• Audrey Hepburn - Karunaben | (c) Kannagi Khanna
  • Jennifer Aniston - Komal | (c) Kannagi Khanna
  • Drew Barrymore - Savitaben | (c) Kannagi Khanna
  • Scarlett Johansson - Rekha | (c) Kannagi Khanna
  • Kate Hudson - Jaya | (c) Kannagi Khanna
  • Keira Knightley - Laxmi | (c) Kannagi Khanna
  • Julia Roberts - Ganga | (c) Kannagi Khanna
  • Ava Gardner - Durga | (c) Kannagi Khanna
  • Kate Winslet - Geeta | (c) Kannagi Khanna
  • Angelina Jolie - Krupaben | (c) Kannagi Khanna
  • Cameron Diaz - Sejal | (c) Kannagi Khanna
  • Meryl Streep - Kokilaben | (c) Kannagi Khanna
  • Anne Hathaway - Kesar | (c) Kannagi Khanna
Prev
  • Audrey Hepburn - Karunaben | (c) Kannagi Khanna
  • Jennifer Aniston - Komal | (c) Kannagi Khanna
  • Drew Barrymore - Savitaben | (c) Kannagi Khanna
  • Scarlett Johansson - Rekha | (c) Kannagi Khanna
  • Kate Hudson - Jaya | (c) Kannagi Khanna
  • Keira Knightley - Laxmi | (c) Kannagi Khanna
  • Julia Roberts - Ganga | (c) Kannagi Khanna
  • Ava Gardner - Durga | (c) Kannagi Khanna
  • Kate Winslet - Geeta | (c) Kannagi Khanna
  • Angelina Jolie - Krupaben | (c) Kannagi Khanna
  • Cameron Diaz - Sejal | (c) Kannagi Khanna
  • Meryl Streep - Kokilaben | (c) Kannagi Khanna
  • Anne Hathaway - Kesar | (c) Kannagi Khanna
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Kannagi Khanna found a slum called ‘Hollywood’ in Ahmedabad. Here are her portraits of its women whose beauty is supposed to have inspired this unusual moniker.

 

Photographer’s Note:

 

“It began when I was visiting Ahmedabad, and my father and I were out on his bike. We crossed this slum settlement and he turned to ask me whether I knew it was called ‘Hollywood’. I asked him how a slum in Ahmedabad, miles away from celebrity or stardom, came to be named so. He said it was actually called Gulbai Tekra, but was renamed ‘Hollywood’ by the locals themselves, around four decades ago, because of the rustic beauty and glamour that they felt the women of the area exuded. As is usual for such labels, no one knows who used it first or where exactly it originated.

 

“But the thought stuck with me and after reaching home I decided I had to do something with it. I felt it would be interesting to examine two concepts, Hollywood and Gulbai Tekra—that were so geographically, economically and culturally apart—photographically. I couldn’t sleep that night and I think it was around 3 am when I finalized on using posters to portray ‘Hollywood’ the way I wanted to. I would print out photographs or posters of Hollywood actresses and shoot each of these with a woman from Gulbai Tekra, asking her to strike a similar pose, creating a diptych of sorts within the frame.

 

“In the beginning, for three days, I went for a recce to the slum, without my camera, so I could familiarize myself with the area and the women I would shoot. It was a maze of narrow bylanes and streets. I found out other things about the place— such as the fact that it is famous for making Ganesh idols, which is a source of livelihood for most of those living there, and which the women are involved with too. Some of the women also make earthenware pots and other showpieces. I decided that, for the portraits, I would also use details from each subject’s natural surroundings—such as the brick walls of the hutment she lived in, or idols and artifacts in the room—to heighten the contrast with the image of the film star she was striking a pose similar to.

 

“But first I wanted to explain to the women I would shoot the idea behind the series. Initially I just sat and chatted with them for a while, to strike a rapport. Then, when I felt they were more comfortable, I told them what I wanted to do and asked if they were comfortable doing it, and what they thought of the idea. No one had a problem with it. I remember them giggling when I told them how pretty they were. I also spoke to them about the Hollywood industry and the stars by citing examples from Bollywood. They were very happy to be posing in front of the camera and I think for them the fact that I was appreciating the way they were made them happy, and the disparate culture that was being juxtaposed with theirs didn’t really matter. Eventually, some even invited me to shoot their children and their pets.

 

“It’s not that there weren’t obstacles. A woman’s husband was opposed to the idea when he saw that she would be posing next to a photograph of Julia Roberts. Perhaps this was because she was wearing a body-hugging mini-dress. He did not say anything to me directly except that he would not allow his wife to shoot for this. He was quite adamant. I didn’t want to be the cause of a fight between the couple, so I recreated that image with another lady— Ganga.

 

“Karunaben, a potter whom I was shooting next to Audrey Hepburn’s iconic image from Breakfast At Tiffany’s, in a black Givenchy dress, was uncomfortable with the idea of holding a cigarette to align with the famously oversized yet sleek black cigarette holder that Hepburn flaunts in the photograph. A huge crowd had gathered outside her hut when we were shooting, and perhaps this precipitated her discomfort. We used a twig instead.

 

“I had a great time shooting Savitaben next to Drew Barrymore. A small shop-owner, she was especially warm and friendly. She probably saw I was tired from shooting and so, after I finished, she invited me to her house and got me a chilled cold drink for the nearby shop. We chatted for about an hour.

 

“Also, there were unexpected moments which added to the portraits. As I was photographing Durga, a housewife, against the backdrop of an image of Ava Gardner at the beach, a goat walked in, and I was lucky enough to capture it in the photograph.

 

“I had taken jewelry to gift these women as a token of appreciation for their time and cooperation. I didn’t like the idea of giving them money, in case their husbands took it. I wanted to give them something only they could use. So I would just open a box which contained earrings and bangles and ask them to pick whatever they wanted. This would delight them and it was great fun watching what each one would choose.

 

“I took three weeks, in all, to complete the photo-essay.

 

“I plan to return and shoot more portraits. I don’t think only 13 pictures do justice to these women. There are so many others who I want to go back and photograph. The concept will remain the same.”

 

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23 comments
chetanpagi
chetanpagi

Let me clear one thing. As a resident of Ahmadabad i know that reason behind calling 'Hollywood' is not because Gulbai Tekra's womens are beautiful like Hollywood Actresses. Actually it is ugly satire on Tekra’s people by people living in posh area. Not only in Ahmadabad, In other city also people (especially upper class narrow minded) make fun of slum area by calling it as Hollywood or like similar word. It’s like calling any poor women ‘Poonam Pandey’ who can’t afford proper cloths. There is no doubt that photography is wonderful, But Gulbai Tekra’s reality is different. Sorry to say but at first sight this pictures make me upset, because it’s reflect bloody upper class people’s cruelty towards poor people.

CynthiaKSeymour
CynthiaKSeymour

Really awesome images, Kannagi. The tones of the black and white are really stunning. Makes me truly appreciate the beauty of these women.

Cyanide_
Cyanide_

The women sure look like they were having a ball! :)

 

Lovely album here. It was nice to see how the photographer's approach toward her subjects was patient and refreshingly non-patronizing.  Cannot wait to see more in this series. One with the men too, perhaps? Or maybe not. The women are just grand!

abhiKRajput
abhiKRajput

Too good the slum of Ahemadabad #Hollywood . Though its black n white, but it shows various colors of Life. 

Kopal
Kopal

Great work and complied beautifully...no one wld hv captured their beauty so elegantly and they look glamorous with nose rings

hridaygami
hridaygami

Just as a start, you may look up photographs of Ahmedabad by Henri Cartier Bresson. 

hridaygami
hridaygami

Why are these women posing like the women in the poster? How did they get these posters? What is the connection between Hollywood and Hollywood? Why would the photographer make them pose literally like the women in the poster. It's a very superficial photo essay, it wants to establish a connection and reality that may never have been! Would appreciate if the author holds back her excitement of being in a slum for the first time in her life, and be sensitive towards the 'real' beauty and despair of these women, instead of what the author/photographer forces onto to them. 

SwathiChatrapathy
SwathiChatrapathy

One of THE best photo essays I've seen! Excellent and amusing work! 

Mahesh Shantaram
Mahesh Shantaram

You stumbled upon a great find. I wonder if these portraits could have been better done if the posters weren't part of the pictures. The celebrity pictures along with the portraits could be shown as diptychs. And I will keep wondering...

modestregister
modestregister

Brilliant execution of an amazing idea. Kudos to you and all the leading ladies of Hollywood!

kumarmanish9
kumarmanish9

lovely idea & execution. Has covered Hollywood in Ahmedabad during my journalism days, so can relate to it.

sonalkellogg
sonalkellogg

Awesome. I am from Ahmedabad and have seen Hollywood slums since childhood. Beautiful portraits of these women.

shonali_85
shonali_85

 @hridaygami Why are you an idiot? Why do you ask idiotic questions? Were you always an idiot? Or, does your idiotic nature come out unprecedented at artists whose work is beyond your (lack of) intellectual capabilities? It is not establishing any connections, but rather juxtaposing the two worlds. There is a difference. Also, she didn't force anything onto them; clearly, you didn't read the part where she builds a rapport with them and they are willing and eager to be shot on camera. Would appreciate it if people like you would withhold their idiotic comments instead of trying to sound like they are making a valid point.

hridaygami
hridaygami

 @shonali_85 Also, criticism on the internet is far less refined, reactionary and as a result of that, very hard on the author. So bear with it.

 

And, like you don't like being called Mamta Bannerjee, I would appreciate if you withdraw the title 'idiot' that you have given me. Not that being an idiot would bother me, but I'd rather earn that title from a university. 

Mahesh Shantaram
Mahesh Shantaram

@shonali_85 Woah! I thought hridaygami's critique was spot on. S/he wasn't insulting your friend so there's no need to go all Mamata Banerjee on him/her. The 'forcing' being referred to does not imply that the women were forced to pose at gunpoint. What is indeed visually forced upon the viewer is the connection between the two worlds. Kannagi is anyway going to realise it when she revisits this work a few years down the line. Maybe you will too. Sorry, but you totally shot yourself in the foot with that comment on (lack of) intellectual capabilities :)

siddhantbhardwaj
siddhantbhardwaj

 @Mahesh Shantaram  @hridaygami  @shonali_85 

 

Wow. Hridaygami, you must be an expert at understanding  the 'real' beauty and 'despair' (because all women who live in slums must be going through feelings of despair with no joy in their lives) of these women by the looks of it. Would love it if you wrote an essay about it and shared it with the world! We need people like you and your expert comments. And your questions about what is the connection between hollywood and hollywood and where did the posters come from show superior intellect. No wonder you go about recommending the works of Cartier. I'm a fan.

 

Shonali, Absolutely agree with you. What a beautiful concept celebrating the beauty of these women and their surroundings. A very different take. Never seen such lovely pictures of slum women. Gorgeous. 

 

Mahesh Shantaram, I wonder how a senior photographer like yourself had a question like 'what would the photos look like without the posters.' I'll keep wondering.

shonali_85
shonali_85

 @hridaygami Alright, I withdraw the word, "idiot". My comments were meant to be aggressive. Usually, I don't even get involved with the comments section on anything, because it easily becomes a huge waste of energy. But something about your dismissive manner irked me enough to comment. 

hridaygami
hridaygami

 @shonali_85  @Mahesh Shantaram 

Hello all,

My intention was not to shoot down the effort. And, I do accept that my comments were impinging on personal boundaries. But I stand my ground on everything I said about the exercise itself, about the manner of composition of the subjects, the superficial 'juxtaposition'. I'm sorry, but shonali, your comments read aggressive, and mine dismissive. Both I think are not the way forward. My questions, though may seem stupidly obvious after seeing/reading this photo essay go back to the questions the author may have started off with. And which is why I ask them again, to restart the thought process of the author. I do feel that this is a very premature effort for what the author had in mind/ the potential of such a subject. I have seen these women in their neighborhoods for the past eight years that I have stayed in Ahmedabad and I do not think these photographs do justice. So, what do you say now?Mahesh did read the intentions behind my comments that was laced with the initial dismissal of an artwork.

shonali_85
shonali_85

 @Mahesh Shantaram  @shonali_85 Kannagi is not my friend. Also, hridaygami clearly wrote, "..be sensitive towards the 'real' beauty and despair of these women, instead of what the author/photographer forces onto to them," implying that Kannagi is forcing this act of photographing them upon them, without their consent.

 

As for the viewer, the viewer has a choice of not viewing. You know, free will? Anyway, my point is, these portraits open up a dialogue, a discussion of sorts. The concept itself deserves an applause. I just don't see the value of denouncing such an effort. Sure, he has his own opinion which I am not against (don't you dare call me Mamata Banerjee again, she's wacko), but he seems to ask a lot of redundant questions. 

The Leading Ladies of Gulbai Tekra

Photo Essay
July 2013
By Kannagi Khanna

Kannagi Khanna, 23, graduated in Film Studies from the Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication, Pune. She has worked on a documentary about the Indian Army, called ‘Mission Army’, with the National Geographic Channel. She has been a photographer for three years. ‘Hollywood’ is her first work. Her work has been showcased at the Delhi Photo Festival and the Open Show in Mumbai, and published in Better Photography, Asian Photography, Yahoo and the Le Kournal de la Photographie. She was nominated for the TOTO Awards, 2012, for emerging young talent in the field of photography. She plans to name her dog Flike, after the dog from Vittorio De Sica’s ‘Umberto D’. She would do anything to play the character of Catherine from Francois Truffaut’s ‘Jules et Jim’. Also, she has always been attracted to the black and white medium and sees the world around her as a 1920’s film.