By Neelima Agrawal
New Delhi, India
In these dark times where fear rules, humanity cowers behind doors, with faces shrouded in masks, and ‘travel’ is a dangerous word, we grapple with the ever changing definition of ‘new normal’. And then, here comes the Kingfisher Calendar 2021 in its 19th edition, just as glamorous as ever before, as if nothing has happened! Beautiful girls frolicking in cool waters on verdant beaches, gorgeous locales, kicking it up like always, and reigniting the hope of the many good times. Hope springs and all is well with the world. Indeed, the iconic Kingfisher calendar from UB Breweries, now sans the King of Good times, continues to remain coveted. We spoke with the one man who has been creating the magic since it all began nearly two decades ago – photographer Atul Kasbekar.
The current edition of Kingfisher calendar is shot in the southern state of Kerala, India. The shoot took place in the lush vegetation of Coconut Lagoon and the tranquil Marari Beach, Kochi, the Brunton Boatyard, and Chittoor Palace.
The five glamorous models are –
Gehna Mahiarya (Atul Kasbekar’s discovery),
Krithika Babu (actress and model,Pantaloons Femina Miss Perfect 10, Femina Miss India South first runner up 2009 and Femina miss India 3rd runner up 2010),
Anukreethy Vas (model and Femina Miss India 2018),
Adline Castelino (model and Miss Diva Universe 2020)
Sumita Bhandari (a NIFT graduate and Miss India 2018 finalist).
This year’s models were styled by Allia Al Rufai; make-up by Maniasha Fialkina; with hair stylist Flavien Heldt, and photographed by Atul Kasbekar, who has been associated with the Kingfisher Calendar since its inception.
Atul Kasbekar quelled our curiosity about the project. Here is what he had to say.
You have now shot the 19th Kingfisher Calendar this year on the same theme. Does it not get repetitive? How do you stay inspired each time?
Kingfisher Calendar is a location-driven Calendar, which takes inspiration from the beautiful & exotic locations, we shoot at and 2021’s edition was no exception. My journey with Kingfisher Calendar is probably unprecedented in the Indian advertising history. To my knowledge, there is no instance of a professional relationship between a photographer and a brand for 19 years, which in itself is inspiration enough to continue creating glamorous photographic history. I am looking forward to the next edition to mark a clear 2 decades of shooting one of India’s most iconic photographic properties. I am genuinely grateful to everybody at the UB Group for their trust and support.
The year 2020 has impacted and changed everyone, one way or another. What has been your learning or take away through these times? How has it impacted your creativity, particularly with reference to the latest Kingfisher Calendar 2021?
With regards to the Kingfisher Calendar 2021, there has been no bearing on the creativity at all, since our shoots have always been planned and kept to a small tight unit. We had certain set protocols in place to be in as much of a bubble as possible.
Our business in advtg depends heavily on people working together so overall there’s been a huge impact on advertising/ photography and in the modelling world.
In view of the severe impact of the Covid19, did you at any time consider a different format for the Calendar this year?
Not at all. We have kept the legacy of the property intact and we certainly did not want to make any changes to it. Therefore, apart from shooting within India, in one of my favourite states, Kerala – we did not consider a different format.
Are you involved in the styling and costume selection process as well? And the location for the shoot?
The process of putting together the Kingfisher Calendar has many folds from choosing the locations, the models, the outfits, hair, makeup and ensuring the entire experience runs smoothly. To begin with, we do a recce in advance to identify the locations and decide the time of day. We go ahead by scouting for places and then zeroing in on a place where we decide to shoot. Following that we understand where the sun will be shining in the coming weeks and after 2 to 3 weeks, we come back for the final shoot. A detailed study of the location is made with the stylist; she identifies the swimsuits that will be chosen to be worn at which location, model and time of day. I think it is wonderful to work with a stylist when you are in sync at a style level. Allia Al Rufai and I firmly believe in the philosophy of ‘Less Is More’, which has been my ethos throughout my photography career. We both prefer to keep things subtle and I almost never have to change things that she has put together.
What is that special something that you seek in your selected models? Does it differ with different projects?
It’s a given that you need to be in great shape but it’s a myth to think that you need to be skinny. In fact, that is not the case at all. What you need to be is, extremely fit and athletic. A body that has been trained with the use of yoga & Pilates lends itself to be in the best possible shape for a swimsuit image. If the flair of the hips is high then the legs automatically look longer so even the shorter girls with a height of 5.6 ft. & below look stunning. Honestly, at the end of the day, it is all about the confidence. I firmly believe that people look at the eyes of the subject first and so it’s the confidence that shines and captures the viewer’s attention.
It is always beaches, and pretty girls in bikinis. Is there any plan to shoot a new theme in the future? Has it been considered?
Sports illustrated has been shooting the same theme for almost 50+ years, I think, so the answer is no. But then again, who knows, it is a question that we can probably revisit as a team after the 20th edition. Maybe a visual directional change in a fresh decade.
When does the planning for the 2022 Calendar start?
We start our first chats in about July and lock locations/ talent etc. Shoot is usually between September- end October depending upon the destination.