20-year-old Pubarun Basu is the first Indian to win the Youth Photographer of the Year 2021 at the Sony World Photography Awards. Exclusively for MW, he curates a set of his best snaps, and shares the intriguing stories behind them.

At just the age of 20, Pubarun Basu, a Kolkata resident, managed to put himself on the global landscape of photography. What led to this feat? A picture he clicked during the pandemic, featuring a pair of hands masked behind colourful curtain to depict the sense of loneliness during lockdown. Out of 3,30,000 entries from around 220 regions around the world, Basu became the first Indian to bag the Youth Photographer of the Year 2021 at the Sony World Photography Awards.

“I clicked this picture in 2020 during the months of total lockdown. Through this photograph, I wanted to portray a sense of entrapment in one’s own reality. The curtains were symbolic of the space-time fabrics and the parallel shadow lines created an illusion of a cage. The two hands grasping out for freedom were unable to break through that rigid periphery of reality,” he narrates.

His gusto to capture moments has often resulted in some strikingly magnificent snaps. Basu shares the story behind some of his best work.


The primary reason behind capturing this photograph was because of the conflux of the vibrant colour of the sky with the colours of the saree that the woman was wearing. The fact that it is a faceless portrait but still manages to speak about the woman’s identity is what makes this picture special.


This picture portrays the co-existence of nature and man. The first thing that caught my attention was the contrast of the colour tones. The warm artificial light illuminated my subjects against the bright blue hue of the evening sky. The tinge of red on the man’s shirt added to the flavour.


I took this picture at the river ghat right in front of my house. The sky had projected a myriad of colours, and I couldn’t resist my temptation to capture it. I went down to the river with my camera, and caught sight of some young boys playing in the river. They were of the same age as me, but their carefree spirit was a thing to witness. One boy was fishing out coins from the river bed with a magnet, while another seemed to have his gaze transfixed on the colourful sky. The third boy was still busy with his quest of the underwater world.


I was taking a stroll along the river when I came across this kid. He was engrossed in his own world, playing on the streets as if the whole world was his playground. His family were immigrants from the neighbouring state and had settled in the slums next to the river, overlooking a crematorium. The child’s blissful innocence made him enjoy life to its fullest. This picture was taken on the street along the river Hooghly in North Kolkata, a place I frequently visit for my photographic escapades.


This picture was taken in Ghatsila, Jharkhand, in April. The Santhal community had ventured out on the streets to perform their tribal ritual. Amidst the vivid colours and the exquisite faces, it came to my notice that the young women of the tribe were performing the rituals under the guidance of the elders. It was a sight to behold.


I found this artisan in a dimly lit alleyway in Kumortuli — a region in North Kolkata — hosting some of the finest sculptors of the city. When I entered his workshop, I could smell the dampness of the mud and hay. I approached him slowly, and asked for his permission to take his picture. He happily obliged. He was sculpting the third eye on the forehead of Maa Durga. As I looked through my viewfinder, I realised how alive the sculpture looked, and then it struck me — he was creating the creator.


I was just 13 when I took this picture, but processed it after a period of four years. I was on the beach with my family, and was quite intrigued with the reflection of the people on the wet sand. To my younger self, the scene portrayed the confluence of two different worlds — the interface of two realms.


In my five years of documenting river Ganga and its inhabitants, I have witnessed many mundane moments turn into exceptional visuals with the infusion of strong cultural elements. This photograph stands out as one of them. The ladies come to the river every day to offer their prayers, but on this particular day, the backlight falling on their colourful sarees produced a stunning imagery. The red band on the lady’s arm is a totem of protection against evil, and the white bracelet on her wrist signifies her marital status. Through this picture, I wanted to portray the eternal bond of spirituality that connects the people to this heavenly body of water.


I captured this photograph in a tribal village in Jharkhand for the sole purpose of documenting their colourful lifestyle. Looking back, I realise how impactful this photograph has been on my journey. The waves of colours on the walls of the house find a perfect continuity in the saree of the woman standing at the door. Her gaze seems to be transfixed towards the motion of the waves, as if searching for their destination.