A quiet man with the sharpest eye. A photographer who brought mystery, nuance and raw earthiness to fashion. Sunil Mehra remembers
PICTURE PERFECT” was the one term that kept haunting friends and family attending Prabuddha’s seaside funeral at Alibag, the quiet island off the shores of frenetic, frantic Mumbai. The sound of the waves, coconut trees swaying in the quiet breeze, birds describing graceful arcs in the blue sky above, Prabuddha’s handsome patrician face, leonine mane framing it, as serene in death as it was in life, the flames dramatically leaping heavenwards carrying his soul into the ether. It did make for a great frame. In a corner, his beautiful wife Tanya, supermodel partner Laxmi, united and silently bonding in grief… Prabuddha, master framer/ace lensman, would have approved.
A quiet but dramatic departure. Laxmi and Prabuddha in a cab to the airport to return to their Goa home. Suddenly, he complains of nausea, says, “I’m unwell, let’s not go.” She turns the car around, drives back frantically to host Bijay Jain’s house. By the time they reach, Prabuddha’s left. Quietly. Forever.
Quiet is how friends invariably described this reclusive, shy man with the surest, sharpest eye for the split second, dramatic moment. His moments spoke of nuance, undertows, revealed quintessential personas, the raw unalloyed earthy sensuousness of his subjects. His images evoked internal landscapes, personal histories; almost like visual novellas.
I remember walking into a roofless abandoned beedi warehouse in Bombay with photographer friend David de Souza. There, under the stars, on crumbling walls were suspended huge black and white portraits of Goans from his Edge of Faith series. Biblical faces; whole life stories etched on them. Prabuddha eschewed gallery space. Frames. Colours. You turned corners to find ravaged faces looking back from ravaged walls, peering amid the odd peepul sapling, obstinate bush, insistently alive, that had thrust itself obstinately through a crevice… As you gazed, transfixed, the moon, the first stars came up, eerily lighting each face. It was real. It was raw. It was Prabuddha.
The Ladakh book’s b&w starkness, the Nudes’ play of natural light and shadow evoked similar, infinite mysteries. That same earthy quality informed his cult image of Milind and Madhu in the buff; them coiled around each other, python coiled around them, sports shoes they were advertising the only bodily adornment.
The acknowledged éminence grise of the Fashion Universe was studiedly ‘unfashion’. So were those he lived with, loved. Wife Tanya, muse Laxmi. Simple, uncluttered people, unaffected by the glamour and the glitz that was the surround-sound feature of their lives. Choreographer Vidyun Singh, an early buddy, remembers a quiet, understated man with his heart in the right place. “I loved a random picture of leaves, which I thought would be great for my hill shack. I remember complimenting him for the image.” Many moons later, he remembered. Sent it on to her. The man hated gush. Vidyun recalls an in-flight gush fest with people passing stunning images of a Rohit Khosla fashion shoot he’d done, punctuating it with oohs, aaahs, awesomes. “I remember saying ‘not bad’.” Prabuddha guffawed, dined out on that anecdote for years. He loved her understatedness. It was who he was. They bonded. For life.
A life well lived. But less. 56 is no time to go. But then, for Prabuddha, less was always more.
Mehra is a journalist and an art collector