Sharmila Taliculam

Converting a hobby into a profession is easy. Especially if you are good at it as Gautam Rajadhyaksha, the glamour photographer who has clicked over 200 film personalities in 17 years of wielding the camera as a professional.

Rajadhyaksha turned photographer when he could not get a photographer on Sundays to click stars whom he interviewed for Celebrity magazine.

It wasn't that he lacked confidence, just that what there was was a bit shaky. But actress Shabana Azmi and cousin Shobha De, who also happened to be the editor ofCelebrity, encouraged him to take it up as a vocation. No question, his pics were hot then. Even today, a current star like Kajol is considered his discovery more than that of director Rahul Rawail. Besides, he has also snapped such senior actors like Durga Khote.

Now, millions of clicks later, the shutterbug has decided to put together his best in a book, Faces. The book with pics of the biggest names in Bollywood has been spliced together with anecdotes, describing what happened when photographing them or while just chatting with them. He has chosen just 75 of the 200 stars he has clicked. Only because those photographs signify something to him and the person he has clicked.

His one regret is that he did not photograph stars like Meena Kumari, Sanjeev Kumar and Madhubala. "This was a long time ago. I wasn't confident about the camera; then I was young. So despite knowing some of them, I couldn't click them" he says regretfully.

In 1989, Asha Bhosle set up an exhibition for Rajyadhyaksha in Pune. It was with a great deal of trepidation that he went ahead with it. The exhibition's success gave him some confidence.

"She (Bhosle) told me then that by the time I was ready, it might be too late. I knew she was right. Because by that time Smita (Patil) was dead and Durgabai was getting on in years. I had managed to click these stars... (and) shoot many of them without any effort on my part really. I thought it would be a good idea to document them," he says.

Stars and models returning to him for more pics encouraged him but then he wanted to concentrate on writing, not photography.

"Today people only want my photographs, they don't want me to write anymore," he laughs.

Sometime in 1982, his responsibilities at the Lintas advertising agency compelled him to stop writing. But since he had to continue with photography, it helped him later.

He was also surprised that there were few books chronicling Indian cinema as in the West.

"I found that despite India being the biggest producer of films, we didn't have these kind of books or any kind of archival matter on films or film stars. Hollywood had books on all their stars, old and new. And here we are considered the largest film industry and there was not one book chronicling a period or documenting it.

"It is not regarded as very important in India. There are no funds available for something like this. And I know for a fact that there are studios and photographers who are sitting on a wealth of pictures shot from the early 1940s. So why not come out with a book which would be full of such contemporary stuff?" he asks. Yeah, why not?

The anecdotes were collected from the various interviews Rajyadhyaksha did for Celebrity. And these interviews would give Rajyadhyaksha an insight into the star's personality.

"You know Smita was interested in photography. She was fabulous. And I didn't know that until I went to her house for an article and got talking to her about it. I spoke to her for almost one-and-half-hours and only about photography. She was so erudite, so articulate. Not only about the techniques, but also about small things like making a print and seeing it come to life. So you see I had these little anecdotes, these observations, which I had accumulated over the years." he says.

There were other opportunities he missed.

"I could have shot Sharmila Tagore or Asha Parekh for this book. But then I have to present them with dignity. Their make-up, clothes, background would have taken a lot of my time and I would not have finished the book on time. Plus I would require Mickey ( Contractor) for the make-up... He is sensitive to bone structures, but he is too busy." Finally both of them were not included in the book, despite Rajyadhyaksha being very close to Sharmila Tagore.

The selection of photographs was a big job, he says.

"When I got down to it, I realised that I had too many of them. I had to do justice to the best of them. I wanted to choose those pictures which were representative of what they (the stars) were, their personality, their charisma. I was not going to shoot any stars specifically for the book. There were 200 pages in the book and I had to work fast. I had to do full justice to whoever I chose." He cited the example of Rati Agnihotri whom he has photographed many times. "There just wasn't any nice picture, Not the kind which was representative of what she was," he says.

Another problem was printing a pic: Rajyadhyaksha's black and white photographs had to be printed in London.

"I must say that India has lost its great art of making fabulous black and white prints. I personally went to three labs including a photographer who prints his own negatives, but I was not satisfied." And he was so paranoid about his negatives that he carried them on his lap to London and back. "Come on, it was my life's work," he says.

Rajyadhyaksha is also known for getting legends together for photographs. Like Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle, Amitabh Bachchan and Rajesh Khanna, Saira Banu and her mother Naseem Banu.

Since the Mangeshkars were old friends, the pic wasn't difficult. "I just bulldozed into their house and asked them to pose. They obliged and that's how the picture was taken".

Amitabh and Rajesh Khanna was not as easy.

"Movie (magazine) had two editors and each of these stars were friendly with one. So the communication was only through these editors. There was some awkwardness, but not so bad as people would like to believe. These were historic moments for me though."

This book mainly has actors and actresses, no villains, vamps or comedians.

"If I had chosen Helen, then what have Bindu and Shashikala done that I shouldn't include them? I have shot so many behind-the-scenes people, from Satyajit Ray to R D Burman... People I adore. Had I included everybody, then the book would have become bigger and bigger. I had to put a stop somewhere. So I chose pictures where I have captured the stars at their best," he says.

Shooting stars, Rajyadhyaksha says, perhaps unnecessarily, is not an easy job. The problem, according to him is that they don't relax. He says he had to talk a lot during shoots, even ask inane questions.

"Shabana Azmi is so hyper when she is posing. She talks continuously and then freezes in the middle of it. I have mastered the technique of putting the stars at ease by being very friendly to them all the time. It's a part of the game. I consider all my stars as subjects and not objects. Even Aamir (Khan) gets nervous while posing for a picture. Not everybody is a Salman Khan or a Jackie Shroff."

Another problem was deciding whether the book should be about photography or photo-journalism.

"I wanted to write for people who would be interested to have little nuggets of information about these stars. And that was killing. Imagine condensing a experience into 200 words. It took me a long time to finish that, despite being a writer."

Still he has come up with quite a few interesting anecdotes. "I was close to Nutan, Tanuja and their mother Shobhana Samarth. But I hardly knew Kajol. Still, when I saw her, I decided to click a few pictures and then told Rahul (Rawail) about her. I even wrote the script of Bekhudi."

When his book was finally through, Rajyadhyaksha had the usual worries about whether he had done things right.

"I started feeling that maybe I should have taken the other picture. But, on the whole, it's been a very satisfying experience."

His finest moment, he says, came when he shot Twinkle Khanna.

"I have known her since childhood. I have shot Dimple (her mother) so many times. So when Twinkle came here for the shoot, I was very quiet. I just had this feeling that I have become old...

She understood this and told me that it was not I who was old, it was she who had grown up. That was such a nice thing to say and it immediately perked me up.

"So here I am, my hobby is still intact with me with little snippets of my memories."

Page design: Rajesh Karkera

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