A Gentle Man

I first met Rajen Kothari in 1992, when I assisted Renu Saluja for Rajen’s directorial debut Purush. I met him for the last time on 24th September 2012, at Whistling Woods, where he taught cinematography to students who’ll definitely feel his loss. Had I known that this would be a final meeting, I might have lingered on for a while, but it was the usual casual lobby encounter. He asked me how I was, about my brother Onir and about my daughter. I remarked that he had lost a lot of weight. I don’t think he was unwell but he did look a lot frailer than when I had first met him. But that was twenty years ago.

Twenty years ago, I had been surprised at this man who didn’t fit into the image stereotype of the cinematographer. He didn’t yell – in fact he spoke softly, smiling as he spoke. He also didn’t smoke or drink alcohol. He always made it a point to make sure that we had plenty to eat in the editing room, and one of my memories is of him getting us fresh vada-pavs for an evening snack. Rajen used to tease me when I’d check the time in the evening. “Kya, koi wait kar raha hai?” He never threw his weight around and what we thought about the film always mattered to him. I think Purush was a good film and it was a huge experience working with Renu and Rajen at the same time.

Soon afterwards, my husband Ashwini, Onir and I were making a music video. I told them that I would ask Rajen if he’d shoot it. Of course he said yes, even though we were all greenhorns, guiding us through the quagmire of Bombay locations, equipment hire, stock, labs, and even the lunch supplier! He got on board for us Art Director Sharmistha Roy and most importantly, always remained calm on the sets. Later he also shot a pilot episode that Ashwini directed and a music video for Onir. Onir and I edited Rajen’s delightful TV series Arjun Pandit.

Our friends, Arun Varma and Jatinder Sharma, both cinematographers from FTII, first assisted Rajen during that music video shoot when they were still students, and continued the association after graduating. I know many others – some of them also from FTII – have assisted Rajen and will remember the man with much warmth and respect. A gentle, unassuming man, who could also be firm when needed. A man who was a good teacher, helpful to newcomers, and loved to make films. A man who also connected you to his family physician if one was looking for a doctor and would recommend a garage when you set out to buy your first car, a second-hand one of course.

Rest in peace Rajen. You went away too young. You’ll be remembered not just for a rich body of work that includes films like Damul, Dacait, Pestonjee, Ghayal, Purush and Zubeidaa but also because you touched so many lives.

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  1. Gentle and Humane are the first words that have come to everyone’s minds when they talk about Rajenji. I think your last sentence sums it all up perfectly. The outpouring of tributes on his sad, untimely death reflect just how high people held him in their esteem. When someone like me, who did not interact with him too much except during The Wisdom Tree Festival, and the odd GraFTII meeting, feels his death, I can only imagine what those who knew him well must be going thorugh.

    RIP Rajenji…


  2. Rajen was one year senior to me while I was at the FTII, since then we have had a lot of professional interactions.
    The last time that we met was at the Cinema India exhibition in Mumbai.Well, it is sad to lose a friend of more than four decades. It brings us back to terra firma and reminds us of the terminal nature of our lives. It is difficult to accept the fact that we will not see his smiling face again.
    I pray for his soul to rest in peace.

  3. In all the tributes that have been written, two things stand out. One is his smiling face. That is how one always recalls him. Secondly, the word disbelief. Just means that we do not want to accept that he is no more. Truly.

  4. Irene. So hard to accept. So difficult to come to terms. For me his invite was at Whistling Woods which i had not seen till then. I had gone to narrate my feature film…. which i said is inspired by Vijay Ananad’s Teesri manzil. He heard me out, the kind of visual and images i had in mind. Then he smiled. This is not Vijay Anand. You have gone ahead from where he left. Man. I was so warmed and confidence surged. : ) Gracious, Sweet he showed me around WWI. Later we would meet often. Full taang kheench sessions. My heart still finds it unacceptable. To walk in to Whistling Woods and not meet him?

  5. Knew Rajenji from Arun Varma and Jeetu, who assisted him. Always had an image of a soft-spoken and warm human being, also as mentioned by Irene. You’ll always be remebered with fondness and affection by us, Juniors. RIP, sir…

  6. I still remember that day when I had financial crisis in institute for my fees and Rajen sir offered me that help. I am sitting far away from India right now and still get tears in my eyes thinking that he is no more. So much regretting that I didn’t get a chance to meet him lately. Sir you were a father figure and a mentor for all of us. I am so so much missing you.

  7. …who can forget his endearing smile? for one whose spirits are down, his presence around was light that shunned darkness (negativity) away. Guru in Sanskrit means – dispeller of darkness, He was literally and figuratively our GURU. For all of us at WWI who remember his classes – Light, Lensing and Movement – the ABCs of cinematography – it was a truly rewarding experience from the Master Himself! Rajen Sir, we all truly miss you.

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