In the right frame

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By Photographer Sheena Sippy prefers to let her photographs tell the real stories, says Sushmita Biswas FACE OF THE WEEK - Sheena Sippy
  • Published 9.09.06
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The name says it all. Sheena Sippy is from one of filmworld’s best-known families. But she isn’t taking up position behind the camera and she’s definitely not interested in smearing on the warpaint and getting ready for the action to begin.

Instead, Sheena, the eldest daughter of director Ramesh Sippy, likes to shoot her way through the world. She’s a versatile photographer who has captured filmstars, models and fashion designers over the years.

So, she’s just the right person to capture the grandeur and the grit behind the big screen. The result is a book on Bollywood, Lights, Camera, Masala published by India Book House. It’s a joint effort by Sheena who has taken most of the pictures and UK-based author Naman Ramachandran. The author is a screenwriter, filmmaker and film critic in London who writes for several publications including the British Film Institute’s prestigious Sight & Sound magazine.

Sheena’s impeccable contacts in the movie-world have been evident ever since the book was first launched in Dubai in June. The book was released by none other than Amitabh Bachchan. In Mumbai too, she assembled a star cast for the release with Abhishek Bachchan, Sameera Reddy and Boman Irani. Says Sheena, “It’s a celebration of contemporary Bollywood.”

But the book isn’t just your standard coffee-table glossy offering. One interesting feature is that it has been written in the form of a screenplay.

It begins with the adventures of two fictitious characters Vijay and Ravi who want to make a Hindi film. Says Sheena, “The mid-‘70s Bollywood was the era of Amitabh Bachchan who was called Vijay in most of his films.”

The dashingly handsome Shashi Kapoor was the counterfoil, Ravi in many of the films. The duo went on to weave their magic in many blockbusters like Deewar (1975), Trishul (1978) and Shaan (1980). “Being iconic names in Hindi cinema, we thought it would be apt to document Hindi cinema from the perspective of Vijay and Ravi in their journey across film sets, post-production work and the corridors of modern-day Bollywood,” says Sheena.

So did her father’s influence help to line-up all the famous personalities in front of her lens? She admits that being the daughter of a famous father has its advantages. “His goodwill and standing in this industry has percolated down and benefits both my brother Rohan and me,” she says.

Certainly, she has clicked almost everyone who is anyone in Bollywood. She has glam photographs of Amitabh and Abhishek Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai, John Abraham, Bipasha Basu, Priyanka Chopra, Boman Irani, Sameera Reddy and others.

That’s not all. The stars also share their experiences and provide insights into the film-making process in this book. Besides them, the book also features top Bollywood technicians like make-up artist Mickey Contractor, choreographer Farah Khan, action master Allan Amin, cinematographer Ravi K Chandran and others. It also zooms in on the new generation of filmmakers like Farhan Akhtar, Rohan Sippy, Kunal Kohli and Soham Shah under the chapter Young Turks.

For Sheena, photography has always been her passion and she decided at 16 that she would be a photographer. She calls herself a self-taught photographer and took it up as a profession after getting a Bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts and Mass Communication from the University of Michigan.

Over the years, she has done a variety of work. She has, for instance, shot ad campaigns for Johnson’s Baby Soap, Garden Vareli and St Gobain Glass. She has also shot celebrities like Zakir Husain, model Naomi Campbell and cricketer Imran Khan. Sheena also does freelance assignments for fashion magazines like Verve and Elle.

In addition to all this, she has currently taken on a big job for her father. She’s looking after the publicity work for his production house and she shot all the publicity photographs for films like Kuch Na Kaho, Bluffmaster and Taxi No 9211. Even though she has other photography assignments on hand, the in-house production work is getting high priority. She says, “I like being part of the movie-making process. As of now, I am happy doing work for our production house. I have also used a lot of these pictures in my book.”

So who’s her favourite star in Bollywood? “Abhishek Bachchan, of course,” she says, “he’s not only talented but also a thorough professional. Our families have known each other for many years and he’s like my younger brother.” Sippy is also quick to point out that Bachchan junior will be there to launch her book in London later this year. This apart, she’ll be releasing her book in Bangalore and Melbourne this month.

What about becoming a director like her father and brother or acting? “I don’t see myself as an actress as I am very shy in front of the camera,” says Sheena. But she isn’t entirely averse to directing a film. “I have definitely learnt a lot from my father and currently I am fiddling with scripts.”

As a child, she was always enthralled by Hindi films, especially those of her father. She even saw history in the making — even though she was too young to realise it then — when she spent 15 days on the sets of Sholay. “Though I was too small then to understand what was happening, I loved being on the sets.” She says it’s a pity she wasn’t a photographer in those days.

Besides all her other work, Sheena also has a couple of book assignments on hand. She likes doing books because she feels that the shelf-life of a book is longer than a film. “I cannot talk about these books, but they will be completely different from the current one.”

Apart from photography, it’s her family that gets all her attention. She has two kids — Zahan (14) and Shaira (18) with her ex-husband, Kunal Kapoor. A proud mother, Sheena admires her daughter’s sense of style, “Shaira helped me style Aishwarya’s clothes when we were doing publicity shots for my brother’s film Kuch Na Kaho,” she says.

Meanwhile, she’s excited about the buzz created around her book and is savouring all the attention. And, she is making sure to have a good time behind the lens.

Photograph by Gajanan Dudhalkar