I still belong to Bombay, not Mumbai,” says Ketaki Sheth, who began taking pictures on the streets of Mumbai in 1988 as a way of teaching herself photography. “I used Bombay as a sketchbook.” At the time, becoming an established photographer was a distant dream and her sole aim, she says, used to be to get the image she was shooting at any given time right.
Sheth, who was born and brought up in Mumbai, says that the city is much more policed now and she is never sure whether she will have the freedom to go and shoot pictures somewhere. “You can’t go into a crowd now during Ganapati
(festival) because the police is always looking for terrorists,” she says. “But it is still a city where you can work in most parts as a woman and as a photographer.”
In Delhi for the opening of her show Street Seen, she tells us about her favourite chroniclers of Mumbai, on canvas, film and in print.
Raghubir Singh: The photographer, known for shooting in colour from the 1970s onwards, was a mentor to Sheth. “He worked almost entirely on the street and had a very evolved sense of form,” she says. “He introduced me to both photography and photographers.” Singh’s photos of Mumbai in the early 1990s were a departure from his earlier style.
Sudhir Patwardhan: A practising radiologist who lives in Thane near Mumbai, Patwardhan is also one of India’s leading contemporary artists. “There is an intensity about his paintings of life on the street. A truthfulness, an artistry and a depth to his works,” says Sheth.
Mira Nair: “It was a path-breaking film,” says Sheth of ‘ Salaam Bombay ’, the 1988 film directed by Nair that tracked the everyday life of Mumbai’s street children. “It followed a certain pattern of reality and yet gave it a strong artistic form.” Sheth says Nair made it a point to use real children living on the streets, not actors, for the film.
Yeh hai Bombay: Still from Little Zizou
Altaf Tyrewala: Sheth calls the young writer’s debut 2006 novel on Mumbai, ‘No God in Sight’ an “utterly brilliant, bullet of a book”. “It has strong sense of form, with 40 monologues by different characters which include an abortionist, a servant girl, a butcher,” she says. “The book has a real edge to it.”
Sooni Taraporevala: The screenwriter and photographer, with films such as ‘The Namesake’ and ‘Salaam Bombay’ to her credit, has directed her
first feature film ‘Little Zizou ’, a comedy starring Boman Irani, with a cameo by
John Abraham, about two feuding Paris families in Mumbai. Sheth says the film looks at many issues relevant to the city, including intolerance.
Street Seen by Ketaki Sheth
will be showing at Max Mueller Bhawan, 3, Kasturba Gandhi Marg, New Delhi, till 15 December.