By Kedar Dhume
It was more than two decades ago that I first made my acquaintance with Gautam Rajadhyaksha – not in the flesh but through his beautiful work with the camera. I was then a student of Goa College of Fine Art with specialisation in Applied Art and Photography, back in the late eighties. I had taken up photography as an elective subject and back then the demigods in the field were the late Wilas Bhende and his own star pupil, Gautam Rajadhyaksha, who recently also passed away. They were both mentor-like figures and many young photographers of the time aspired towards working with them. And I was one of them.
In pursuit of my dream, I visited Gautam in his studio near Opera House, Mumbai in 1991 as soon as I passed out of college. He received me graciously, but he already had too many assistants working under him. But always ready to help, he directed me to another ace photographer of the time, Jagdish Mali, who took me under his wing for two fruitful years. But I would often visit Gautam in his studio as we also shared a bond with our common family deity, Lord Manguesh.
The following ten years, I had no real contact with Gautam, till one day after I had set up my own advertising agency, I received a call from an event management team from Pune asking me to handle a photography exhibition of Gautam to be held in Goa. This was in 2000, and I promptly agreed to oversee the exhibition free of cost. The exhibition, a plethora of his photographs spanning a couple of decades, had to be accommodated at a specially designed hangar at the grounds around Kala Academy. The show was a major success and Gautam was quite pleased with it.
The link was strengthened when I decided to launch ‘Viva Goa’, Goa’s first lifestyle magazine early last year. I had decided then to try and get Lata Mangeshkar and the Mangeshkar family as the cover story for our inaugural issue. And who better person to turn to than Gautam Rajadhyaksha who was a close family friend of the Mangeshkars and the only photographer privileged to have shot the entire Mangeshkar family?
I visited him again in Mumbai this time to try and persuade him to part with the many rare pictures he had of the family. Gautam was a virtual storehouse of memory, both pictorially and through personal experience of India’s first family of song, though the staircase to his studio is also lined with portraits of great opera singers like Pavarotti and Placido Domingo – another enduring passion of his. Even after the intervening years, he remembered me well enough and welcomed me warmly in his characteristic white kurta pajamas.
He most readily agreed to part with some rare black and white pictures, besides colour photos of the Mangeshkar family. I hesitantly broached the subject of him writing the cover story as well. He was reluctant at first, believing that I would need the piece within a few days. But when I gave him a three-week deadline, he readily agreed and delivered a very fine piece thoroughly researched for our inaugural issue.
Along with his cousin and close friend Shobhaa De, I invited them to be the chief guests for the launch of our magazine in April last year. On the day of the launch, I visited Mangeshi to perform abhisheki and seek the blessings of our family deity on my new venture. And who should I find there but Gautam who had also come there to pay his obeisance. I had a package of the first issue to be offered to the gods for luck and their blessings, but Gautam refrained from seeking an inquisitive first look and preferred to wait for the evening launch where after Shobhaa De, he made a most gracious speech.
Since then I was in intermittent contact with him, sending him on his request, every issue of our magazine The last time I was in touch with him was late last year when, on my way to Singapore, he asked me to acquire a camera accessory for him – that was fittingly in a sense my last contact with him as photography, especially portraiture, was his true forte and passion. And I was pleased to play a small part in finding the precious component he needed.
Pictures linger longer than words. And Gautam, notably in his lavishly produced book ‘Faces’ published in 1997 has left behind a vivid legacy of portraits of the many stars he photographed so lovingly over the years – from the era of Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman to Amitabh Bachchan and Rajesh Khanna to the stars of today like Kajol, Dimple, Rekha, Tina, Raveena, Shahrukh and Amir Khan. These stars will readily concede that Gautam himself was a star in his own right.
The Navhind Times – Panorama, 25th September 2011
Kedar Dhume is Editor & Publisher of ‘Viva Goa’ Goa’s first lifestyle magazine.