People by Raghu Rai
Title: People by Raghu Rai
Writer: Raghu Rai
Publisher: Aleph Books
Year: 2016
ISBN: 9789383064137
Rating: ★★★½☆
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People by Raghu Rai is a book of portraits taken by the well-known photographer over the course of his career. According to Raghu Rai, these are his favourite portraits from amongst the ones he has photographed. Buy People by Raghu Rai online here.

What I Liked, What I Didn’t

The cover image is arresting: Ustad Bismillah Khan meditating on his music. It is obvious that he has been caught mid-raag, at just the perfect moment. This photograph could not possibly have been ‘planned’. A photograph that had to be snapped without warning, at that perfect moment when the musician, caught up in his music, completely unself-conscious, forgot that there was a photographer, an interloper, in his presence.

The invisible photographer could capture a person in his most intimate, his most vulnerable moment. Of course it rarely works out that way. Rai himself writes in the introduction, “When I take a person’s portrait, I am trying to capture the aura of that person”. In People, Raghu Rai succeeds quite often; but not always.

Take this picture, for instance. raghu-rai-people

Amitabh Bachchan in classic angry young man pose. Dynamic, forceful, yes. But honest? Revelatory? I wouldn’t say so. In fact it looks like a movie poster, with Vijay the anti-hero nursing his wounds and vowing revenge.

By contrast, the picture of the Dalai Lama taken in 1975 shows a relaxed man lounging in his chair, both hands behind his head for support, lips pursed in thought. There is some train of thought there, some emotion, that the picture captures without the subject being aware of it.

A mix of good and not-so-good, that’s People by Raghu Rai

People by Raghu Rai is a mix of good portraits and not-so-good portraits. Broadly speaking, the pictures of writers – Vikram Seth, Kiran Nagarkar, R.K.Laxman, Tavleen Singh, Faiz Ahmed Faiz – artists – Satish Gujral, Himmat Shah – and musicians – M.S. Subbalakshmi, Kishori Amonkar, Hariprasad Chaurasia – seem to have caught something raw, something real about these people. The pictures of street artists and house painters have something in them too. Ela Bhatt eating her thali lunch – one of the few colour photographs – makes for a beautiful, natural picture.

Photographs of film actors and politicians seem the most stagey – perhaps these people never let their guard down when there’s a photographer around! (The exception to this rule is the portrait of former Pakistani President Zia-ul-Haq, grinning wide in the full glory of his stained teeth.)people-by-raghu-rai-3

The biggest negative

The book’s format is a double-edged sword. Books of photographs are usually as big or bigger than laptops, and get relegated to the ‘coffee table book’ category. This book is the size of a notebook and so it is easy to hold and read and carry around. Then again, I don’t suppose most people would want to look at a bunch of pictures during their daily commute, so being able to carry this book around in your purse may not be your highest priority.

On the other hand, because of the format limitations, many photographs have had to suffer the insult of being folded right down the middle, along the book’s spine. This is bad in the case of any picture, but particularly deplorable where the subject of the picture has been cut in half. Rai mentions that a particular candid photograph of Satyajit Ray is a favourite of his, but this picture has suffered the fate of being folded right in the middle. So has a picture of the Ghosh family in Calcutta, where the young daughter’s face is completely obscured.

The Verdict

It has its faults but People by Raghu Rai is still good enough to be included in any collection. Buy People by Raghu Rai at the best price here..


Post image for Book Review: Creme Brulee by Ramona Sen
Writer: Ramona Sen
Publisher: Rupa Publications
Year: 2016
ISBN: 9788129139771
Rating: ★★★½☆
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Creme Brulee, Ramona Sen’s debut novel hits all the right notes. It’s light-hearted, funny, and has just enough romance to be enjoyable without being mawkish. Buy Creme Brulee here

The Story

Upper-class Bengali anglophile Aabir Mookerjee runs a very propah restaurant called E&B (for Eggs & Bacon). Aabir is gentlemanly almost to a fault, finicky about his appearance, his car, and his manners. Miraculously, the author manages to avoid turning Aabir into an unbearably pompous prat. Since boy must meet girl, he meets Kimaya Kapoor, who, despite her terribly affected name, is quite a sorted person. Her only quirks seem to be her dress sense, the opposite of Aabir’s prim and proper attire. Having lost her husband a couple of years before, she’s about to open a new tea room in town, likely to be E&B’s competitor, a place called The Mad Hatter.

This sounds very similar to the plot of “You’ve Got Mail” with the genders reversed; but actually, it isn’t. The author deftly uses supporting characters – Aabir’s mom, his undead grandmother, his best friend Rana Raina and Kimaya’s mother-in-law Tanuja to turn this into a mature, mellow love story between a dependable, well-mannered man and an independent, fun young woman.

What I liked

The story steers well clear of typical chick-lit tropes. Rather, it is the conversations – between Aabir and Kimaya, Aabir and Rana, Kimaya and Victoria – that drive the tale.

One can clearly see the influence of P.G.Wodehouse, Downton Abbey and other British humourous pieces. The fact that the servers in the Mookerjee household are given their own space in the story is great, and adds another dimension to the social setting of the story.

What I didn’t

The character of Purohitmoshai was very one-dimensional. It seems a bit too easy to lampoon the dhoti-clad holy man the comic villain of an Indian novel that celebrates all things Western – chocolate and cream desserts, British manners and mannerisms, vintage cars. The character of Thakuma, the dead grandmother who roosts in a coconut tree keeping a sharp eye on the servants wasn’t nearly as effective as she could have been, and also seemed inconsistent.

The Verdict

This well-written book will appeal to someone looking for a light romance, who is also familiar with the nuances of the Bengali upper-class scene. If you generally turn up your nose at chick-lit and romance, but are looking for some light reading, then you should definitely buy this one. Buy Creme Brulee at the lowest price here


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