When Wendell Rodricks passed away on 12 February 2020 at the age of 59, he left behind an indelible imprint on the world of Indian fashion, culture and activism.
While the Padma Shri awardee's professional accomplishments are exceedingly well-known, those close to Wendell recall his being a loyal champion of his friends, a warm host whose home and heart were always open to others.
Waluscha De Sousa was discovered by Wendell at 16; he launched her modelling career after promising her family that he would look after their daughter. On his encouragement, Waluscha entered the Miss India contest. "I was a timid, shy Goa girl but he gave me my first fashion show with huge names like Madhu Sapre, Malaika Arora, Ujjwalla Raut and Noyonika Chatterjee," Waluscha told Firstpost. "He brought me to Mumbai and I would open and close every show for him, including the first Lakme Fashion Week, which in turn opened many doors for me."
On hearing of Wendell's sudden demise, Waluscha reached out to his husband Jerome Marrel. "Wendell was so involved in his museum that he had been planning at Goa, and active till his last day. His loss hasn't sunk in yet," she said.
Waluscha recounted how Wendell took her out on his boat, in the backwaters of Goa, on a recent visit home. He loved entertaining friends, cooking for them.
"He was the force behind every amazing thing that happened to me," Walusca added. "My first Pepsi commercial with Shah Rukh Khan also happened because of some pushing by Wendell, because I would consult him before I accepted any offer. I was unwell on the day of the audition and told Wendell I could not make it. He told me, 'You will stop being a Goan, put on some make-up, and show up.' I somehow dragged myself to the mock shoot that Farrokh Chothia was doing, and if I hadn't I wouldn't be in the same frame as Shah Rukh."
In their last conversation, Waluscha says she and Wendell spoke of her upcoming film (Time to Dance) and his plans for the museum, as well as all the memorabilia people had been sending him as part of the project.
Ayesha Shroff, who worked with Wendell on the film Boom, told this correspondent about chatting away with him in French, and creating "something incredibly beautiful and original and stylish for that time". "He was a true aesthete and will be missed by so many," Shroff said. Bipasha Basu spoke of how Wendell would always want to wish her first on her birthday, and called her a day before. "It's the most heartbreaking news..." she said. "I have such great memories of Wendell and his shows from when I was a model. He was not only an amazing designer but also such a vivacious personality . I used his clothes in my films too. I will miss him tremendously."
Madhur Bhandarkar had put Wendell Rodricks in front of the camera for his film Fashion; they shot for it over 2007-08 at Mehboob Studio in Mumbai.
"I recall we had a two-camera set-up for shooting his portions. I explained to him how the scene would pan out, and Wendell said he was nervous," Bhandarkar told Firstpost. "I was surprised, reminding him that he had walked the ramp hundreds of times! Wendell laughed and told me that he wasn't used to the 'lights, camera and action'; at fashion shows, his walks were organic and came naturally."
Beyond their professional collaboration, Bhandarkar said Wendell was a close friend who he'd meet frequently, whether in Mumbai or Goa. "Wendell had a great sense of humour and wouldn't think twice about making fun of himself. I've enjoyed great meals that he cooked himself at his Goa home. Now those are fond memories¦"
Another decades-long friend was Pooja Bedi, who invited Wendell to be on her talk show (Just Pooja) in 2014. "He spoke about being homosexual, for the first time on national TV. This was when Section 377 was still in place. He had the courage to speak up and speak progressively about the plight of the LGBTQ community," Bedi said. "He was an admirable, honest, courageous, talented and loving man and friend."