Flights (of fancy) with a magpie: In cinematographer-photographer Hemant Chaturvedi’s realm of miscellany

In the Madh Island home wanderers come and go
Talking of Chor Bazaar obsessions, spice thresholds,
and what it means to build a home.

“I’m a magpie – I collect everything. Friends who visit my home liken it to a museum, but I don’t like the term. What I have is a thoroughly lived-in space, a living space, where each article has an origin story.”

It was the kind of offer – even without the accompanying drawl, the whiff of Italian liquor – one can’t refuse. It’s also the kind one cannot possibly prepare for, with conversations bounding from Brian Selznick’s graphic novel ‘The Invention of Hugo Cabret’ to Paris’ Père Lachaise cemetery where the filmmaker Georges Méliès is buried – “Did you know that when Méliès’ production house went bankrupt he sold some 600 celluloid films to cut losses, which were melted into plastic and used to make women’s shoe heels?” – “Well that reminds me of ‘tread softly because you tread on my dreams’!” – “Is that John Donne?” – “Yeats!” – “Ah, Eunice de Souza and her English Lit lectures!”

Presenting a photographic glimpse into the home and the multivarious enthusiasms of cinematographer and still life photographer Hemant Chaturvedi!

“There’s something gorgeously psychedelic about this. Look at all the flotsam and jetsam floating about in the darkness!”
A Keystone 16mm projector from 1942.
A Siemens 16mm camera from 1944. (I confess to having whooped with astonishment when it began whirring.)
A candle powered and hand cranked film loop projector, undated.
“This sword isn’t something I collected from my travels – it’s an old family heirloom. There’s no question, given its weight and design that it belonged to a woman. The family holds that this is the sword that the Rani of Jhansi went to battle with.”
The minimum fare on this old rickshaw meter was one rupee.
“I’ve owned every camera model Olympus ever made.”
‘This is what we call, in film lingo, a dolly. I have some fantastic memories of working it during my time at Merchant Ivory Productions (1985 – 2005) with dolly operators Giri, Gyan, Mani and Rambali.”
“With the decline of vinyl records, the one form we really lost was fantastic cover art.” A framed print of the Jimi Hendrix experience’s second studio album ‘Axis: Bold as Love’ hangs on a wall opposite the stereo system Hemant set up himself.
A Will Eisner illustration print hangs in a corridor.
“I had the hugest crush on Waheeda Rehman – you couldn’t meet someone as graceful as her and not fall for her! She’s the only one who wasn’t portrayed on this ‘Sahib, Bibi Aur Ghulam’ poster – and now she is.”
Foreground: A present from a Portuguese origami maker Hemant once hosted. Background: An angel tattoo from Ethiopia.




“All the unread books reside in my bedroom. All the read ones are here in the library – look at how the bookshelves are bowing!”
An glimpse into a collection of Lynd Ward’s fascinating novels, comprised entirely of prints of woodcut art of the most intricate kind.
A page from Ralph Steadman’s ‘I. Leonardo’.
Time not spent frantically searching for  ‘The Curious Sofa’ by “Ogdred Weary” (Edward Gorey) was spent reading Maira Kalman’s ‘The Principles of Uncertainty’.
Allahabadi fare numbered in the afternoon’s countless revelations – lunch began with gajar mooli salad, chukandar pudina and kheera kela salad, and went on to gobhi ki tehri, bharwan bhindi, boondi kadhi and homemade mirchi achaar!
The rest of the afternoon was spent poring over large prints of Hemant’s black and white photography from recent travels and shoots.
From snapshots of graveyard art to Chaplin impersonators, acts of ablutions to those of monastic prayer, and endless, endless snow!


A fitting farewell – I leave with a bottle of Bhut Jolokia chilli sauce, and an invitation to visit again to read in the library and “be quietly fed at suitable intervals”. The promise of phrases like matthe ka rassa and kamal kakdi ki tarkari endures, as does the memory of a glorious October afternoon.

Written and photographed by Tanvi Shah.

Though he is better known as a cinematographer, with films like Company and Maqbool to his name, the still camera has always gripped Hemant’s imagination. His Mumbai Local talk ‘Places of Faith: Finding Belief through a Camera’ will have us journey from the Kumbh Mela to the town of Chaplin impersonators, from the Tibetan mountains to a crater dotted with Shiv temples, and have us see the many manifestations of worlds of faith through his lens.
This session will happen on November 13 (Sun) at Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum at 5 pm. It is part of Junoon‘s Mumbai Local series, and is free and open for all.

To read more creative collaborative pieces, click here.





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