indian cinema heritage foundation

Gautam Rajadhyaksha

  • Born: 16 September 1950 (..)
  • Died: 13 September 2011

Gautam Rajadhyaksha is best-known as the man behind the glamorous soft-focus images of silver screen divas such as Rekha, Madhuri Dixit, Kajol and Aishwarya Rai. Counted among India's best known celebrity portraitists, he photographed nearly all the icons of the Indian film industry, as well as legendary personalities like Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, JRD Tata and Sachin Tendulkar. A fashion photographer and celebrity portraitist working across Mumbai’s film industry, fashion magazines and advertising, he is known for establishing the role of photography in publicising the lives of film stars in conjunction with the worlds of fashion and media. Known for his mild manners, the ace lensman also wrote films such as Kajol’s debut film Bekhudi (1992), Anjam (1994) starring Shah Rukh Khan and Madhuri Dixit, and Sakhi (2007). 

Born on 16 September 1950, he received his school education from St Xavier’s High School, following which he went on to study Chemistry at St. Xavier’s College, Bombay. He later veered into advertising, taking up a job at the ad agency Lintas India Limited. He began his tenure as the head of the photo services department and eventually became the creative director. At the agency, he played a key role in conceptualising and producing advertising campaigns for popular brands such as Liril, Rexona, Rin, Surf Excel and Fair N’ Lovely. Besides commercial advertising, he was also instrumental in creating two public awareness campaigns led by Alyque Padamsee, namely, Save the Tiger in 1973 and the Sukhdi food programme for drought relief in 1973–74. For two years between 1985 and 1987, he also produced advertisements and publicity materials for the government of India’s Trade Development Authority. 

While he worked in the advertising industry for more than 15 years, his work as a photographer ran parallel to his career in advertising. He started photography in 1980 when he shot portfolio pictures of actors Shabana Azmi, Tina Ambani and Jackie Shroff. He soon became famous for his portraits of Hindi film stars shot in soft diffused light.  His cousin – writer and model Shobha De encouraged his interest; he would go on to join her magazine, Celebrity for which he photographed celebrities as well as interviewed them. This wasn’t an established practice at the time in Indian magazine publishing.

With his reputation as a photographer growing, he quit advertising to take up professional photography full-time. His photographs and writing were published in magazines such as Stardust, Cine Blitz, Illustrated Weekly of India and Society. He set up Chanderi, a Marathi entertainment magazine, in 1985, which sought to counter the tabloid format. It included commentary on Marathi cinema, theatre and music as well as domestic and international developments. It also discussed aspects of film and media production such as cinematography, screenwriting, sound engineering and direction. His column in the Lokamudra supplement, published by the Marathi daily Loksatta between December 2000 and August 2003, was also widely read. 

Besides writing for dailies and magazines, he also penned two Hindi films– Bekhudi (1992) and Anjaam (1994). Bekhudi, the action drama film directed by Rahul Rawail, starred Kamal Sadanah and Kajol in their acting debut. Its story revolved around Rohit (Sadanah) and Radhika (Kajol), who is against her parents' disapproval of their relationship. Anjaam, the crime drama thriller directed by Rahul Rawail, which he penned, depicted an obsessive love story wherein  Vijay (Shah Rukh Khan) falls in love with Shivani (Madhuri Dixit) and proposes to her only to be rejected every time. When his love turns into an obsession, her life becomes a living hell. He also wrote the Marathi film Sakhi (2007). A drama film directed by Sanjay Soorkar, its star cast comprised Ashok Saraf, Sonali Kulkarni and Subodh Bhave. The film told the tale of Suryakant Jagdale, a widower, who saves the life of Nishi Surve, a young woman attempting suicide. After discovering Nishi's singing talent, he encourages her to pursue the art. Surya and Nishi leave the village in pursuit of a bright future.

Rajadhyaksha was associated with film production houses such as Rajshri Films and Dharma Productions as a still photographer. He produced still images and publicity campaigns for several films starting with Maine Pyaar Kiya (1988), Henna (1991), Hum Aapke Hai Koun (1994), Dil To Pagal Hai (1997), Ishq (1997), Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998), Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha (1998), Hum Saath Saath Hain (1999), Hu Tu Tu (1999), Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham (2001) and Baghban(2003). 

As a portraitist, he was popular for his distinctive style. Focussing on his subject’s faces, he took photographs in soft-focus with gentle lighting which resulted in an ethereal effect. He not only photographed film stars and fashion models such as Madhuri Dixit, Aishwarya Rai, Hrithik Roshan and Sonali Bendre, but also sportsmen, musicians, politicians, and industrialists including Sachin Tendulkar, JRD Tata, Ustad Zakir Hussain, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle

In 1997, he released his first photo book, Faces. Tracing the Hindi film industry’s history from Durga Khote to Aishwarya Rai, the book produced photographs of 45 Indian actresses. In 2010, he unveiled his second book, Chehere, which contained 70 portraits and was written in Marathi.

Interestingly, as his name became synonymous with slightly blurred, gently-lit photographs, he did not like his famous soft-focus technique being constantly alluded to. In an interview, he defended, “Steiner used it. Hollywood photographers use a gauze. So why am I the only one to be punished or singled out?” Regarding the technique that helped his subjects look ten years younger, he maintained, “Soft focus does manage to depress certain lines but it is not deceptive. It gives them a chance to glow.” Refusing to be called the ‘king of soft-focus’, he pointed out, “I was just the first. All I do is try and make tired, blemished Asian skins look their best.” His favourite Asian face was Suchitra Sen for her “great bone structure” while Katherine Hepburn was his preferred silver screen beauty.

Over the years, his work was widely exhibited. While he held solo shows in San Francisco and Dubai in 1989, and in Birmingham in 1998, a 650-picture retrospective of his work, titled Chehere, travelled India through 2000–2001. In 2007, to commemorate 75 years of Indian cinema, he exhibited his portraits in London. 

He was known to mentor several young photographers over the course of his career. In 2011, he collaborated with the Symbiosis Institute in Pune, which started its photography school with a curriculum that he had developed. 

Gautam Rajadhyaksha passed away at his home in Mumbai on 13 September 2011 due to a cardiac arrest. Several well-known personalities such as Asha Bhosle, Raj Thackeray, Tina Ambani, Tabu and Ashwini Bhave attended to pay homage.

Among the condolence messages that came in, Madhuri Dixit maintained that “He was more like family.” Shabana Azmi shared, “I am completely shaken and it is hard to gather my thoughts right now. Just 15 days ago, Gautam had sent a script to me and was raring to go. He was not even ill. Gautam was a pioneer because he took up from where photographers Dheeraj Chawda and Neeraj Arya left. He brought sophistication in portraits. He photographed so well because of the warmth that he exuded. I was very awkward in front of the still camera and it would be a chore if not for Gautam. I became his friend because of my husband Javed and I used to go to his place and spend the day there discussing theatre. He was interested in opera. We have visited him at his house in Conoor too. He had written such a beautiful letter to me when my father passed away that it healed me. He has shot lovely pictures of Farhan and Zoya when they were children. I've known him for 30 years and he was very, very dear friend. He was young and left a steady career in advertising career to take up photography. There was a not a single mean bone in his body and he was loved by everyone.”




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