Last night after I got home from Gautam's funeral, I told myself 'this is not the time to cry... just get to your laptop and do what you have to do. Write those tributes... you owe him that much'. There were 8 requests pending from various newspapers. The deadline was the same for all - 9.30 p.m. It was close to 8 p.m. when I started writing the first of 6. The one you are reading here was the last one to be sent off. That's because the editor, Siddharth Vardarajan of The Hindu, had very kindly extended his deadline by half an hour. It was well past 1 a.m. when I finally switched off my cell phone and called it a night. It was one of the longest nights of my life. Gautam... and dead?
Extraordinary... there has been an avalanche of condolences from across India, across the world...all of today. I knew Gautam was loved and admired. But even I didn't realise just how much.I received calls from people I haven't been in touch with for years. People who may have met Gautam once... twice. But he had touched their lives and left a lasting impact. If you ask me, it was his innate goodness as much as his huge talent that people responded to. As I was framing the obituary for the Times of India , I asked Virginia, a mutual friend, to locate appropriate lines from Puccini's 'Tosca' ( Gautam's favourite opera). She found them swiftly (google, zindabad!)... and here they are : "I lived for my art... I lived for love...I never did harm to a living soul..." . Perhaps, Gautam is singing the same aria for the angels right now...
This appeared in The Hindu today....
The Man with the Magic Lens….
Gautam Rajadhyaksha was an accidental photographer. For a man who started his career as a lecturer in chemistry, and then went on to become one of the most celebrated photographers of our time, Gautam’s love affair with the camera could well be described as a guilty passion! But once he was up and running, after a stint at Lintas, Gautam rapidly established himself as The Chosen One. From Rekha to Amitabh Bachchan, from J.R.D.Tata to Sachin Tendulkar, Gautam captured them all. And did so with such simplicity and elegance! This was really his signature – the uncomplicated, divinely lit, perfectly framed portrait that went beyond a mere ‘ ‘pretty picture’ and managed to steal an elusive aspect of his subject’s personality. Astonished editors would often wonder what it was about Gautam… what was Gautam’s ‘jadoo’? How come he made everybody look so damned gorgeous? The truth is, there was nothing more complicated behind his artistry than enormous sensitivity and high intelligence. Gautam instinctively decoded his subjects. He was the quintessential people person. To be in his warm and homely studio was to feel you were at home – and indeed his studio was also is home! Most professional photographers treat their subjects as objects. Like it is a job that has to be done, and done quickly. Gautam gave each and every person in front of his lens, the same level of leisurely attention and utmost respect. He’d be the reassuring uncle with a nervous model, and a firm grandpa with a child artist. And when it came to movie stars, Gautam would switch between a fastidious school teacher demanding good grades to a conspiratorial best friend, relaxing everybody in the studio with dollops of harmless gossip. This ability to disarm even the high and mighty, led to some brilliant photo shoots which caught the celebrity off guard. And yet, these were not candid shots! These were carefully calibrated images, which Gautam had visualized inside his head much before the celebrity’s arrival.
We were close. Gautam was a confidante and friend before he was a cousin. I had pushed him into a career in photography at a time when he was a little diffident about his ability to make it in a fairly competitive and uncertain profession. We would both laugh about our middle class hang–ups and insecurities. Appreciation was very important to him and he valued feedback from those whose opinions counted. His scholarship and knowledge remain unparalleled in the world of Indian photography. Watching the new breed of what he termed, “digital photographers’, he’d analyse gimmicky, stylised images in the glossies and immediately point out the technical flaws. And yet, there was zero resentment. If anything, Gautam had grown into a benign father figure who willingly extended support and help to anybody who approached him. As the Guru of Portraiture, Gautam has no equal. It’s such a pity he passed away three days before a very significant date – Gautam was to turn 61 on the 16th of September, and the occasion was to be marked by the opening of the Faculty of Photography at Symbiosis, Pune. He had been working tirelessly for the past two years on setting up this ambitious project. It was a dream that remained unfulfilled for a man who made the dreams of countless people come true when he turned them into stars through the magic of his lens.