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Hum tum ek camera mein bandh ho: Modi's Facebook video shows our obsession with perfect image

When HRD minister Smriti Irani made the headlines for her great Fabindia “ChangingRoomCamera” exposé, a popular joke started doing the rounds about the Prime Minister.

Narendra Modi, the joke went, walking into a changing room at Fabindia, glanced up and spotted a camera pointing at him. He promptly looked right into it, cleared his throat and said "Mitron…"

Modi, as we all know by now, is the most PR-savvy PM India has known and certainly a blinding contrast, in this regard, to his far more reclusive predecessor who was usually a deer in the headlights when the flashbulbs went off. Modi plays the media with consummate skill and he has rarely made a PR-misstep. OK, perhaps that infamous Modinama suit went a thread too far but in general Modi has used the camera as deftly as any movie star.

Hence the little video of Modi firmly moving a camera-blocking Mark Zuckerberg went gleefully viral. And not just in India.

Even the Washington Post got into the act with a piece headlined “Mark Zuckerberg made a big mistake when he got between India’s Modi and a TV camera.” An ABP headline went “Modi embarrasses Mark Zuckerberg, moves him aside as he blocks camera view.”

 Hum tum ek camera mein bandh ho: Modis Facebook video shows our obsession with perfect image


It is a funny clip.

Modi seizes Zuckerberg by the elbow and moves him to the side with polite firmness. And Zuckerberg stands there like a chastened schoolboy put in his place and adjusts his tie awkwardly. The video’s title goes “Noone should come between Modi and the camera, not even Mark Zuckerberg.” The clip actually reminds us, that despite his global clout, Mark Zuckerberg is just a young man, who seems rather awed and excited by honour of a prime ministerial visit.

Twitter has responded with a #ModiFindsCamera hashtag which started trending. It is true the PM has an almost umbilical connection with the camera, no matter what he is doing or who he is with.

Shaking hands with a foreign head of state across a table? The head of state is looking at Modi, Modi is looking at the camera.

Posing with world leaders at the 9th East Asia summit? Everyone is eyes-right for some reason, except Narendra Modi who looks right into the golden eye of the camera lens. Even if his face is half-turned to the person he is shaking hands with, the eyes are looking at the camera. It’s an amazing skill which would be the envy of a water diviner.

But while it makes for hilarious memes, it is rather unfair to turn the Facebook moment into the clinching proof of the selfie-prone Modi’s narcissism. It is really proof instead that we live in a world where every moment is not worth anything if it cannot be documented clearly. Modi did not move Zuckerberg out of the frame to hog the limelight. He did what the photographers were wanting him to do – compose a clear shot of all three of them.

At many events with dignitaries far less VVIP than Modi, there’s usually photographer bedlam as they scramble for that clear shot, and god help anyone who inadvertently blocks the view. I’ve seen it at literature festivals, at Ratan Tata’s last board meeting with his shareholders, at film openings. Sir, one more time, is the common refrain even for a supposedly "candid" shot. Even wedding photographers make couples repeat the rituals to make sure the wedding photograph has that perfect composition.

Selfie-samrat Modi understands what it means to be a politician in a world where image is king. And he’s aware of it 24x7 and not even a Zuckerberg meet-and-greet breaks that focus. It is a discipline that many others would envy.

The India Real Time blog of the Wall Street Journal has put out a poll:
What do you think of the Modi moment?
No big deal
Mr Modi looks camera crazy
Mr Zuckerberg nearly blocked a great photo-op

Actually while Mr Modi might be “camera crazy," this particular clip is more about how crazy our media is for that perfect shot of a VIP celebrity. In hindsight the joke is also on us in the media who turn events into publicity shots, who have created this hunger for the defining image. Modi was just giving the media what it clamours for.

However in the process we learned one thing. When Modi choked up at the Facebook townhall we realized the PM had a sensitive side. Now thanks to this video we know that he’s not just sensitive, he’s photosensitive as well.

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Updated Date: Oct 02, 2015 12:44:15 IST