Filmmaker Onir’s personal memory: My week with Wendell Rodricks

Onir
Wendell Rodricks with Onir

Iconic fashion designer Wendell Rodricks passed away on February 12. He was 59.

Wendell Rodricks and I knew each other through a common space of mutual respect for each other's work and activism. Both of us, though from different spheres, have been vocal about LGBTQ rights from its early days and have lived our lives out and proud. That's how our association started initially. He was one of the few people who gave me unconditional support, 'Onir, whatever films you do, I am there for you.' I immediately replied, 'We must do something together.' That's how we become friends. When I was doing Shab (2017), he did the costumes for one of the leads (Ashish Bisht). He didn't charge me a penny for it. Not only that, he was extremely encouraging and sent his personal accessories for the film so that it looked authentic. That was very touching. He also did a cameo as himself. He was very shy, and I remember him saying, 'I am a disaster in front of the camera.' I tried to convince him by suggesting, 'Come on, Wendell, do it for fun.' It took a little bit of coaxing to get him to act. Only a week ago, while talking to him, I asked if he could record a poem for me in Hindi. He refused: 'Please, Hindi! You know I can't.'

Rekha as special guest at costume museum

This November, I stayed with him in Goa for a week. It was a memory that I will really cherish. I feel especially bad about his dream museum that he was making. Supposedly India's first-ever costume museum, Moda Goa Museum was his obsession and nearly complete when I last saw it. He took me from room to room, describing what artefacts will be where, the accessories and even the ticket counter. Back in the storeroom, he showed me his personal collection that would go into the museum. He wanted Rekha to inaugurate the space. That was his dream, and of course, he wanted all his friends to come down. He shared so many stories. He had immense pride in Goa's history and culture.

For him, costume was art. It was something that was a part of his soul. During my week with him and his partner Jerome Marrel, he told me stories about his journey, his initial rejections when he went abroad as an intern and how he realised that coming back and working on what is local will give him his identity. At the same time, I remember him sitting with his guitar in the evenings. When asked if I could record him sing, he turned down my request politely. He would tell everybody to post pictures of him with a guitar but discouraged shooting any video of him singing. Yes, he was a good singer and wanted his Goan-English song album to be a surprise. In fact, apart from the museum, this was the one thing that gave him a special kick. He was a typical Goan, in the sense that he loved to make merry and enjoy a good life. He was a connoisseur of good food. Every evening, we used to plan where to go and what to eat. He taught me recipes. Of late, he was eating healthy because he had a health scare. But when we met, he was fine and was taking care of himself.

Speaking up

In a world full of selfish souls, Wendell was selfless to the core. He was an extremely gentle and kind artiste. He cared a lot about people, environment and issues like that. He was an activist who would fight even for the trees of Goa. One day, he very proudly pointed out the five mango trees in the middle of a highway close to his house in Covale, 'You see I didn't let them cut down those five mango trees. I forced them to change the direction of the road instead.' We laughed about it.

Wendell Rodricks

Onir said Wendell Rodricks had immense pride in Goa’s history and culture. (Express photo)

Both Wendell and Jerome were loving and caring for each other. Just to see them together was so inspiring. When everyone thinks that it's not possible for gay couples to stay together in India, they did so before anyone else, giving us all a glimmer of hope and optimism. As a community leader, Wendell always went and talked to young people about AIDS and drugs. And because he was someone Goans looked up to, his opinion mattered. He was the son of Goa and a proud Indian. I know he wanted to make a career abroad as a young man but came back and discovered that his art and soul was rooted in this land. Ultimately, the lesson to learn from his life is to be proud of yourself in every aspect, be it the land you come from or the body and soul you are born with. Embrace yourself. Celebrate yourself. Just the way Wendell showed us.

Also Read | Fashion cannot be only for the rich or the super slim: Wendell Rodricks | How Wendell Rodricks fought for six mango trees that stood as markers of memory | Wendell Rodricks: The Art of Keeping it Simple

(Onir is the director of acclaimed films like My Brother... Nikhil, I Am and Shab. He spoke to Shaikh Ayaz)