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A passion for frame

In a tete-e-tete, star photographer Gautam Rajyadaksha reveals how his work is all about heart

Character is not what
you say
in the arc lights. It is what you are in the dark.

THIS IS the face that launched a thousand beautiful faces. A name that lent dignity to the world of fashion photography. A mind that is at comfort with bromide as it is with the composer, Brahms. An aficionado of a heritage that has ardent followers like Atul Kasbekar. Gautam Rajyadaksha - photographer, music connoisseur and Bollywood legend.

Fashion cannot fit into the frame of a single photograph, least of all a world as large and kaleidoscopically diverse as Indian fashion and films. But some of the best shots from Indian fashion seem to achieve just that. A tightly cropped portrait, the essence of a ramp or studio seems uniquely capturable by the retina and its less evanescent companion, the emulsion on a piece of film. Fashion and film stars is Gautam Rajyadaksha's subject and years of shooting have helped him adeptly manoeuvre between the imposing vista and the close-up.

Before Rajyadaksha found his calling he had played many parts. The one-time teacher of Chemistry at Mumbai's prestigious St. Xavier's, had a 15-year stint in Lintas, working on ad campaigns. "Lintas was a university. The education lay in observing great photographers such as Vilas Bende and Adrian Steven. Gerson D' Cunha and Alyque Padamsee encouraged us to pursue a hobby and that helped bring freshness to our work. My passion for universal cinema and my technical knowledge nudged me into the world of photojournalism."

"Coming from a liberal family helped reiterate my choice but Padamsee was sad to see his `hothouse flower' leave," says Rajyadaksha who left Lintas when he was creative director. "I was out in the world but I had discovered my passion."

It helped at that time that, Shobaa De, incidentally his cousin, invited Rajyadaksha to work for Stardust. From then on for the next 20 years he wrote on the "inner side of people" for Filmfare, The Illustrated Weekly and Movie. "I shot film stars in an unglamorous way — no make up, just soul." Juhi Chawla and Tina Munim-Ambani had their first portfolios shot through Rajyadaksha's lens, so did Bollywood's enfant terrible, Salman Khan. He photographed Khan for the Italian edition of Vogue - L'Umo. He also introduced Kajol who eventually debuted in Bekhudi for which he had penned the screenplay.

The year 1997 saw the launch of Faces, a coffee table book that was a collection of unusual portraits of Bollywood screen goddesses from Durga Khote to Aishwarya Rai, and heroes such as Aamir, music maestros Pt. Jasraj and Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and sports greats like his classmate, Sunil Gavaskar. "I am people-centric and my camera was a medium through which I observed their greatness. It mirrored their personality and was a window to their soul. These pictures are my perception of the subject and what comes across is a lot different from commercial shots," says Rajyadaksha. Each portrait in the book is accompanied by a little note often on some unknown fact. "Not many know that Smita Patil was an excellent photographer or that Parveen Babi could spout Dickens or that Asha tai is an excellent cook."

Rajyadaksha wields magic with his manual Canon after years of working with a Nikon. He does not prefer digital cameras. "They are good for architecture and archiving but not for skin tones. Canon is faster and lighter to work with and Nikon for its wide-angled lens. There is a certain languorous quality to opera records and manual cameras as compared to CDs and digitals. Your eyes eventually die because there is little contrast in digitals."

He has taken up the pen again and is working on scripts, finding time for a Marathi book and an exhibition that will travel to Goa. He is also trying to build that eternal bridge between Western classical and Indian classical music. But at the foyer of the Taj Residency where he sits draped in ethnic chic, the conversation meanders back to his favourite photographs. "I love the works of Henri Cartier-Bresson, his pictures of Simone de Beauvoir are stupendous. And among my own, I love those of Asha tai, Lata tai, Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan. They mirror artistic energy and professional respect."

Serious film photography may always be a colossal clash between aesthetics and subject matter. "Nevertheless some unforgettable moments that I have seen through my lens include some of generations of actors. There is one of Shobana Samarth, Tanuja and Kajol at Khandala and Dilip Kumar, Saira, Naseem and Shamshad Begum. Madhuri is like clay and you are the potter. Kareena on the other hand is sensitive, pensive and looks best without makeup. This is the importance of judging film history and these are the people who matter."

In a world of de rigueur fashion and similar pouts and poses, Rajyadaksha has managed to capture the spirit of the people on the other side of the lens. And what amazing sparks have found their way to the negative!


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