Shooting Ray

Photography

Shooting Ray


Pather Panchali went on to win an award at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival for best humanitarian document.

In his long and illustrious career, Ray produced many cinematic gems which received national and international acclaim. Ray himself became the most recognisable name of Indian cinema in international circuits.

Hailed as one of the world’s great directors, he received many awards, including Ramon Magsaysay Award (1967), Padma Vibhushan (1976), Dadasaheb Phalke Award (1985), Legion dHonneur (France/1987), and Bharat Ratna (1992) besides a string of honorary doctorates from several universities from India and abroad. Just a month before his death, he received an honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement.

“Not to have seen the cinema of Ray means existing in the world without seeing the sun or the moon,” observed legendary filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. In an interview in 1981, Ray revealed: “I think I achieved maturity at a pretty early stage. It has been my preoccupation to achieve as much density as possible within a superficially simple narrative structure. I don’t think of the Western audiences when I make my films. I am thinking of my own audience in Bengal. I am trying to take them along with me, and this I have succeeded in doing.”

Ray (fondly called Manikda) assumed charge of almost all aspects of filmmaking, including screenplay, art direction, editing and music. Among the few who secured the confidence of the master and continued as his close associate for a long time was still-photographer Nemai Ghosh. Ghosh enthusiastically followed and photographed Ray for nearly two-and-a-half decades capturing him and his many moods on sets and on location.

By the time Ray breathed his last, Ghosh had shot more than 90,000 pictures of the famed director and rightfully earned the nickname: Ray’s photographer. Ghosh’s camera took a temporary break only on April 23, 1992, the day Ray passed away.

When Mrinal Sen, another noted filmmaker from Bengal gently enquired Ghosh why he did not carry his favourite camera to the funeral, the mourning photographer poignantly replied: “Is it of any use now, Mrinal Da?”

Ghosh recalls the day very clearly when he heard the news of Ray’s death: How he had rushed to the nursing home, carried Ray’s body to his home and how he had stood beside it the entire night. “I lost my father when I was very young. When Ray died, the feeling of loss was no different.”

Entry by chance

Ghosh came in touch with Ray for the first time in 1968 when he was still a budding photographer. His entry into the world of photography at the age of 34 was itself quite accidental. (His first love was theatre and he carries an abiding interest to this day.)

When a friend gifted him a fixed-lens camera, he snapped some pictures of rehearsing actors and Ray on location of Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne. Ray liked the pictures and the rest, as the clich goes, is history.

Ghosh became a part of Ray’s close circle, and a virtual shadow of the filmmaker. “The sheer charisma of that man drew me away from what I claim was my first love (theatre). All that I was left with was a camera in my hand and an obsession to follow that gifted man.”

Besides intellectual strength, Ray also possessed a regal bearing and imposing personality; with a six feet four inches frame he stood out even in a crowd. He was immensely tall, recalled James Ivory, a well-known filmmaker and friend of Ray. “He was probably the tallest Indian I have ever met and that seemed symbolically apt. He had a kind of straightforward majesty about him; he was obviously a king, but he was an approachable king.”

Ghosh was allowed freedom to shoot Ray during the process of filmmaking; as significantly he gained access to the director’s home. Whether it was day or night, he could simply walk in and take his pictures or simply laze around. “I knew everything of his room: The furniture, books, doors, windows, the changing and playful nature of filtering light. And even those particles of dust which settled in the room!”

On sets, Ghosh observed how the renowned director was in total control of the entire cast and crew. Ray was a perfectionist. I spent hours with him, trying to know the real man the world knows as Satyajit Ray. My photographs are pieces of understanding of the real Ray.

When in 1991, Ghosh brought out his first book, Satyajit Ray at 70, the filmmaker acknowledged: “For close to 25 years, Nemai Ghosh has been assiduously photographing me in action and repose — a sort of (James) Boswell working with a camera rather than a pen. In so far as these pictures rise above mere records and assume a value as examples of a photographer’s art, they are likely to be of interest to a discerning viewer.”

The famous French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson was among those charmed by Ghosh’s pictures of Ray. “Through his visual gift, Nemai Ghosh allows us to be intimate with filmmaking,” he wrote in the foreword. And to feel with great fidelity the drive, the alertness and the profundity of this giant of cinema in all his majestic stature.”

Ghosh has never regretted his decision to give so much of his time and sweat in following and photographing Ray. He is, however, quite appalled by the lack of interest by government and corporate agencies for his dream project of setting up a museum of his pictures. “I have this regret that I have not got anything in return (for my efforts). If the apathy for these pictures and my dream project continues, one day I might silently take all the 90,000 negatives and immerse them in the Ganga.”

Samples of Ghosh’s monumental work are on view in the exhibition titled ‘Satyajit Ray: From Script to Screen’, till November 27 at National Gallery of Modern Art, Palace Road, Bangalore. Comprising a suite of more than 100 black and white photographs, the show reveals the many sides of the famed director. One can perceive a subtle but charming narrative in these pictures. Ghosh’s personal and abiding commitment to his art and his technical abilities come alive in the show.

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