I was just out of college, on my first job, when I met Gautam Rajadhyaksha. He was imperious, immaculately turned out and impatient with little twits.
I would tiptoe into his studio and try to melt into the background as the lights were being set up for the diva of the day. Sometimes, he would agree to visit a star at home for an exclusive. I would trot along like Mary’s little lamb for the interview, sometimes even carrying the tripod for his Man Friday, while Gautam marched ahead like a commander-in-chief.
One such shoot was at Poonam Dhillon’s house, soon after she married Dil producer Ashok Thakeria. The star and our star lensman bonded over erratic hours and unfortunate pimples, while Ashok and I exchanged stray comments as we waited for the pictures to be clicked and the tête-à-tête to begin.
I still remember the romance in those pictures, even with a painfully shy Ashok having to be coaxed to face the camera. However, when it came to ‘together’ sessions, Gautam’s personal favourite was the one with Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan. No, I wasn’t present at that shoot, but I heard about it from him years later when I prodded him to pick a photograph from his collection for our anniversary special.
The date: December 1, 1991. Venue: The suite of a suburban hotel. Time: 7 pm sharp. Gautam and his assistants, along with the film magazine’s editorial duo, waited and wondered if the shoot would happen. Would the habitually late Kaka offend Babumoshai, who was a stickler for punctuality, and would two decades of hostility spark off more hostility?
The clock struck the hour, no one appeared. The minutes ticked away… Five, ten, fifteen…At 7.15 pm, the two superstars walked in, hand-in-hand. Forty-five minutes later, the pictures were done and it was time for the interface.
“At my prompting, Rajesh Khanna recalled how after a preview show of Anand, three days before the film’s release, he had stopped off at Javed Akhtar’s house to tell his wife, Honey and him that the tall, dark man (Amitabh Bachchan) was going to shake up the industry and wipe them all out,” Gautam had told me.
I wondered worriedly if the flashback had made sparks fly. “No, Kaka went on to say that two of Amit’s and his best films—Anand and Namak Haram—are those that featured them together. The tall man agreed. And I came back with a historic picture,” he smiled.
It wasn’t often that you heard any traces of awe in Gautam’s voice when he spoke about his models. But there was awe in people’s eyes when they saw his beautiful faces; Madhuri Dixit’s in particular. Gautam openly admitted that she was his muse. And she also got the maximum chiding, in chaste Marathi, for her talent for sprouting a fresh crop of pimples just before an important shot.
She turned up once, with one side of her face covered with these eyesores. Gautam frowned darkly and handed her over to make-up whiz Mickey Contractor for a salvage operation. But not even Mickey’s pancake and paints could make Madhuri’s face blemish less again.
I despaired over our shoot happening, but I’d forgotten we had a magician around. Gautam tossed a ‘duppata’ at her and told her to cover her head and the “offending” side of her face with it. He then picked up his camera and voila, we had our cover girl!
On another occasion, she came to the studio after an accident, with a badly injured back. There was no way she could wear anything tight. Gautam fussed over her like a protective patriarch and gave her a swatch of royal blue to wrap herself with. Only her shoulders peeked out tantalizingly. A silver choker around her neck, studs in her ears, her hair dressed up in a chignon and the Mumbai ‘chi mulgi’ had metamorphosed into Princess Grace of Monaco!
If Madhuri was malleable clay that could be easily moulded, Kajol was a flighty Ariel who had to be bribed with Toblerone chocolates to face the camera. Gautam was the one who had persuaded Rahul Rawail to come for Tanu’s (Tanuja) daughter, Kajol’s first photo session. They were looking for a fresh face for Bekhudi that Gautam had scripted and Rahul was instantly wowed.
Kajol had gone on to become Bollywood’s numero uno and then shocked everyone with her decision to chuck it all away at the peak of her career and settle down with steady date Ajay Devgn. Only Gautam wasn’t surprised by her decision, and when prodded, he had said, “If her happiness lies in opening an orphanage or a bookshop or even rearing children, then so be it. Whatever brings her joy brings me joy too.”
He knew his godchild well and had predicted correctly that even if she were to continue as an actor, she would not be a part of the rat race. Making it to the top has never been a big deal for Kajol, he pointed out, but insisted that she would continue doing the odd film that would always draw crowds.
He was one of the few invitees at her non-filmi wedding, and what made it memorable for him was seeing Kajol as a Maharastrian bride in a typically conservative Punjabi household. “The craving for Mills & Boon romances and Toblerone chocolates has been satiated. Kajol’s found her man. In fact, she’s found herself not just a good husband, but also a good home,” he told me with all the warmth of a proud father.
The words came back to haunt me as I watched Kajol bid her final adieu to a man who had been her friend, philosopher and guide.
Work kept me away from his funeral, but I bid him a quiet goodbye from the office.
Some friends are forever...Even when they are not around. I miss you Gautam, but will not forget you. Your memory will always be framed in your beautiful ‘faces’.