When he burst onto the scene in the early 90s, photography wasn't really considered a lucrative profession. "The only photographers present those days were 'function photographers'," recalls Dabboo Ratnani, a name that needs no introduction. Though he was supposed to join the family business, he decided to follow his heart and pursue his true calling - photography. "Thankfully, my parents were really supportive and when I had three years of college left, I decided to study via correspondence and assist a photographer. A lot happened in those years and there has been no looking back ever since," he exclaims.
Today, he is one of the most popular photographers in India and has worked with almost every actor and supermodel possible. Taking his love for photography to a different level, Dabboo even made his first appearance on the small screen as a judge on MTV's India's Next Top Model (INTM) in 2015. Now, back on the telly with the third season of the show, Dabboo promises that this season is bigger and better than ever.
"It has been a superb experience this time. The participants are raw and mouldable. Most of them haven't even done a photo shoot unlike the participants of the previous seasons. So, you can completely convert them into real talent," he says. "You can see their desire to get to the top and the fact that they truly value being on the show. It gives an added edge to them and subsequently, the show as well."
This is the only television show that he's part of and the fact that he plays himself on it is what attracted him to it in the first place. "I am pretty much me and have to look at the participants from the eyes of a photographer. I completely enjoy shooting and interacting with them. It's a part of my personality," he says.
Dabboo's advice to aspiring models is that modelling is largely misunderstood and not as bad as it's made out to be. "Many worry that the profession isn't right but there are good and bad people in every industry. Budding models just need to be street-smart, aware, and choose the right platform like INTM, which is a great way for them to interact with the biggies of the industry this early in their career," he points out.
His brother, chef Vicky Ratnani, is an equally popular personality and the two share a wonderfully warm relationship. "We meet on a daily basis and are interested in each other's fields of work. While I am a foodie, he loves photography. We have similar interests in music and I am his 'go-to guy' for technology. My wife Manisha and I are coffee junkies and since he travels a lot, he gets coffee of all kinds for us."
While today, there are millions of budding photographers armed with the latest equipment, Dabboo's advice to them is to not take photography for granted. "Many photographers largely depend on the post-processing of photos. But as someone who started his career shooting stills, I prefer correcting the flaws instead of relying too much on technology. In fact, my photos look 78% of what was originally shot. So, don't be lazy and depend too much on technology," he says. One should also be passionate about the art, he advises. "When you get into the field, do it for the love and passion of photography and not to meet celebrities or models, or to be cool."
Speaking of celebrities, Dabboo will soon start working on his Bollywood calendar, which has become an icon of sorts in the industry. When quizzed about his favourite star to work with, he replies, "I am friends with most of them, be it Mr Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan or Priyanka Chopra. They all work with me not for money, but for the love of creating a great picture. But if I really had to pick one celebrity who I really enjoy working with, it has to be Akshay Kumar. He is really crazy and experimental. In fact, he is half a photographer himself!"