The multi-talented Jagdish Mali is best known for bringing about a refreshing visual change in the Indian movie magazines especially in the 90s. Neha Mutreja spoke to the visionary about his experiences in the Indian world of glamour.
The story was originally published in May 2009.
Born on 18 January 1954, Jagdish Mali spent a freespirited childhood, without a keen interest in school and studies. The one thing that he dedicated his whole heart and soul into was building a career as a professional photographer. As a result, he became one of the biggest Indian names in the glamour and commercial photography business, and he is also credited for introducing unique and fresh visuals to Indian movie magazines. His success story begins with chance visit to a Bollywood movie set…
First Taste of Success
One summer vacation, when Jagdish was only 16 years old, a friend took him to a location where a big-budget Bollywood movie was being filmed. There, he was introduced to the director, who offered him a job to keep track of the continuity of the scenes. Jagdish readily took it up, but struggled to keep up and eventually lost interest. But he thought about working on something else—photographing the sprawling movie set. His father owned a Mamiya camera that he would use for practice. One day, while he was strolling about the sets, he approached upcoming actress Jaya Bhaduri (now Bachchan), and asked if he could take a few photographs of her. “The next day I took my camera along and finished a roll of film shooting Jayaji,” Jagdish remembers. “It took me a week to develop the images, and the results amazed me!” All the images that Jagdish had shot were perfectly exposed. His father, a painter at The Times of India, was able to show them to B K Karanjia, the then editor of Filmfare, through a common friend. Karanjia was amazed at the photographs and readily published them in the magazine. “When I saw them in Filmfare, I knew that my journey towards becoming a professional photographer had just begun.”
“I admit I made some mistakes at the beginning, but then I realised that I wanted to be someone worth looking up to. So I learnt from those mistakes and moved on.”
After his images were published in Filmfare, Jagdish decided to learn the technicalities so that he could capture better images. He joined the Indo- American Society in Mumbai, where he enrolled into a few photography courses. “I continued doing portfolios, magazines shoots and posters for about ten years. I also made some good friends in the film industry.” While Jagdish continued to develop his career, he had no clue that the media too was taking notice and appreciating his work. Cine Blitz, a popular Bollywood gossip magazine, liked his work so much that they offered him a job as the magazine’s Photo Editor. He gladly accepted the offer and worked there for 13 years.
A Spontaneous Style
Throughout his career and even today, Jagdish has maintained a distinct style of portraying celebrities—not only in his own photography, but also as a photo editor. He prefers to photograph them in a way that their qualities as a human being shine through. “I like taking their photographs when they are at work or getting their makeup done,” he explains. “This not only makes the images more realistic, but also encourages the curiosity of the people who always wonder what happens behind the scenes of their favourite movies or TV shows.” The fact that he also shares a good rapport with celebrities is how he managed to capture such unusual yet intimate portraits of them.
“It is my dream to make films that leave an impact on the viewer in just five minutes.”
After extensively shooting portfolios, posters and magazine spreads, Jagdish thought it was time to tread on a new avenue—commercial photography. He shot ad campaigns for big Indian brands in the late 80s and early 90s like Colgate, Parag Sarees and Roopam. But he admits, in all honesty, that this is the one field he never did enjoy. “When you are shooting for an ad campaign, you are instructed and fed what to do by the ad agency. Photographers are not allowed to give their creative inputs and this always irritated me. I have always wished to work in an environment where I could explore possibilities and also give creative inputs.” Throughout his career, he has extensively explored both photography and filmmaking, and even directed music videos. “I could finally apply all the knowledge that I had gathered when I first visited that Bollywood movie set in the early 70s, to something that I really enjoyed doing, which is making videos.”
All this time I was wondering what Jagdish personally enjoys shooting the most—his personal assignments, ads or music videos? The answer surprised me: “I always enjoy shooting portfolios. I used to run a studio where I shot mostly portfolios. The reason why I like it is because I always have the freedom to do what I want to do.”
Working with Two Different Generations
Jagdish has photographed some of the biggest celebrities that ruled Bollywood between the 70s and 90s, and also the reigning superstars of today. He makes an interesting observation about the two diverse generations. “I have worked with iconic actors like Amitabh, Rekha, Jayaprada, Jitendra and Madhuri Dixit. These stars not only respected each other, but they also had respect for the photographers they worked with. They always took interest in what I was trying to create. They were focused and if they promised to give me three hours for the shoot, they never entertained anyone else. Most of the actors from the newer generation are talented. But they are impatient and they do too many things at one time, even during the shoot! This often makes it difficult to concentrate and produce quality work.”
“I like being spontaneous. Unlike other photographers, I study my subjects carefully and try to create a story in my images.”
From Analogue to Digital
Although he has embraced the changing times, one thing he found difficult to accept at first was the switch from analogue to digital photography. In his opinion, anyone and everyone can do photography today, but no one has the patience to learn the technicalities anymore. “Now, it is all about clicking pictures without putting in the effort to create scribbles or planning the lighting set-ups. There is no soul in digital photography. There is no life or story,” he elaborates. This does not mean that Jagdish has lost interest in photography or motion pictures. He has produced some of his finest works with the digital camera. He continues to take up photography assignments and also plans to make five-minute short films in the near future. Apart from giving him the name and fame, the Indian world of glamour also taught Jagdish a few important lessons. “The money tends to spoil you and distract your mind. I admit I made some mistakes at the beginning, but then I realised that I wanted to be someone worth looking up to. So I learnt from those mistakes and moved on.” He signs off with a word of advice for those who wish to pursue a similar line: “Be focused and confident about what you want to be. That is the path to success.”
Tags: Neha Mutreja, portraits, better photography, Fashion Photographer, Asian celebrities, Jagdish Mali, mumbai photographer, fashion photography, sachin tendulkar, bollywood, amitabh bachchan, anil kapoor, rekha, photographing famous people, indian actors, sanjay dutt, how to photograph famous people, Great Masters