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The fading world of Anglo-Indians captured by Karan Kapoor. A look at his two-decade documentation and photo show on Anglo-Indians in India; a conversation with the photographer and a look at the archive.

Karan Kapoor is a classical photographer of the subdued and nuanced genre. Almost like his late mother, theatre and cinema actress, Jennifer Kendal. His father, Shashi Kapoor, Bollywood’s megastar and actor in some of the finest and internationally acclaimed English movies with brilliant cinematography and archival scripts, especially crafted by the legendary Ivory and Merchant films, was, in fact, a bubbling, peppy and boisterous character, as he was depicted in many of the box office hits of Bombay.

Karan is more like his sister Sanjana Kapoor, who runs the famous Prithvi Theatre in Mumbai, where almost all the greats who mixed theatre and cinema, lived precious parts of their artistic lives; they do their work, brilliant as it is, rooted as it is, merging with the margins and the mainstream as effortlessly like a black and white picture, luminescent with its twilight shadows and incredibly mysterious zones of possibilities

Karan’s camera and the eye and mind and soul of his camera remain rooted in this moment of revelation, celebrating the unknown, the undocumented, the unseen and unheard with a measured click of the machine, trained as it is with his own everyday experience with this subject. That is why, there is deep humanism, compassion, and beauty in his black and white images.

In Delhi recently, where his travelling photo show was exhibited amidst the archaic architecture of the Bikaner House, Karan’s show, ‘Time and Tide’, is a documentation from the 1980s to the end of 1980s, of the forgotten life and times of Anglo-Indians in India, especially in the ancient lanes and bylanes of old-age homes in old Calcutta, replete with a certain character and depth where the faded walls and the inner shadows of homes in eternal oblivion tell their own, invisible stories. The pictures have been documented by Tasveer of Bengaluru and published in a hardback coffee table with lovely introductory notes by author William Dalrymple, and Karan’s aunt, Felicity Kendal.

Shashi Kapoor produced some of the modern classics in contemporary India with his own hard-earned money – magnanimously giving back to creative cinema what he got from it: Junoon, Kalyug, Utsav, Vijeta, etc, with some of the great directors of the time. 36, Chowringee Lane, his beautifully sensitive film of Anglo-Indian exile, loneliness and longing in a Calcutta in transition with the new generation of the middle class turning cold, deceitful and shallow, directed by Bengali director and actress, Aparna Sen, another living genius, celebrated Jennifer Kendal as the lonely Anglo-Indian woman who seeks love and compassion from a young Bengali couple who uses her, and her home, for their romantic rendezvous, and then choose to dump her with cold-blooded precision. Karan spent a lot of time with his mother in this living Calcutta of a forgotten community, he inhaled the images with his inner mind and captured them on his camera.

He has also gone to and fro into the sublime beaches of Goa, where he spent his childhood with his brother and sister, and into the homes of fishermen and ordinary folks, weaving their nets inside their shack’s courtyard, celebrating their catch on a fullmoon tide night on the sea, enjoying a simple marriage walking on the streets, clicking a lovely, lively picture of a young girl who has won a Marilyn Monroe look-alike contest.

And, of course, Bombay, where he lived his humble childhood with famous parents, a legendary grandfather called Prithviraj Kapoor and top stars who were uncles and cousins. Every portrait is a story of deep feeling, a geography of emotions, subdued, but expressed into a pictorial narrative. There are no frills, no attachment to the superficial, no exaggeration. A portrait is a story untold.

His images are haunting: old people in their embroidered dresses, inside old-age homes preserving their dignity and the shadows that surround the nooks and crevices of the walls and staircases, young boys with a bottle, young boys on a scooter, their eyes full of dreams, fishermen on a tide, eyes speaking unspoken narratives of a time buried in the sands of yesteryears, humble and humane faces looking out of their frames, music on the streets. “I keep going back to Goa, where I spent my childhood with the fishermen. They are still my friends. Some of them are dead, some are still alive. My pictures are a tribute to them,” says Karan with a shy smile as we bid goodbye

Shy he is, avoiding the glitz and glamour of Bollywood and its mappings and trappings. However, his camera speaks. A thousand short stories in one click. Sometimes, epical too. All celebrating humanity’s passing into time and space, like the silence in the background

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