Mahadevan had such an idea in mind for years, but it was only recently that he set out to look for such a candidate. And that was when he chanced upon 24-year-old Aazman, selling mobile pouches and balloons at the traffic signal at Edappally, Kochi. She was dressed in a colourful skirt and dupatta, like any other Rajasthani street seller, but her smile caught his eye, says Mahadevan. “We watched her from afar for a while and knew we had found our subject. Before approaching her, we went to the place where their community lives, in Kalamassery, and made sure that they were honest people.” It took a week for his team to convince Aazman, who was in no way fascinated by the idea. “She lived with her siblings and extended family, her parents being in Rajasthan. They were very conservative and strict about following their cultural traditions but we persisted.”
Finally she agreed and they set off to the studio. Aazman had never done make-up in her life, and initially was a little bewildered by the lights and camera equipment, but the crew encouraged her with applause and her favourite music. “Within 15minutes she became a pro at poses, and it was our turn to be amazed. The makeup artist, Prabin, never tried to alter her skin tone, as she looked beautiful as she was. She enjoyed the shoot as much as we did, eventually. At the end, as we were removing the make-up, she asked us if she could show her friends and family her new look, and so we retained the make-up. That was an emotional moment for all of us,” Mahadevan recalls.
Mahadevan feels that this was the most satisfying shoot in his career, personally. But he never expected the kind of responses it would get. ‘She speaks through her eyes’, ‘Her smile can light up hearts’, ‘In a world where dark-skin is looked down upon, you have set an example’, ‘You are not just a good photographer, you are a good human being as well,’ went the comments. “It was just unimaginable. People just flooded me with positive comments and appreciation, that too from different parts of the country. I would say it has been life changing for me,” says an overwhelmed Mahadevan.
And that wasn’t all. Aazman has now become a mini celebrity at the Edappally signal, where people stop to click selfies with her. She even got a few other offers for shoots but she turned them all down. “I don’t think she dreams of anything other than getting married and continuing with the same street seller’s life. She said that she’s happy with just one shoot,” he says, adding that he was amazed by her lack of fascination for money and clothes. “We had given her framed photos of the shoot, designer clothes as well as normal clothes, besides money, from our production house Clap Media. But she said she would be wearing them only at home as their traditional attire is important for them. She continues to work hard and doesn’t want anything for free.”
So what next for Mahadevan? “I have planned another shoot, on the same lines. I realise now that anyone can be a model. A photographer is never financially sound enough to help people. But we can work magic like this. Out of ten shoots, I want to do something different with at least two in the future,” says Mahadevan, who is currently working on an Anoop Menon directorial.