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FO2 STAGE | Nilay Pandey

by Team FO2, 24 Jun 2023

I was born in a small town in West Bengal, and when I was five years old, we moved to Kolkata, and completed my education there only. When I was in 12th standard, my parents asked me what career I wanted to pursue. To that, my answer was I want to become a photographer. Listening to this, my mom innocently asked me, "Tu wo passport-size photos lega", so I said, no, photography isn't just that. And my answer wasn't pleasing to my father either, so he said," First, become a graduate, then do whatever you want.

My dad is a government employee, and my mother is a housewife. However, I feel my dad could have been a painter, but he didn't. I still remember when we lived in a town near Kolkata, we used to travel by local train. It was a 30-40 minute journey, and while sitting on the train, he used to draw on postcards with pens. He doesn't draw anymore. I don't remember when he stopped drawing & why. 

So adhering to my father's words, I did my 12th in science and applied for an engineering college, but couldn't get into a government college, so I completed my graduation in commerce. I didn't opt for a private college because I didn't want to waste my father's money on something I wasn't sure of. After graduation, I got a job in Mumbai. I wasn't focused enough then, so after working for six months, I left the job & went back to Kolkata. 

In 2019, I applied for FTII but couldn't get into it and applied for a 9-month cinematography course at Chitrabani. However, they had a condition- to enrol for that course, you should have a certificate in Still Photography. So I did a certification course in Still Photography. 

My uncle is a creative director, and when I was young, he once praised me for a particular picture, saying it was like a Raghu Rai picture. I asked him why. He replied, "look at the depth of field, Kuchh bhi focus ke bahar nhi hai". This story connected after many years when I was attending my first class in photography. The faculty asked me who your favourite photographer is? Back then, I only knew two names, Raghu Rai & Steve McCurry, and while entering the campus, I saw the photograph of Raghu Rai as he was an honorary member, so I answered Raghu Rai. Then the faculty asked why? So I remembered the words of my uncle & said, "because of the depth of field in his photos", which I had no idea about. But these answers on the first day of the class made me a little popular. 

I am a big fan of Raghu Rai and still get goosebumps when I think about the incident when I met him. In march 2020, just before the lockdown, I participated in my first exhibition, where Avani Rai's Bhopal gas tragedy series was exhibited. On the inauguration day, Raghu Rai & Rafique Sayed were invited. A total of 80-85 photos were displayed, 19 of which were of Avani Rai's & rest were of 22 different photographers, including mine. I was also a part of the organizing team as I was responsible for taking pictures of the exhibition. During the event, I was taking pictures at one end and suddenly heard my name, and everybody was looking at me. I went to see what had happened, and to my surprise, Raghu Rai was standing in front of my picture. He patted my back & said, "this picture won my heart". Such a comment from him made me speechless. At that moment, those words felt like the biggest achievement.

Then covid happened, everything stopped, and the lockdown made things more challenging as, before the lockdown, I used to work as a street photographer. Every day I used to go out with my team to click photos. But during the lockdown, I was not able to do street photography & was wondering how to earn from photography. Then after the first wave of covid, one day, I saw an ad posted by Rafique Sayed that he needed interns. As soon as I saw the ad, I applied, and before getting any reply from his side, I decided to come to Mumbai. I fought at home because my parents were worried as they were afraid about rising covid cases, and I was going for a job which I didn't even get, but I still came to Mumbai. 

Even after a day in Mumbai, I didn't get any reply from Rafique Sayed. After much arguing over the phone, my father booked a return flight ticket for me for the next day at 5 pm. The next day at 11 am, I thought I should call Rafique Sayed; I had his number because when he was invited to the exhibition, I had a duty to drop him off. So I contacted him, thinking about what could go wrong. At worst, he will say no, and I already have a return ticket and had to go anyways. So I called him, and he asked me to come & meet him at 3:30 pm. I went, he took my interview and hired me. I called my dad to tell him. At first, he didn't believe me saying, "tu jhooth to nhi bol raha?" but then he believed me. I cancelled my flight ticket and started working as a fashion photographer here in Mumbai.

I feel content with what I do and cannot imagine my life without work or photography. I came to Mumbai to focus on photography and left all my family & friends in Kolkata. Even my roommate is a makeup artist, so at home also, we discuss different concepts that we can use in our projects. I love Mumbai and working here, but I miss Kolkata sometimes. I feel people in Kolkata are more artistic but have a laid-back attitude, whereas people here are always in a rush. So to me, both cities feel like home one gave me the joy of childhood & all my happy memories, whereas one gives me the opportunity to be the person I want to be & do what I love.

"I love being behind the camera, and to me, it feels like the place where I belong".

-Nilay Pandey

Follow Nilay's on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/nilay_pande/


Written by : Vinay Matre 
Interview by : Aman
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