I have opened several bank accounts online in the US in under 10 minutes without the bank folks knowing what I look like! I tried doing the same in India and they wanted photos done a certain way and left thumb impressions as well as my entire family tree listed (along with all sorts of identifying birth marks!) on the application form. Since I needed a few passport sized photos for these types of applications as well as some kind of Power of Attorney documents, I popped into one of the many photo studios that was in the neighborhood. I had done this at CVS or other corner drugstores in the US countless times. You just walk in and get the picture taken with a small point and shoot digital camera and they print out a sheet of 6 or 8 photos and you walk out with the photos in less than 10 minutes. This photo studio in Hyderabad was just a couple of doors down from my in-laws house. It was a small room with several canvas backdrops and fairly sophisticated camera setup. There was the photographer and his assistant. They seemed to be working on the closeup of some lady’s neck (on the computer). After I explained the purpose of my visit, they had me sit down in front of a blue backdrop. Then he clicked away. I am almost certain that I blinked and/or grimaced for most of the shots. These were photos that I would be putting on some routine and boring official forms and you couldn’t blame me for not being excited about the “model photo shoot” that these guys were making me go through!! I took out a wad of cash and asked him how much it was for the photos. He said that I could pay him when I come back to collect the photos! What?? I don’t get the photos now? “Come back in half an hour saar”, “Oh … OK” I went back in 45 mins and stuck my head in to inquire if he was done. He said “No current saar… Come back at 2 o’clock”. Fair enough. There were regular, scheduled power cuts twice a day. It was the way of life there and most people took this in stride. Most businesses managed with generators. Looks like this guy was not quite there. When I stopped by at 2:30pm, the guy and his assistant were both laboring on their computer. He said “take a seat saar” “we will be done soon” What is there to be done.. I wondered aloud. He pointed to the monitor and said, “final touch-ups saar”. I couldn’t believe my eyes – these guys were busy Photoshopping my passport photo like it was gonna go on the cover of Vogue!! I was barely recognizable. They wiped out all wrinkles, spots, etc and gave me a complexion that can only be called beige! Looks like my left eyebrow became a victim of some sort of an aggressive Photoshopping maneuver! The photographer turned to me and said “Can I take another good one..!!” I did not have the heart to yell at him. He seemed quite sincere!! I tried to calm him down with a “It’s not you … it’s me” line. He didn’t see the humor in that! Who knew that photo studio guys took these things so seriously! That would have been the perfect time for Shahrukh Khan to appear out of nowhere, look at the camera and say “Fair and Handsome.. for when the task is beyond the abilities of Photoshop!”. In fact, every photo studio could also be selling boxes of “Fair and Handsome” on the side.. ‘cos we all look forward to a society that is at least “Fair”, right?
I told him that this is just for some official forms and there is no need to redo them. I asked him to go ahead and print these out. Meanwhile one lady stopped by on a scooter, parked it in front of the store, peeked in and said that she needed a “Pelli Choopulu” photo (photo for matrimonial purposes) and wanted to know what kind of clothes would look good. He said “It does not matter… Anything is fine!” Of course.. it doesn’t matter because he will Photoshop it all! No matter what the would-be bride looks like, these guys will turn her into a Katrina Kaif!
The 100 Rupees that I paid for the studio guys has paid itself off many times over in non-stop peals of laughter for the entire family! This photo would be perfect for my Shaadi.com profile!! Sure.. everyone in India is wheat complexioned and 6 ft tall, but only I can bring the unique combination of “almost rice complexioned” and a partial left eyebrow to the table! I’ll just have to wait for the deluge of women that will want to line up for this! Next up… an App that I am working on, which will identify all my imperfections and suggest fixes for them. I’ll call it WifesApp!