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Caught in a dream
Vinaya patil | Sunday, 19 March 2017 AT 07:58 PM IST
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American photographer Mark Bennington talks about his latest book, his journey in Bollywood and his love for India.



He first visited India in 2010 for a mere two weeks, with “zero knowledge” of the country. Mark Bennington is now the author of the book Living the Dream: The Life of the ‘Bollywood’ Actor.

“Having been a portrait photographer in Los Angeles for around six to seven years, I wanted to explore something completely different,” Mark says. Having only heard about Bollywood, he knew nothing about India or Mumbai. “But I wanted to discover.

What I knew was that I was looking a for a book project,” he says, adding, “I did not know a single Bollywood actor or anyone in the fraternity. Someone told me to go to Bandra because ‘that is where you will find most of these film stars.’ And right enough, I began wandering the streets of Bandra. I made friends with Shanoo Sharma and she opened up the city to me,” he speaks of his initial days.

That was Mark’s first visit in 2010. He then made several visits to India for his research work. “Gradually making friends with upcoming actors, I began my foray into the industry of dreams as it was known.”

His friend in India shared with him a list of 60 top Bollywood actors and “I knew no one except a couple of them like Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan,” he laughs. “What followed was extensive research back home in the USA. I would watch any and every Bollywood movie every minute of my life. I was living and eating Bollywood,” says the man who has a good amount of acting and photography experience in Hollywood.

In his next trip, eight months after his first, Mark began establishing contacts — some through his new friends and many by himself. “I sent a mail to Naseeruddin Shah regarding my project and his reply was ‘No thanks’. We exchanged a few e-mails after that where I tried to convince him and he ultimately asked me to meet him at Prithvi Theatre,” he narrates. He maintained a similar approach with other actors and ultimately cracked it.

A lot of research, getting through the crazy barriers that Bollywood actors maintain, two years of doing the actual ground work and immense efforts later, Mark’s book, complete with Karan Johar’s foreword was published by Harper Collins. “What worked in my favour I believe is that I have no agenda,” says Mark about people asking him how a foreigner could get through Bollywood. “My work was only and absolutely driven by my heart, by serendipity and passion. So there was no reason for rejection,” insists Mark who has also acted in a Bollywood movie Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!.



His book Living the Dream is a compilation of 112 pictures of top Bollywood actors as well as the ones struggling and still waiting to live the dream. “It is about the real life that these people live. I wanted to capture that,” he informs. When asked about his favourite picture from the book, he, quite understandably, cannot answer it, but generously shares the story behind the cover picture — that of Ranveer Singh. “I was waiting for him to come out of the dressing room when he walked out, full of energy, and went straight ahead. In my head I thought it was over. I missed the chance. He had left. But nevertheless I ran behind him, up a flight of stairs and in the gallery of an auditorium captured him while a make-up girl was giving his face some final touch. I clicked the picture and off he flew with the harness to land on the stage downstairs. I really enjoyed shooting this one,” he describes.

Pointing out another memorable photograph, Mark says, “I love how the photo looks — very real. I wanted to do something that hasn’t been done earlier,” he says, also speaking of his picture of Nargis Fakhri, where she is seen in her washroom which looks like just any washroom — and not a fake glamoirised spic and span one,” he says.

About Hollywood stars, he says they are pretty much similar to the ones here. “I think actors are pretty universal. The only difference is the industry which is much more organised there with unions, managers, and structured organisations. Here it’s a chaos. But it’s a chaos I love,” he admits, exactly when he pauses to let the chaos behind him die down. “See? This. This is what I absolutely love about India,” smiles the US-born photographer who fell in love with a Pune-based cultural anthropologist in what he calls a “love-at-first-sight Bollywood kind of love story.”

Having had a “great experience” with his first project, Mark now plans to bring out another book titled Me Mumbai. “It is completely different from my first book. This is about the common man’s Mumbai. It is almost complete and will be published soon,” signs off the American who plans to shift to India by the end of this year.

The author can be followed on Twitter @vinaya_patil
 
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