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A model shoot during the lockdown

The city’s top models go behind the virtual lens for this memorable t2 lockdown shoot
“Mornings are all about strength work and light stretches and mobility in the evening,” says Neeraj Surana

Saionee Chakraborty   |   Published 02.06.20, 01:54 PM

They have a cumulative modelling experience of more than three decades between them. Neeraj Surana, Ushoshi Sengupta, Sneha Ghosh and Diti Saha. The quartet among Calcutta’s most recognised glam faces... on the ramp and beyond. Call time, hair and make-up, location, camera, walk, pose, change, hold... breathe... resume.... they thrive on the busyness of a fashion shoot. They feel at home away from home with families away from families. A cocoon of comrades who make a team. As the hush of the lockdown descended on all of us, their normal also saw a sudden halt. The lights dimmed. The buzz gone. The chatter drowned in uncertainty... ‘shoot’ becoming ‘remembrance of things past’. The show, however, must go on. “Yes,” they chorused! How? The global platform of the virtual world which unites entire mankind. We chose Google Duo, the video calling app and photographer Pabitra Das put on his thinking cap to execute the shoot in his flawless style. Our models decided on the looks to present a slice of their lockdown life, a novel experience in their careers, they later told us. As a reporter who has been on a gazillion shoots, I don’t think I have ever waited for images with such anticipation as these. We later caught up with Neeraj, Ushoshi, Sneha and Diti for their feedback. The unanimous hurray? Bring on the new normal!

Neeraj Surana


What was your first reaction to a lockdown shoot?

I was like the photographer is sitting at his place and I am at mine... how is it going to work?! I was trying to figure that am I backdated or whether the technology has moved too fast. But then he explained how it’s going to be done.

Did it take some time for you to adjust to posing?

When we are shooting, every model has a habit of posing and then checking every couple of shots and redoing it if it hasn’t turned out well. Initially what happened was Jessica (Gomes Surana; wife) was holding the phone and she was following the photographer’s instructions on how to move and in which angle to move and stand. Every time I heard: ‘Thik achhe, hoye gechhe’, out of habit I was going to the phone and saying: ‘Let me see!’ (Laughs) It was fun! Very different but fun.

What were the challenges of this shoot?

It wasn’t much of a challenge for me, but Jessica, because she had to adjust how to move, where to move.... Eventually, she got the hang of it. Otherwise it was pretty simple. The shots were done at the blink of an eye.

What was the best part?

I guess staying at home, no make-up... nothing! Be yourself!

How have you coped with the lockdown?

My mental state before the lockdown was, I wasn’t being able to spend too much time with the kids. Post my surgery in December 2018, my training has been very erratic for the first time in my life.

In the lockdown, I am being able to spend a lot more time with my kids. In terms of training, I think I was overdoing it in the initial phase of lockdown... morning and evening. Sometimes I was throwing in a session in the afternoon. Now I do a morning session and a light evening session. 

Sneha Ghosh

How was it shooting today?

It was really different. I haven’t done something like this before. I have had photographers ask me to do this but I have never looked at this clicking picture through multiple cameras in a positive way. I think you can do without clicking pictures sometimes and just enjoy your surroundings. I just didn’t feel the need to click during the lockdown. When, however, it comes to doing something for a team you have been familiar for all these years, it seems like home then. And, there’s more to this than just clicking pretty pictures. It’s about enlightening people about how we are dealing with the lockdown. So, I felt more organic towards this shoot.

What were the challenges?

I think during the photo shoot, satisfying the photographer was what was going on in my mind. I felt he was more at a disadvantage than me, the subject. He was responsible to get the composition right. So, I was trying to do my best to make him feel that these are normal circumstances, which of course, it wasn’t. I had my mother controlling the phone and thank god she was there.

What did you enjoy most?

The fact that I saw a familiar face (the photographer)! (Laughs) It kind of transported me to what my life used to be. I just feel like a model again, which I haven’t for the longest time. My mom is not going to make me feel like one. If a friend clicks me, I am not going to feel like a model either. This time I felt a different energy... strange but familiar.

What is your plan to take on the world after lockdown?

I think we are all trying hard to normalise the lockdown. My basics are sorted and I am looking at life to surprise me every day now. You should learn to live now.

Pabitra Das mastered the virtual lens for the shoot. He narrated his experience

  • In my 24-year career, I have never done this kind of a shoot. It was a challenge. I usually shoot on Nikon D750, which I have been using for the past three years.
  • I downloaded Google Duo on my phone and did a trial run in my house first to figure out the technicalities. My model was my son. The pictures came out good because we were in close proximity.
  • When we usually shoot, we shoot with a team. This only had the model and the photographer. My view was restricted to the phone screen.
  • Before shooting, we had detailed discussions with the models about the location and whether the zones have good network. We did a virtual recce. You must be equipped with wi-fi. The connectivity has a direct impact on the picture.
  • On video call I took screenshots on my phone. Alternatively, you could also take pictures of the screen with another camera. But I found the quality of the screenshots to be good.
  • The models couldn’t see anything. They had to channelise their imagination and pose. The reins are in the hands of the photographer.
  • Diti, Sneha, Ushoshi and Neeraj are all senior models. So, my job was easy.
  • This was time consuming. While you can wrap up a regular shoot in two hours, this kind of a shoot can take four-five hours, but it’s worth the experience.

I shot with

  • Vivo Y15
  • A triple camera setup at the back consisting of a 13-megapixel primary camera with an f/2.2 aperture, 8-megapixel super-wide angle lens with f/2.2 aperture and a 120-degree field-of-view and a 2-megapixel depth sensor with an f/2.4 aperture.
  • At the front, it has a 16-megapixel selfie shooter with an f/2.0 aperture
  • Screen size: 6.35inch
  • Resolution: 720X1544 pixels

 Diti Saha

What went through your mind when we told you about a lockdown shoot?

I was very excited about doing a virtual shoot because I have been planning one. I had already done some self-timer shoots and I was like, ‘Do I have enough frames left in the house?’ I had to find new ones and plan.

How did you go about it?

I did the ‘production’ work for the very first time and I like to use this word... it’s a really cool thing... in terms of how much involved I have been in the creative process. You feel much more responsible for the success and outcome of a shoot. It’s not just my body and face. It’s also about how much organisational skills I have... how to frame... how much light would stream in... I did a trial of the frames and knew when the sunlight would stream in.

It took me a day to figure out the frames. You have five people working with you in a shoot. Here, I was doing everything. I am not good at make-up and hair and am privileged enough to have top make-up artists as good friends, who have always helped me. I knew that make-up was still manageable since I won’t be doing too much; to do a different hair with each look was challenging.

You faced a photographer after how long?

March 20 was my last professional photo shoot. After that I think this is the first time I faced a professional camera.

How different did it feel?

The photographer could only tell me: ‘Left e ektu beshi ghor or right e’. He can only see the frame that I showed him. So your homework had to be spot on. It automatically gives you a creative depth and brings in focus a lot of your other skills. I never knew I could do this in three hours.

If virtual shoots become the new normal, where the team is cut down, it should be compensated fairly. It is very labour intensive... almost x100.

Ushoshi Sengupta

What did you think a lockdown shoot would be like?

I was very excited! This would actually go down in the history of shoots that we have done for The Telegraph. I called up Mainak (Das; make-up pro), to understand what kind of make-up I could do. Ankita (Banerjee; stylist) was on call too. I know these pictures would be remembered for a long time. This shoot is always going to be special. It was surreal to not have the photographer on the sets but hear the familiar words.

What was the most challenging part?

One of the most important things is that in a shoot, it is the whole team’s effort. And there is a reason why they are all jobs of professionals. It’s at times like these that we understand the importance and value of having a team around. I think I have been a good model but styling or hair and make-up hasn’t been my forte.

What about the most exciting part?

When I got up, washed my face and put on the make-up, I was like: ‘Wow... I’ll be shooting!’ It made me feel so alive. Being in front of the camera is my space. 

Stylist notes for Ushoshi from Ankita Banerjee...

  • The moment I heard a lockdown shoot, I was like bring it on! It’s been so long since I, as a stylist, worked on a project, so I was super excited at this innovative thought of a photo shoot done at home.
  • The main challenge was my absence physically, though I was constantly monitoring it via calls and video call, but physical presence and sourcing the outfits were not possible, hence it was a little weird for me.
  • The second challenge was me not being able to visually art direct the shoot but we managed through photographs!
  • The fun part of this challenge was to select the outfits which were present with Ushoshi. It felt like a nice video slumber party where she was trying on outfits and I was getting to give my input!
  • The black body-con dress with a dash of colour break in the hairband is about the longing to go out and be free! 

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