Nemai Ghosh’s rich archive of photographs captures Satyajit Ray at work
IN the crowded Boro Bazaar of Kolkata, Satyajit Ray is seen with his camera in the boot of an Ambassador. His focus is away from the cacophony, on the actors of his film Jana Aranya, Pradip Mukherjee and Utpal Dutt. That day from the shooting schedule of the 1975 film is etched in the memory of photographer Nemai Ghosh. “It was an extremely crowded street and Manik da (Ray) did not want the crowd in the scene, so he tilted the camera and only the sky and top of the houses could be seen,” recalls the 79-year-old, surrounded with over 200 images associated with the filmmaker spread across two floors of Delhi Art Gallery in Hauz Khas Village.
The images span more than 25 years, starting 1968 when Ghosh was introduced to Ray. Friend Robi Ghosh had gifted Nemai his first camera — a fixed-lens QL17 Canonette. He also took him to the sets of Ray’s children’s film Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, from where Nemai returned with numerous photographs of the cast and crew. The prints were to reach Ray through art director and production designer Banshi Chandragupta. “Manik da said I’d copied his angles, and thereon I was part of his film unit,” says Nemai.
That was the beginning of a long association. Nemai Ghosh was to become an integral part of every Ray movie as his unit’s stills photographer. He was a shadow to Ray, shooting with him in lesser-known documentaries such as Sikkim and Bala to more well-known films such as Shatranj Ke Khiladi, Aranyer Din Ratri and Ghare Baire. The exhibition is not just a celebration of their association, it also documents the journey of Indian cinema. It includes the few assignments Ghosh did for other filmmakers, including Aparna Sen, Gautam Ghose and Tapan Sinha. There are moments off the sets too — Sharmila Tagore in a salon, Smita Patil holding a camera with a large telephoto lens and Jaya Bhaduri and Amitabh Bachchan in the days when they were dating.
Ray, however, dominates the display. He is the complete film-maker — directing actors, composing music, editing his film Ghanashatru (1989) and sketching the opening credit sequence for Sonar Kella.
“He was involved in every aspect, just like (Charlie) Chaplin,” says Ghosh. Ray, he adds, was one of the ‘best actors’ he has come across.