Fly on bollywood’s wall


30 Aug 2013
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On a working vacation in Mumbai three
years ago, LA photographer Mark
Bennington went hunting for a flat to rent.
It was serendipity, he says, that his
roommate was a 'Bollywood catalyst' — "she
made things happen in the industry."
Regular visits to Mumbai later, he is ready
to publish a coffee table book titled, Living
the Dream: The Life of the 'Bollywood'
Before Bennington established himself as a
leading photojournalist, he struggled to
make it in the American film industry,
taking up theatre projects and the
occasional television stint. In 2004, after
embracing photography fulltime, a large
chunk of his portfolio included portraits of
American actors. By 40, although
established, Bennington felt he needed to
heed a calling. He planned a trip to India in
typical Eat. Pray.
Love style, accompanied by a yoga
enthusiast friend. After travelling through
Delhi, Varanasi and Rishikesh, he made
Versova his home — the perfect
neighbourhood to document the Hindi film
industry out of.
"I was keen to represent every branch of the
tree; the larger-than-life stars, of course,
but also supporting staff and aspiring
actors, who queue up outside studios," he
says on his latest visit. Through his roomie,
Bennington met producer Guneet Monga,
who works closely with filmmaker Anurag
Kashyap and casting director Shanoo
Sharma. They allowed him access to more
than 100 film personalities, most of whom
find a place in the book.
"I knew no one. Attempting to document
Bollywood was like scaling Everest without
a map," he says. "But being a gora helps."
Not everyone understood the idea behind
the project, and yet, not every star was
unapproachable. "Prem Chopra was listed in
the public telephone directory.
I called, and he asked me to come over," he
remembers. He shadowed Salman Khan for
two days while he shot in Pune ("and even
offered me a ride back home"). To make the
shots candid, Bennington chatted up his
subjects as they went about their work. But
he had to make do with the time they gave
So, while he had 48 hours with Khan,
Shilpa Shetty spared 15 minutes. Ironically,
Vijay Raaz had to be chased for three weeks
before he confirmed a time. To get access to
Kareena Kapoor, he called Arjun Kapoor,
who he had met during the casting for
"She is pleasant to talk to," he says of the
actress. "Yes, she is an absolute diva — that
is real, but very enjoyable company." For
research, he pored over film articles and
watched countless films, but what helped
was browsing through published images.
"There are no photographs of SRK acting
like a goof ball although he plays the part
willingly in his films. Pictures of actresses
are nothing but graceful or seductive. We
hardly ever see them as people," he says,
hoping he has managed to change that.
Bennington also tries crashing stereotypes,
which is why Shetty's picture catches her
mid-laugh, mouth agape and eyes moist.
Swara Bhaskar is reading a script while in
a Churchgate- Andheri local.
"Wanting to be in this business is like being
with someone you know is bad for you... it's
going to scr** with your head and heart
and make you a little mad, but you are in
it," she told Bennington. "There's a saying,
'Dil lagaa bhains se, toh pari kya cheez hai?'
It means, if your heart is set on a buffalo,
even a fairy seems unattractive to you. It's
an addiction!" Malaika Arora, he saw and
photographed against a paanstained wall
while she was dressed in an evening gown,
talking to her son on the phone. "Amitabh
Bachchan said no. Shah Rukh didn't take
my call, so neither are in the book," he says
unapologetically. The project isn't a star-
chasing adventure in any case.
One third of it includes popular television
actors like Avika Gor and Bharati Singh,
and hordes of aspiring actors. One of them,
'Gabbar Singh', a native of Mathura,
performs a one-man re-enactment of Sholay
outside the Gateway of India. When he first
arrived in Mumbai, he thought he'd land a
role opposite Rani Mukerji.
When he tried to 'meet' SRK, he was beaten
up by security, and handed to the police. He
found himself back at the Gateway, where
he continues to put up the show, hoping he
will be discovered.
"I get frustrated because I wish the (TV)
script-writers were more educated about
their work... they have some ideas which
they string together, but display lack of
structure. Sometimes, it gets boring."
"My father is an actor... and a bit short-
tempered, so if he was eating dinner and a
fan came over for an autograph, he'd shoo
him away. I'd look at the fan's face and
think, 'That person is never going to watch
my father's movies again'. I don't take fans
for granted; I hope I am always deserving of
their love."
"I think we are bigger than Hollywood, so
we should be called 'Hollywood Plus!'"
"When I moved to Bombay, my father lent
me money saying, if I didn't pay him back,
I'd have to marry a boy of his choice. So,
after Miss India when my money ran out,
and the very first McDonalds opened in
Bandra, I took a job at the cash counter for
Rs 1,800 a month. During breaks, I'd
squeeze in an audition.
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