Little India: Overseas Indian, NRI, Asian Indian, Indian American

Expat Voice: Mother of All Contradictions

(From left) Errikos Andreou with creative director Prashish More, actress Deepika Padukone and fashion designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee.

Born and brought up in Athens, Greece, photographer Errikos Andreou moved to Mumbai over four  years ago for work.

“I received an invitation to come here from the agency which now represents me – Deu Creative Management. My agent had seen some of my work online and contacted me to know if I’d be interested in exploring the Indian market,” the fashion and portrait photographer and videographer tells Little India. “I thought it would be an interesting idea. So I decided to come over.”

Andreou talks about working with celebrities, adjusting to life in India, social biases in the country, and more:

Life in Mumbai

It’s the small everyday things that are difficult to adjust to. For example, grocery shopping. Normally, I would go to a supermarket and buy everything I need from a single place. Here, you have to do a tour of 5-6 shops to get whatever you want.

It took me time to adjust to the climate as well. You feel like going for a stroll but you cannot because it is so hot and humid. There are way too many cars and traffic. For people here, it may be normal because they grew up in this environment, but for me to spend almost an hour in a car to get to the movies is a huge task. I will do it once, maybe twice and then I will be like, ‘Don’t go to the movies anymore. Just stay in and Netflix.’

I love the Fort area in Mumbai. It is so vibrant and colorful. I would love to visit it more often but the traffic is crazy. Unless Recently, a friend and I drove down there and I told him that I have never ever come to town just to have fun on a weekend. This was the first time in four years.

Greece Vs India

It was surprising to see how similar Indians and Greeks are. Both countries are very devoted to their families and hold them in high regard. Also, arranged marriages used to be a big reality in Greece. There is also a lot of appreciation for food and how it can bring people together. It is a family affair in both countries.

I stay in Bandra. As a foreigner, it is quite similar to the kind of areas we are used to living in back home. It is self-sufficient, as everything is close by – supermarket, electronics market, shopping markets, restaurants, pubs, etc. In the West, this is how areas are structured. You don’t have to go to a different area to buy things.

Indians are friendly and open people, something that is different from the West where people are a lot more reserved. It is difficult to build substantial relationships with people there. The foreigners or expats I’ve met here also have a different outlook towards things as compared to what I’d find back home.

Human labor is really cheap here. Renting a car with a driver or have a lady come in to clean the house costs nothing as compared to back home. However, going to the gym or renting a house is much more expensive here than what it is in Greece.

Working with Celebrities

When I first came here, I mostly did shoots for fashion magazines. However, within the first two months, I began doing celebrity shoots as well. My first celebrity photoshoot was with Esha Gupta for a fashion magazine. In the same month, I shot Twinkle Khanna and Sonam Kapoor for other big lifestyle magazines. Most of the shoots that I do with celebrities now is commercial, which took its own time to come about. It took a while to gain their trust and confidence as well. But, yes, the collaboration began relatively quickly.

The most important thing about working with them is to learn how to manage time, predominantly theirs, then ours and then the production’s time. The work schedules of these celebrities are crazy. So, when they come for the shoot, everything has to be planned and you need to know what you are doing and how you are going to do it.

I am often asked why I don’t shoot documentaries and ‘ordinary people.’ I do fashion photography because, first, I studied fashion, and second, it is a means of escape for me. It allows me to create a Utopian universe so that I can escape reality and experience something extraordinary and beautiful because, as a person, I need it very much.

Work Culture

The main difference lies in time management. In the West, you stick to the idea that time is money and everybody follows this idea. When I moved here, I realized that people were very relaxed with regard to time. However, a lot has changed since then in terms of work efficiency. A lot of my clients now give importance to time management, which is great.

When you are shooting in Europe, you need to plan everything in advance – lights, cables, set up, etc. However, just in case it is not enough and you need some extra equipment at the last minute, it will not be made available for you.

In India, if you need something even at the last minute, it will be arranged. If you suddenly have an inspiration or want to try something new, it is doable.

Errikos Andreou

The production that you can do here in terms of sets and ideas is amazing. In Europe, to build huge sets in studios like you have here is impossible due to production costs.

Before coming to India, I was used to dealing with productions that had maybe five people on set. Suddenly, there were 55 here. Understanding how to work with so many people in packed studios was the difficult part. There are so many cameras behind me, documenting me taking pictures of celebrities and taking behind the scenes shots. It was a challenge initially, but it’s easy now.

Profoundly Human

I remember an incident from one of the initial shoots that I had done. I went for the shoot and set up my laptop in a corner and then I went over to discuss something with someone on the set. I came back and saw little flowers strewn around my computer.

I was so perplexed and asked my then assistant what all this was about. He just smiled and said that this was just to wish me good luck for the day and the shoot. I thought that was really sweet. It was one of the nicest and profoundly human things that happened here.

Ram Leela

I had done my research about the industry once I arrived here. I read about films and who is doing what and also started watching a few Bollywood films. I had been wanting to work with Deepika Padukone since the day I arrived in India but it took a good 2-3 years before we started collaborating.

One of the very first things that I saw when I arrived here was a music video of Ranveer Singh from the film Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela. I was simply blown away as that was basically what I had imagined Bollywood to be like. He was dancing to the song Tattad Tattad. I saw that and immediately fell in love with Ranveer. We’ve collaborated a few times and he is a delight to work with. His energy is unparalleled.

Class/Caste System

It was difficult to adjust to the class/caste system in India. People separate themselves depending upon money, social status, religion, eating habits, etc. I found it very shocking when I would go on a set and walk towards the table where someone is already eating and the person would literally stand up and take away his tray so that I can sit and eat.

It is different to say that the person got up out of politeness and different when it is done because I belong to a so-called higher standing in society so I deserve to sit at the table more than he does. It was difficult to come to terms with this.

Living in a country where there is a huge classification of people is something that has changed me and my outlook towards people and how I talk and think about them.

Mother of All Contradictions

India is a mother of all contradictions. What may seem logical and easy for me to do could be really difficult for people here to understand and what may seem like a difficult task would somehow be the simplest thing to do here.

Working here has given me a lot of confidence. I have been able to experiment a lot more and do things that would be impossible to do somewhere else.

The interview has been condensed and edited.

Expat Voice is regular column on expats in India. Email us at expat@littleindia.com to nominate yourself or another expat for the column.