I felt a quiet sense of déjà vu as the speedboat whisked us from Male International Airport to Taj Exotica Resort & Spa, on Emboodhu Finolhu, a private island in the South Malé atoll of the Maldives. It had been almost 15 years since I had first come here, for another editorial cover shoot with the then supermodel Katrina Kaif, before she had her big screen makeover. Lately, my photojournalism has been mired in the realpolitik of India, with some deliberate distance from my erstwhile life as an advertising and fashion photographer. But no camera can outgrow and resist the call of the Maldives’ magical seascapes—as I realized when the Lounge editor called on me to collaborate on this shoot.

For me, the understated summer whites we picked for this summer-special cover story, along with the breathtaking stillness of the resort, necessitated a shoot bereft of the army of obligatory stylists and the cacophony of an oppressive make-up team. The tall, dusky and ever-so-lithe Lakshmi Rana, a true supermodel and reigning queen of the catwalk, who also happens to be an army wife and mother to a five-year-old daughter, was the perfect choice. We have our own share of stories, I had photographed and given Lakshmi her first assignment as a model for the Indian Army’s first ad campaign at the Indian Military Academy (IMA), Dehradun around the year 2000 and paid her a then lordly sum of Rs5,000 for it. Incidentally, her husband Puneet Doval was also at the IMA at the same time.

The Indian summer is the start of the monsoon in the Maldives. The rain clouds would come and go, giving us just the right amount of break to lounge about in our private pools—one of the many highlights of the lagoon villas—or spend long hours over lunch followed by obligatory evening workouts at the gym.

The workouts were self-inflicted misery, to fortify ourselves for the impending excesses of dinner at Deep End restaurant, where the evening ritual most certainly included a visit from the resident baby shark. Even though the resort had undergone a complete rehaul post the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, the magical Captain’s Table set on water retained its pride of place and brought back memories of Kaif, who would spend the better part of her dinner rehearsing the Telugu lines of her first film of sorts with a certain Tamil steward.

Lakshmi Rana by the resort’s pier, wearing a péro dress and shrug by Yavi.
Lakshmi Rana by the resort’s pier, wearing a péro dress and shrug by Yavi.

Lakshmi, on the other hand, was a different kettle of fish, prone to nursing her lemon-infused Coronas till dessert did us part. The early morning and “let’s not miss the magical light" syndrome that has afflicted all fashion photographers since time immemorial took on giant proportions post these languorous dinners.

My favourite shooting location at the resort was the Rehendi Presidential overwater suite with its endless sea vistas, the deep-grey rain clouds adding to the heady atmosphere. On the last day, just when I got ready to make the final photograph, a solitary seagull took flight and entered the frame. At the same time, the sky opened up, as if announcing that it was time to pack up, and the romance of the Maldives took a final photographic summersault

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