Sudheer’s life as a painter, color consultant, interior designer, tour director, actor, singer, photographer, filmmaker…
Before turning to photography, Prem Sudheer pursued many careers. He has been an artistic jack-of-all-trades and his life’s path has been a true celebration of change. Sudheer has been variously a painter, a color consultant, an interior designer, a tour director, an actor, a singer, a photographic artist, a filmmaker and much more.
Sudheer’s adventures began with his birth in Baltimore, Maryland and continued through school, where he loved to paint and draw. He attended Antioch College in Ohio, and while studying the liberal arts, was introduced to photography. He transferred to the University of Michigan to study architecture and design with the intention of eventually teaching art history. However, that plan fell by the wayside as Sudheer discovered the exciting world of the theater, playing the lead role in the musical, Bye Bye Birdie.
After leaving college, Sudheer headed to New York with the desire to become a Broadway actor, only to discover that neither his desire nor his degree in fine arts and theater would pay the rent. A conversation with a friend who had seen the movie The Hucksters prompted him to go to Foote, Cone & Belding advertising agency to apply for a job. “I had no idea what working in advertising was all about,” he says. “And the guy who interviewed me was only interested in what sports I’d played in college. I knew I couldn’t tell him I played football, so I finally decided the golf team was safe. Then he asked what my handicap was. I didn’t have the slightest idea what he meant, so I said “Four,” and he said, “Wow, you must be really good!” I only learned later that a handicap of four is what the really top professional golfers have.”
Whether the interviewer was impressed with Sudheer’s mythical handicap or his other qualities is not clear, but he was hired as a trainee at Foote, Cone & Belding, and within six months he was producing television commercials. His first effort won a Cleo, the equivalent of an Oscar. Within a couple of years, Sudheer moved to Young & Rubicam, where his creativity and talent were applied to producing and directing commercials for clients like Dr. Pepper, Eastern Airlines, Clairol and Johnson’s Baby Powder, among others. Yes, he cast babies, picking up and playing with as many as a hundred a day.
Sudheer worked with celebrities like Lauren Hutton, Jessica Lang, Farrah Fawcett and Susan Sarandon. He traveled around the inner city ghettos and to small farming communities, interviewing people for a “real life” series of ads for Metropolitan Life Insurance. He went to exotic beaches around the world to film the famous slow-motion Clairol scenes. He won every award there was to win for his efforts.
He and his colleagues were the ultimate in hip and trendy. He had the quintessential bachelor apartment in New York’s Greenwich Village. He was definitely a success. “The funny thing was, though,” reflects Sudheer, “I was never ambitious. I enjoyed what I was doing, tremendously, and I always wanted to do the best job I could. But success as such was never important to me. I was never aiming for a certain position, or getting involved with the politics of reaching somewhere.”
Sudheer was at the peak of his career after 15 years, when he realized, “If I died tomorrow and this was all I’d done, I wouldn’t be satisfied with my life at all.” Taking a friend’s advice to “follow his heart” (“this was a completely new concept for me at the time”), he quit his advertising career, bought a small automatic camera and went off taking pictures for six months. Success continued to haunt him, however. Before the year was out, Sudheer had a one-man show in New York’s most prestigious photography gallery. He was also the first photographer to have his images displayed in the windows of Tiffany’s.
Then one night early in 1980 he had a dream in which he was wearing a red ski parka. He found himself the next day in Macy’s department store, buying the last red parka they had on sale, and walking out of the store wearing it. “I felt so conspicuous, like a traffic light.” Nevertheless, he was still wearing the parka that night when he met his first sannyasin, Anand Anado, who tapped him on the shoulder and asked “Are you a sannyasin?”
From there, the story is one of those typically juicy tales that characterize how so many have come to Osho. Sudheer read a page from a book by Osho and broke into tears. He was also surprised by his first encounter with Dynamic Meditation. “Where I came from, feelings were something you kept inside, and certainly you never expressed them.” A few weeks after meeting Anado, Sudheer started wearing only red clothing. “It was so exciting! I felt so present.” He was on a journey that eventually found him once more listening to the advice of a friend to follow his heart. He took sannyas in May of 1980 and a month later was in Poona receiving energy darshan from Osho. He spent eight months working on himself, doing the groups that Osho suggested, and left Poona with the idea of returning to live and work in the ashram. He was told to wait, for the commune was moving to America.
In the early spring of 1982, Sudheer became a resident in Rajneeshpuram. He was a purchasing agent, a bus driver, worked in the pizza parlor, was maitre d’ at the restaurant and choreographed a line of dancing waiters and waitresses to sing original birthday songs. He also worked in the design “temple” and was one of Osho’s photographers. “My sense of ‘all the world’s a stage’ fit perfectly there,” says Sudheer. “There you found yourself suddenly on stage in a role you’d never played before, with no script, no time to rehearse … just needing to improvise! None of the roles were really me, but I brought something of myself to each of them. That’s where the fun was.”
A decade ago, Sudheer vacationed in Mexico, in the beautiful high desert town of San Miguel de Allende. He fell deeply in love with the town and relocated almost immediately. In fact, one of the first travel documentaries of San Miguel was made by Sudheer in 2001. Sudheer loves the boldness of the colors in San Miguel, and in all of Mexico. He observes that Mexicans are willing to take enormous risks with color, splashing vivid, intense hues onto walls with a certain kind of playful confidence. The risks pay off in townscapes that seem to glow. Sudheer sees this enthusiasm for color as part of the Mexican character, which projects a joyful sense of celebration.
And so Sudheer continues to celebrate his life and change, outward beauty and inward seeking, all in the joyful play of light on color that is his new home. Most recently he is the author of Dreaming in Color – A Photographer’s Love Affair With Mexico about which we have written this post, where you can get a taste of his stunning photographs.
Roshani is a regular contributor
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