The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, June 15, 2003
Lead Article

Portrait of a portraitist
Derek Bose

 Gautam Rajadhyaksha
Gautam Rajadhyaksha

YOU cannot mistake his portraits —faces, slightly off-focus, the skin lovingly textured, swathed in a halo of soft radiance, together adding to the ethereal air to a look. That is the magic of Gautam Rajadhyaksha’s camera. And anybody who is somebody today in the subcontinent knows it first hand.

At 53, Gautam is India’s best known star photographer, holding the distinction of having the largest number of cover pictures in glossies published in all Indian languages. He is also the most sought after shutterbug in the nation for whoever wants to get noticed, and can pay the price for his portfolio.

To his credit, film stars like Raveena Tandon, Kajol, Pooja Bhatt, Namrata Shirodkar and Salman Khan got their first exposure on Gautam’s camera. Other ‘subjects’ include friends Anna Bredemeyer, Suresh Oberoi, Jackie Shroff, Shabana Azmi, Ismat Chugtai, Tina Munim... and a host of celebrities from varied fields such as business and industry, as well as medicine.

"I do not shoot politicians or religious heads, simply because I am not interested in them," says the photo maestro. "I am not interested in anybody’s personal lives either. My original belief is to capture and present the side of famous personalities not known to the public. This is consistent with my writings also."


It all began in 1974 when Gautam, armed with a diploma in advertising and public relations, took charge of the photo services department of Lintas Advertising in Mumbai. He had graduated in chemistry and micro-biology from St Xavier’s and little known to many, had even taught in the college for two years.

In essence, Gautam had no prior experience in photography. "But in my family, everybody was a photo freak," he informs. "During my school holidays, I was always given a camera and encouraged to shoot my friends. Besides, I was a great Hollywood buff and used to collect pictures of Liz Taylor, Greta Garbo, Lana Turner... It was then that I figured how photography could be a good medium for portraiture."

The urge to pick up the camera was kindled at Lintas when Gautam could watch "from a vantage point" stalwarts like Jahangir Kazdar, Vilas Bhende, Adrian Stevens and Mitter Bedi going about their work with product launches and campaigns of a variety of beauty aid, toiletry and lifestyle products.

Finally, one morning in 1977, Gautam bought his first camera, a Nikormet f3 for Rs 5,500. "I actually saved two months’ of my salary to buy the camera," he narrates. "It felt a huge amount of sacrifice in those days, but deep inside, I knew that my photographic journey had begun."

So what began as week-end trysts with friends like Shabana (a college mate), Jackie and Tina for photo shoots, soon blossomed into a full-time passion. But he could not charge any money as it would conflict with his position at work. Moreover, he felt inhibited about "taking advantage of the position" and ask some of the better known models over for his Sunday shoots.

Then came a point when cousin Shobhaa De invited him to write for her magazine, Celebrity. Rather than rely upon another photographer, Gautam took pictures to illustrate his articles, only to realise that people did not care about what he wrote as much as the photographs he took. Before long, he began contributing to other magazines like the Illustrated Weekly of India, Stardust, Cine Blitz and Filmfare.

"My pictures were personality-based, not glamour-based," he points out. "They were honest to goodness pictures, not adhering to any rules of photo-journalism—people talking, people in their home clothes... I think that brought out a whole new kind of feeling about the pictures, which most people must have liked."

In 1987, Gautam quit Lintas and set himself up as an independent advertising photographer. Now apart from product campaigns and media assignments, he had his hands full with shooting for portfolios, writing, holding exhibitions (from San Francisco to London to Birmingham to Pune and Goa), talk shows on television and even editing a Marathi journal, Chanderi.

There were two film scripts as well — Bekhudi (which launched Kajol) and Anjaam (with Madhuri Dixit and Shah Rukh Khan), besides the all-so-popular coffee table book, Faces. The last mentioned is an anthology of portraits covering seven generations of film stars, from Durga Khote and Shobana Samarth to Aishwarya Rai and Akshaye Khanna.

Right now, Gautam is busy with the manuscript of another book, in Marathi, Chehre. He has his highly popular column, Manas Chitra running in a leading Marathi news daily and three more film scripts coming up, not to mention an album with Asha Bhosle. And then there is his lifelong obsession with opera...

But that is another story. — MF