Avani Rai didn't set out to make a film about her father, the famous photographer Raghu Rai. What she wanted was to get to know him better by observing him on one of his photo trips. In the film that she ended up making anyway, father and daughter travel together to the Indian state of Kashmir, where political unrest prevails and violence is commonplace. They photograph their surroundings and each other, in the meantime reflecting on their lives, politics and his craft, which is richly illustrated with material from Raghu Rai's archive. The elder Rai started taking photos in the 1960s, and has now published more than 50 books. He is best known for his powerful series on the aftermath of the Bhopal toxic gas tragedy in 1984, Mother Teresa and Indira Gandhi. Avani films and photographs her father as he works and as he instructs her on viewpoints and framing. In the process, the film becomes a portrait not only of a passionate photographer, but also of a father- daughter relationship in which the camera is a source of both connection and friction.
An unframed portrait of a man who is one of world's greatest photographers. He has covered five decades of the history of India from the political lives of India's nation makers and the atrocities of war, to the spiritual healing of Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama. The story of Raghu Rai and his India is told through the eyes of his own rebel daughter.
For over fifty years Raghu Rai has witnessed the transformation of India. An unframed portrait builds a historical narrative through Raghu Rai's photographs through time. As he tells some of his unique experiences that not only affected him deeply but as important landmarks in the young yet crucial history of India. Raghu Rai has not only covered the life of the very ordinary Indians in cities and villages, during their sorrow and joy. But also the Bangladesh war and its liberation, the fall of Soviet Union, turbulences in Kashmir, State of Emergency 1775 under Indira Gandhi's reign where his team put in jail for not censoring their work, and also the death of Indira Gandhi and Mother Teresa, Death of Pakistan's president, Zia Ul Haq, Mother Teresa being awarded the bharat ratna, and many other historical events. His photos on Bhopal had tremendous importance to the whole world and portraits on Dalai Lama and Mother Theresa are iconic. His work and retrospectives have been showcased in Alres, France and Rome, Museo Dei Capitolini. The unframed portrait is structurally build based on three important journeys he makes with his own daughter, the film maker, and on their constantly evolving relationship with each other. Where while Raghu Rai, for the daughter is a man who knows it all and has done it all, and Avani the film maker is still trying to make sense of many things - life, one of them being the profession of her own father with a heavy name and responsibility, a so called legacy to carry forward. First of the journeys takes place to Bhopal after 30 years of catastrophe (Bhopal gas tragedy the world's biggest industrial disasters), second to Kashmir and the last one to Ladakh, where he says: " here I have died so many times."
Raghu Rai, the most known and respected photographers in India was awarded the highest civilian award at 29, for covering the Bangladesh liberation. Henri Cartier Bresson invited him to join the Magnum Photos in 1971. Now at age 74 he is full of energy, has published 40 books and continues to shoot. Avani Rai, a filmmaker, part of India's young rebellious generation, follows her father, on his enigmatic quest for what he terms 'darshan'. He believes it to be "life's longing for itself, which I feel my photographs should reflect. The concept of darshan is very precious to me. It is not merely 'seeing', but is the experience of the reality of the place, the person, my physical being and my spiritual aura reflected in that one moment in its entirety." So, Avani travels with her father, on the 30th anniversary of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, to meet the second-generation victims of one of world's biggest industrial catastrophes. In Bhopal, they meet victims who continue to wait for compensation they were promised. The victims demand justice, and the face of these demonstrations is Raghu Rai's iconic images. Before the next journey Avani goes through her fathers remarkable photos. She tries to know and understand the world and circumstances Raghu Rai the photographer was born in and out of. Hence not only is the narrative built through imagery, but history itself through the eyes of this one man. As he believes "history can be written and re written but photo history can never be rewritten." The next journey is - Kashmir. During this journey the relationship between father and daughter is further explored visually, when he constantly tries to control the process of making of the film by his daughter. In this struggle the film shot over 4 years also comes-of- age for Avani. In Kashmir, An unframed portrait follows closely how Raghu Rai searches for that higher consciousness. "The philosophy he follows in life, where photography is meditation, to be in the moment. Otherwise you lose the photograph. And miss the extraordinariness in the ordinary. That we are born to do. to find.." Also, the journey of exploration behind the famous trees, Hampi rocks, and clouds. Before the third journey we will see the private side of Raghu Rai- at home with his family. His wife opens up about her thoughts and experiences, known to be a man of women." His strength is in his energy, spirituality and never ending search, a photographer, who is difficult to place to any genre of that art form." A trip to Leh is the closing journey. Raghu Rai, at 74 believes that it is his last trip to Ladakh, a place, he feels spiritually connected to, it is also a place, he believes, where one is truly alone, with nature and life. In these journeys, to Leh and Kashmir , Rai reveals the giganticness of the Himalayas, the vastness of space, the meditative silence that the nudges you to new awareness. Directors Note: "It was like sand, sifting through the hourglass slowly and I could see all the individual particles, falling at 50 fps through my lens. I had to pause. I wanted to live through these moments again, hold them close and share them because these are experiences of a beautiful human being. Simple. Gratifying. Enlightening. Sharing a journey with a man who has seen victories, tragedies, war, independence and found joy in every day mundanity. The illuminating wisdom absorbed by living with such a soul is all I'll ever need. And it should be for everyone. A little learning."
India achieved independence in 1947. Over the years, industrialization led to globalization, and India found itself in the middle of a very large world. Today, when the future stands beckoning on the doorstep, the past becomes the foundation for the identity of the present. A country's identity is largely shaped by its cultural narrative. This narrative needs evidence to elicit belief, to make itself real, relatable and offer origins. For a country that got its independence after 300 years of colonial rule, documentation of each moment of its nascent years were crucial. About Raghu Rai (published in The Hindu) In the early 1900s, photography was something only the elite could pursue. When Raghu Rai became a photographer, in India, photography was not seen as a respectable profession. In fact, it wasn't even considered a profession at all. People didn't, and to some extent, still don't equate photography with an art form. To be a photographer was to take your chances, and it didn't get you a lot of money. At that time, there were only a handful of people who tried their hand at it, took risks. Rai, has often been described as possessing a large, enigmatic aura, that influences each one within its sphere. His imagery has become a veritable record of India's unspoken history. Yet, it is not just an objective record. Rai, the photographer, also has his say amidst the churnings of a new India. His image that "portrays a drought in Rajasthan. The then Chief Minister Sukhadia had promised to build roads to generate employment but had done little. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi arrives to inspect the project but cuts her trip short when she hears of President Zakir Hussain's demise. As the helicopter arrives to whisk her away, "the metaphoric dust that Sukhadia was throwing into the eyes of his people becomes real as sand is sprayed everywhere and the crowd struggles to cover its eyes." Nature, Rai seems to say, can eventually call the bluff of any politician. Rai visits Pokhran in 1974, where India conducted its first nuclear tests. Rai captured the event indirectly by photographing the tyre tracks left by hundreds of jeeps that travelled the path. The picture points to the cosmic desolation that follows a nuclear test. If a moment of unease haunts his political body of work, it is the restlessness; a will to power that marks the photographs of Indira Gandhi. It is almost as if she will not let India sleep or rest because she cannot rest. Her face disturbed because not even her search for spiritual solace is convincing. She conveys the perpetual insecurity of power. His work says a lot on politics but with Rai's own interpretive spin to it. For Rai, India is a country where spiritual power perpetually challenges political power. Mother Teresa and Dalai Lama have a larger-than- life status compared to Indira Gandhi, Bhutto or Bhindranwala. His Holiness looks surveying the cosmos and Mother Teresa like a sculpture, her hands in prayer.