A commercial advertising and fashion Photographer from Nepal who has been capturing and creating magic through his dynamic and enthralling images for over a decade, received accolades last year for his work dedicated to the Burn Survivors in Nepal that conveyed a strong and much needed social message to the People of Nepal.
Mr. Arjun Shah started out as an Assistant in 2004 for a number of renowned photographers in Indian Film Industry. Gradually, he established himself as an acclaimed photographer with work that has been widely published across the world. Today, he owns his own Studio ‘Leo’s Studio’ and a Films and Television commercial production Company based in Kathmandu, Nepal in partnership with Mumbai-based Filmmaker Mr. Vishal M Kharat.
Arjun’s work has been featured in various National and International lifestyle magazines. In his 12 years of career as a Photographer in Mumbai, he saw it all. In addition to shooting for several advertising campaigns for International and Domestic Brands, he got to shoot for almost all the celebrities in Indian Film Industry. But, all the glitz and glamour of the Indian film Industry was not enough for him to feel content and therefore he felt compelled to move back to Nepal for bigger goals in life.
While growing up in Chitwan in the southern plains of Nepal, he had no idea about Photography. He got inspired only when he went to see his brother in Mumbai who was trying his luck in Cinematography at that time. That’s when Arjun decided to study Fine Arts at L. S. Raheja School of Art, Mumbai to be able to pursue Professional Photography.
In a conversation with Asian Aces, Arjun shared his story which in his words is ‘Unbelievable’, about his calendar for Burn Survivors and his plans for his Production Company.
“At this time, youth is a compelling phenomenon in Nepal, wanting to bring a positive change to drive the country away from stereotypes and social stigmas. To be able to create a fresh image of Nepal on a global level, lot more needs to be done at the ground level. I hope to contribute to that purpose in partnership with other organizations that are working towards bringing the social and cultural awareness in the society.”
How do you feel at this point in your life? Share some of the challenges that you came across during your struggling period.
While growing up in Chitwan, I never thought I would get to see and experience the world that I have seen. It’s Unbelievable and I am not yet over it. Having said that, I recognize my potential as in what impact I can make on the society. I wish to use that potential of mine for more social and cultural awareness in India, Nepal or anywhere else.
Moving to India was easier, getting into Movie Business was not that easy, and then surviving in Mumbai with such a low income during my struggling period seemed next to impossible. Thanks to God, my family and friends that I survived. In my first few jobs, my job was to load and unload the photography equipment, and we were paid only 5000 INR per month. It was frustrating, but I got exposed to the practical technicalities. In the end, my work paid off.
Your work that spans across several genres has widely published in magazines such as BBC Good Homes, Femina, Filmfare, Verve, The Rolling stones, Man’s World, Top Gear, The Lonely Planet etc., and you have trained under the most accomplished photographers such as Jagdish Mali and Harsh Man Rai, What is your advice to the aspiring photographers?
My advice is that in order to understand yourself and your interests, keep working and keep trying different genres with or without money and work. Know people, know your surrounding and know life. Creativity comes from within but more exposure to life, in general, adds on to that creativity and brings out the best in you.
According to a report, there are almost 55,000 burn cases in Nepal every year that are the result of physical abuse, domestic violence and gender based discrimination. Nepal’s complex social system based on patriarchal power structures makes it difficult for victims to openly speak about it. However, Your efforts have changed the way Burn Survivors look at themselves. How did the idea of ‘Burn Survivors’ come to you, and what were you trying to say?
I was traveling in a bus in Nepal when I saw few young boys and girls making fun of a Burn Survivor who was constantly trying to hide her face with a Shawl. Upon my request, they never stopped. They made her so uncomfortable that she deboarded the bus at the very next stop saying “It’s better to die than to live such a life”. This incidence questioned me if I can do something and instill an empathetic attitude in people, for people. After this incident, I went to few magazines and put forward my idea to feature a burn survivor. After a long chain of rejections, WAVE magazine accepted my proposal.
My campaign found its ‘hero’ when I met with Jayatri Tamang, a Burn Survivor, at Sushma Koirala Memorial Hospital. It took six months for her to say ‘Yes’. However, after that particular issue, Jayatri turned into a role model. Her picture inspired many other Burn Survivors to come out and share their experiences.
My whole idea was to tell people that Burn Survivors have all the right in the society to be treated with respect and dignity.
Earlier this year, you were honored by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) for your Calendar. Please tell our readers about this Calender.
The Calendar presents seven women with burn histories as survivors, not victims. The inspiration for the calendar came from the cover shoot that I did with Jayatri Tamang for the Wave magazine. I wanted to provide people with a window into the survivors’ personalities—their ambitions and their present lives. The calendar has helped survivors in overcoming their inhibitions.
You spent a decade in Mumbai. What brought you back to Nepal?
I moved to Nepal to discover more about life, but upon my arrival I found myself to be very connected with my country. I discovered that there is a lot more that I can do here. Nepal, at this time, is vibrant and young with a median age of 21.6 years. Youth is a compelling phenomenon in Nepal, wanting to bring a positive change to drive the country away from stereotypes and social stigmas. To be able to create a fresh image of Nepal on a global level, lot more needs to be done at the ground level. I hope to contribute to that purpose in partnership with other organizations that are working towards bringing the social and cultural awareness in the society.
Sugar Films Pvt. Ltd. is a Films and Television commercial production Company based in Kathmandu, Nepal. I started it in partnership with filmmaker Mr. Vishal M Kharat.
Through my studio work at Leo’s Studio, I have been launching fresh faces in media and advertising. I hope to do that more through our production company. I see a great future in Nepali Media and Entertainment Industry. Nepal is full of history and culture, yet world never got to hear much from Nepal. I think it is the time!
Is Mumbai calling again?
Over the years, I managed to get a name for myself in Mumbai, so Mumbai keeps calling. I keep traveling for my work, not just to India but several other countries. At this point in life, I don’t think I need to move to a place permanently to be able to function. I am open for opportunities anywhere in the world.
About the Interviewer:
The Interviewer is the Lead Writer and Founder at Asian Aces.