Cinematographer Rajan Kothari passed away recently in Mumbai due to a cardiac arrest. He was just 60 years old. His biggest collaboration was with Shyam Benegal for films like Zubeida, Welcome to Sajjanpur, Subash Chandra Bose: The Forgotten Hero etc. He won a Filmfare award for the Rajkumar Santoshi film Ghayal(1990).
His sudden death has saddened many from the film industry. Vikram Bhagwat worked closely with Rajan Kothari for the adaptation of the famous marathi play starring Nana Patekar called Purush into a film. The film was also directed by Rajan Kothari. Vikram Bhagwat has to his credit several marathi plays and has also written the famous marathi crime serial ‘Ek Shunya Shunya” and another popular serial “Chaal Navachi Vaachaal Vasti“. Here he gives a very personal and heartfelt tribute to the ace cinematographer, Rajan Kothari:-
When a friend dies, something within you also dies instantaneously. This is not an emotional statement but a fact experienced by me when I read the news on the internet of Rajan’s sudden death due to a massive cardiac arrest this week. I was stunned for some time, bereft of any emotion. I was also surprised since we had not even met during at least the last 10 odd years if not more. At that moment I scribbled on the paper, “Relationships that you cherish do not require physical proximity”.
We have many such relationships. We relate to writers through their books, painters through their paintings, actors through their portrayal of a character, directors through their productions and so on and so forth. Through their arts we possess them, almost personalise them. And when they die, then, the nourishment such a relationship requires vanishes and that part within us dies an instantaneous death. But memories still linger and this is the tribute to those memories.
I still remember my first visit to his house in Andheri when I agreed to work on the screenplay of Purush. He was a known name in Hindi Film industry and had won Film Fare Award for the blockbuster “Ghayal”. As I entered his house, I started looking for the famous FilmFare trophy and could not find it in the drawing hall which normally is ‘the’ place to display the glory. I asked Rajan about this who in turn offered an sheepish smile and said “Vikram, it is on the loft”. I was incredulous! FilmFare trophy on the loft? Was he in his right senses? My face showed my disbelief! “Are yaar, it has already happened! What can I do with it now! If I remain anchored in the past glory, I won’t achieve anything in future! So loft is the right destination for this trophy!”, was his answer! At that moment I realised that we are going to be friends.
Rajan had a very gentle way of dealing with his colleagues. He put me at complete ease while working as a Screenplay consultant for Purush. I was bit worried initially since I was working on the screenplay already written by somebody and secondly while Rajan had achieved so much, my achievement was limited to the success of Marathi Crime Serial “Ek Shunya Shunya” and four well accepted plays on Marathi Theatre.
Next six months, while we recreated the screenplay for “Purush”, I understood Rajan as a person. He came from a very decent middle class family and inherited values from his mother and the camera from his father who was also a well known still photographer. He was deeply attached to his mother who I still remember was a very soft spoken and loving person. She could never be harsh and I always believed that he adopted his soft approach from her. This was also one of his drawbacks! And there were not too many!
The house was simple with no aura of Hindi Film industry. When he mentioned Purush he brought down a suitcase. As he opened the suit case I was amazed to see bundles, rolls, sheaf of papers. They came in all sizes and types. Ruled, plain, one side, two side…you name it! With an apologetic smile over his face he said, “Vikram I have to organise everything properly. Whenever I get time, I scribble, write because I am afraid, without camera, I will forget thoughts which hover around in my mind”.
During the making of “Purush” we spent lot of time together, sometimes staying overnight working on the script, or travelling to Wai for location hunting. During this time I got to know him also as a director and cinematographer. He had tremendous eye for detailing. When I remember our discussions a famous quote of Gordon Willis comes to my mind “A cinematographer is a visual psychiatrist – moving an audience through a movie … making them think the way you want them to think, painting pictures in the dark.” It fits in so well for Rajan.
“Purush” was a well made film which went beyond the original play and made a hard hitting statement. Though film neither went to Indian Panaroma nor did well on the box office due to various reasons, but it caused great pain and hurt to Rajan, who had put in couple of years in this project and had rejected many Cinematographic proposals from Hindi Film industry which came his way after “Ghayal” so that he could concentrate single minded on “Purush”.
After “Purush” we worked on many stories together without really caring for their commercial outcome! I wanted to adapt “Money Changers” for a Hindi film and we worked extensively on the script. And what we came out with was completely Indianised script with no iota of a trace of “Money Changers”. We developed a complete screenplay of the script. It was a pure happy, creative experience.
Another story which comes to my mind is “VOTE”. Again months together we kept tossing ideas at each other and took the story forward. Rajan was able to make space for an author to exist an attribute which very few directors can claim to. He would contribute to visual side and left thought and theme flow to me. He could easily take a back seat in these departments though he had very clear views and would make them known very softly.
He liked developing young talent and was a visiting faculty at Film and Television Institute of India(FTII) in Pune. I think his penchant to work with and develop youngsters and give them a perspective of images took him to “Whistling Woods” as head of the Cinematography division.
He had presented me with a book, “Something like an Autobiography” by Akira Kurosawa which is a cherished book in my library. On the first page I can still see his handwriting saying “To Vikram on the day of deliverance. Many Happy Returns – Rajan”. Beyond his wishes, the handwriting says many things to me even now.
We were in touch until 2002 and then I parted ways since had to follow my career path as Supply Chain Manager with Bayer besides focusing mainly on play writing and he continued with his passion for Cinematography. Though we were not in touch, I am confident that as much as I remembered him fondly all these years, he must have also thought about me on and off.
I had not imagined that I will be writing an obituary for Rajan so early. Sixty, now a days, is not an age that anyone dies. His death due to massive cardiac arrest suggests that he neglected his health either due to work pressure or his inherent nature of putting himself low on priorities. He had to his credit 27 films as Cinematographer and if you look at their years, it was merely one film per year. I am convinced he was capable of much more and there were many unfinished challenges in his mind when he breathed his last. He cannot leave them unfinished simply because it is not his nature. I am sure he will have to take a rebirth in the same industry to complete them. Till then rest in peace my dear friend. In your departure we are left poorer by one great soul.