“The portrait is never the subject. It's the act of seeing, the act of feeling and reflecting on the world around you”
In Kolkata, in a narrow alleyway just off the bustling main road, there existed a small, unassuming photo studio. This was the studio of Prateek, a seasoned photographer whose life revolved around capturing moments frozen in time. The year was 1995, a time when photography was still a ritual for the middle class, a ceremony that demanded precision and patience.
Prateek's studio was not just a place of work; it was a legacy passed down from his father, underscoring the enduring power of visual storytelling. The short film film Portrait invites us into this world of storytelling, a world where images hold secrets, where faces conceal stories, and where the act of seeing transcends mere snapshots.
Against the setting of a changing India, Prateek's story unfolds in the final days of July when the news of the impending launch of mobile telecom services sweeps across the country. The world was on the cusp of a digital revolution, and in just 27 years, everything would change irrevocably.
Every day, Prateek encountered people like you and me, people who sought to capture a piece of their lives in a photograph. As he interacted with his customers, we caught glimpses of his own life, his philosophy, and his distinctive approach to photography. However, it took a singular incident to awaken Prateek to the deep essence of his artistry.
Directed by Kunal Chowdhury, Potrait is a film that revolves around capturing portraits, where faces tell stories, and where emotion transcends the lens. But as the film aptly suggests, "A portrait is not made in the camera but on either side of it." This film is not just an observation; it's an experience, a journey that mirrors life itself—the life of an ordinary man who, in his own way, represents all of us.
The film delves into the labyrinth that is Prateek's existence, where images and sounds meld to create a reality that expands with every person he meets. In his world, reality is akin to a free lunch, just like the vast universe from which everything we believe emerges from nothingness. Portrait is the story of a no one, but in that anonymity, it finds a universal truth—a reflection of each of us, just a no one, yet someone we believe we know.
The narrative develops with a simple scene—a man rushes into the studio seeking a passport photograph for his imminent journey to Dubai. Prateek, the photographer, exudes calmness in the face of the man's anxiety. He instructs the man to wipe his perspiring brow, offers him a tissue, and, with precision, captures a determined and serious face through his camera's viewfinder. The shutter clicks, and in that moment, a freeze-frame immortalizes the man's portrait.
The next morning, the studio's doors swing open again, and this time, it's a mother and her son, seeking a school portrait. Prateek assures the mother that he will make her look her best. He captures the boy's innocence and the mother's genuine smile.
In quiet moments, we find Prateek leafing through old photo albums, uncovering a single portrait photo. Its background speaks of its origin—the studio itself. As he ponders the past, a young couple enters the studio, their newlywed radiating from their smiles.
In this modest studio, Prateek begins to feel that his life is like that of the fish in the aquarium he keeps. Each customer who walks through his door is akin to a fish swimming in its own world within the confines of a glass tank. Prateek waits, patiently and observantly, for these people to reveal their desires and secrets through the lens of his camera, as fishes entering his aquarium.
Portrait tells a story of stories, a collection of moments captured in time, all within the confines of a small photo studio in Kolkata. Prateek's clients come from diverse walks of life, each with their unique hopes and dreams, and Prateek, like a storyteller, uses his lens to uncover the desires and emotions concealed within each photograph.
In this quaint narrative, the art of seeing takes centre stage. "The portrait is never the subject. It's the act of seeing, the act of feeling and reflecting on the world around you." Prateek's world, though seemingly ordinary, becomes a reflection and meditation of humanity's shared journey—a voyage encapsulated within the frames of a photograph, where every face tells a story, and every click of the shutter speaks to the act of capturing life itself.
Watch the trailer for the short film below. Follow Kunal Chowdhury here.