Across India

By Navesh Chitrakar

My journey on the great railways of India began on October 23, 2012. The trip not only marked my first visit to India, it was also the first time that I had ever travelled on real trains because my home country, Nepal, does not have a proper rail network.

Everything about the trains was new to me, which made it really exciting. I started out from Hazrat Nizamuddin railway station in Delhi and headed towards Agra with the help of a railway atlas, a train map and a fixer. I had been provided with the fixer’s assistance for a couple of days thanks to my chief photographer Ahmad Masood, one of the generous people who gave me a lot of help to complete this story. It didn’t take me long to get used to train travel; I understand and speak Hindi, and most of the people on the trains were very friendly and helpful. Most of the time I was doing what I was there to do: observing and trying to capture the most significant and fascinating aspects of India’s railways.

In a country that is the seventh largest in the world by area and the second largest in the world by population, the Indian railway network reaches almost everywhere and carries commuters from one end of the country to the other. The network is a lifeline for India and for the Indians who use it. And why not take advantage of it? People prefer trains because they are a cheaper and faster way to travel. When you travel India by rail, everything is going on around you; it seems like the railway has created its own world and the running of that world depends on the running train.

from Photographers' Blog:

Meet Miss Malini

Mumbai, India

By Vivek Prakash

Where I live is not the India of most people's imaginations or memories, and it's hardly the India I once knew as a kid.

My Mumbai has easygoing cafes, organic markets, swish malls, expensive restaurants serving great food and wine, fabulous nightclubs and raucous house parties. The idea that this India is any less "real" than bad infrastructure or the world of Slumdog Millionaire is misguided.

India has many crosses to bear - I acknowledge that. I'll be the first one to complain about crumbling roads, horrid traffic, corrupt politicians, impossible bureaucracy and the gulf between rich and poor. But you'd better get used to the idea that slowly but surely, generational change is taking place. My Mumbai is probably the India of the future.

from Photographers' Blog:

Exorcism at the ghost fair

Malajapur, India

By Danish Siddiqui

Malajpur is a small but not ordinary village in central India. In fact it is probably the only village in India which has been hosting a ghost fair for the past several years. People from across the country come to this fair to get rid of ‘evil spirits’ that they claim to be possessed by.

As night falls on Paush Purnima (full moon night) the 'possessed' are taken to the local shrine to be exorcised. People who bring their relatives here feel the latter's bodies have been 'taken over by ghosts of the dead' and that exorcism is the only release for them. Interestingly, most of those who come here to be exorcised are women. When I asked the priest the reason he said, “They are emotionally weak and hence easy target for spirits."

On the first day when I went to the temple, it looked to me like any other temple complex. But suddenly from the middle of the crowd I heard a woman scream as she started running around the temple courtyard. According to priests the ghost inside people becomes weak the more they run around the courtyard in an anti-clockwise direction. For those who don't run voluntarily (which is the case often) relatives or priests make them do so by pushing or kicking.

“Homelands” exhibit in Delhi examines identity through art

Indians give high importance to the concept of identity and kinship, especially in a land that is home to hundreds upon hundreds of different languages and ethnic groups. Indian curator Latika Gupta explores this theme in “Homelands”, an exhibition of works by 28 leading contemporary British artists, all wrestling with the idea of what “home” means in the 21st century.

The artists whose works are displayed include four Turner Prize winners, Jeremy Deller, Richard Long, Grayson Perry and Gillian Wearing. Work by World Press Photo (2007) winner Tim Hetherington, who was killed in Libya, also is on display.

“I wanted to see what it is that makes up our idea of what our identity is. Is it our language that we speak? Is it the place that we come from?” said Gupta. “The exhibition really hopes to raise a set of questions rather than provide answers.”

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