Photography was the only passion that C.Radhakrishnan had. He says how he became a noted commercial photographer against all odds

It was December, Christmas time to be precise, nearly 20 years ago that C. Radhakrishnan took the plunge. Every Christmas still gives this top notch photographer the shivers and the New Year a renewed sense of hope.

For, long before he made it big in a field that he had always dreamed of belonging, Radha, (as he is affectionately called) was muddled about his future course. One who always believes in ‘indicators' that have shaped his destiny, it was during Christmas time that Radha decided to leave his hometown (Tripunithura), his studies midway, family, friends, cricket and a whole lot of activities to try his luck in Mumbai.

“This irresistible call of the camera stood in the way of my studies. Despite protests from my extended family, shaped by very conservative rules, I knew that the camera was my calling. To make a decision was difficult. Those were difficult times indeed,” Radha recalls.

Radha, by this time had done bits-and-pieces assignments in Kochi with borrowed cameras, saving money to buy himself a second hand Pentax. “I needed money to survive. I joined Siddharth Kalloor, a very good professional photographer, on his assignments. And Dr. Ranjit Grover on his frequent travel expeditions with his discourses on photography, which was my first learning.” That December somewhere in the late 80s Radha was an active participant at the 500th yagna of Swami Chinmayananda being organised on the outskirts of the city. “A well-wisher, Dr. Thampuran asked if I was willing to travel to Mumbai to click pictures for a wedding. I said ‘yes'.” He had by then managed to make a quick portfolio of his own with close friends' help. “And by the New Year I was struggling to find a space in that city.”

Success is a funny thing. It differs in definition between individuals who attempt to define it. For some it is money, for others time, getting settled and bills paid. For Radha, a small town photographer in bustling Mumbai, it was a struggle to achieve all this. He worked as an unpaid apprentice to fashion photographer Rafique Sayed. “It was here that I learned the nitty-gritty of the art. For nearly six months I slogged, setting up the flashlights, moving things around. I was staying with my uncle during this time. Financial situations were pushing me into returning back home to continue wedding photography. It was then that Rafeeq Ellias, a renowned photographer who also owned an advertising agency, offered me a job in his creative outfit as an office assistant. For the next five-odd years I worked with this amazing photographer, who was noted for his Benzer and Discovery magazine campaigns. He was and remains my teacher.”

His ascent

This phase was the start of Radha's ascent. The office turned into his sleeping hole, a more convenient place than his dingy room. Cameras and the world of photography opened up. Radha was learning fast. He even started working on television commercials. “Certain pressing situations back home needed my presence. I was married by then. Decision making was very tough. Gathering enough courage, I decided to leave. As luck would have it, Navinbhai Nahar, for whom I was doing my last assignment before leaving Mumbai, convinced me to stay back. He even helped me by letting me use his office. By this time I was slowly moving out on my own. I started a small-time design studio with the reputed Kohinoor Printers.”

‘It's the photographer that takes the picture, not the camera,' goes a popular saying. But the camera does matter a lot. Radha firmly believes that the turning point took a huge turn when he managed to buy his first Hasselblad. “The Hasselblad happened in 1998. This was a dream of any photographer. I shot the first print ad for my friend Vinod, a senior copywriter with erstwhile Lintas, for The Oberoi early next year. It gave me the confidence to look at the world straight and as they say, from the top. This was in fact the beginning of my professional career as a commercial photographer.”

By the start of the century Radha had set up a digital studio in association with the leading pre-press house, Supressa Graphics owned by Dilip Sawant. Life has surely come a long way for this passionate photographer. There was no looking back. Radha is now much sought after for his sensitive pictures, has a long list of reputed clients in the country and abroad, and is a first choice photographer of some of the noted ad companies. Among his clients are HSBC, Cadbury's, ICICI, Reliance, Asian Paints, Dhanlaxmi Bank, some of the noted clients at home like Bhima, Jayalakshmi, Sunny Diamonds, Seematti and some of the biggest names like Sachin Tendulkar, John Abraham, Harsha Bhogle, Amitabh Bachchan, and Bipasha Basu have modelled for him. “Photography has taken me round the world, helped me see some lovely places, have met great people. But I will not shoot campaigns for alcohol and tobacco. It is a question of principles.”

Radha kept moving on. And again, his family played a major role in his next move. This time to Pune. For his young son's (Vishnu) studies, which he thinks Pune is better and for his wife (Bindu), who was brought up in this city. He works from his own apartment space, travelling around on assignments.

Radha now plans to branch out into documentary photography. “My first project will be on the Royal Family and Palaces of Kochi. I have done a recce and I will return to my hometown to complete it.”

And this again is December. This surely is a happy month!