He may have cut down on several indulgences but sweets and Satyajit Ray continue to enchant Nemai Ghosh
A little tired, unwell but in good spirits nevertheless, Nemai Ghosh fulfils his promise of meeting us for lunch. After all the subject of discussion was going to be Satyajit Ray, a master of world cinema and a subject so favourite that he kept clicking him for as long as 25 years.
At Az Bar, Blue Frog, The Kila, Mehrauli, he begins his lunch with cream of chicken and asparagus soup (an aromatic stock, cream and shredded chicken with asparagus). He asks for asparagus because he is especially fond of the the green vegetable. And that’s all he will have for lunch, he announces. “I prefer to keep it light now. Yesterday while working at the gallery, I forgot to have my lunch.” Just like those days when immersed in capturing Ray working, thinking, reading, Nemai just wouldn’t care about his food. He was with Ray at the gallery as well — signing the photographs of the master that he clicked. The Delhi Art Gallery had acquired Ghosh’s immense archive in 2006 and started digitizing it. Ghosh had estimated it to be around 80,000 but the actual figure turned out to be 1,20,000. Ghosh signed each and every photograph.
Out of that sea, the gallery, located in Hauz Khas, has extracted some 250 frames for its exhibition titled ‘Nemai Ghosh: Satyajit Ray and beyond’. The show, accompanied by a book on Ghosh, is on till January 28.
Does he remember having any meals with Ray? “A lot of times. He preferred dal…any kind of dal and mutton. But on the sets, he would have dahi and sandwich. Here people would use my pictures and never give me any money. Most of the money that I earned from these photographs came from abroad. Once I got a good amount for a picture which was published in a newspaper or a magazine abroad so I rang him and treated Manek da and his wife at Sky View restaurant.”
Ghosh is also known as Satyajit Ray’s photographer because he trained his lens on just one subject all his life and ended up building a huge repository of photographs of not just Ray, his sets and locations but wide variety of people and subjects. “And everybody loved those images. They would come and ask for a picture but would never want to buy one. In this vast country nobody ever came forward to acquire such a collection. I had made up my mind to dump it but then Ashish Anand came and bought everything. I am happy that it has gone in the right hands,” says Ghosh, trying out soy roast chicken skewers comprising az rub, sweet peppers, star anise, sauce and poppadoms at our behest.
“I was a foodie when I was young but not now. But even then when I would start to shoot Ray, I would forget everything else. I would go into a trance. He knew what I wanted and was never conscious in front of the camera. I would discreetly enter the set and he wouldn’t come to know of my presence till I was very very close to him.”
From being an unofficial photographer, he went on to become his official photographer and had access to Ray’s private life too of which the world has not seen enough. “While his birthday was much covered, his marriage anniversary was a very private affair. The night before, I would reach and make Manik da and boudi do a special photo shoot for me. Nobody was allowed to do that except me. Some of those pictures will be published soon in a book and interestingly it will also have images of the great Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni with his wife. I had met him through Ray in Kolkata after which he invited me to Rome where I documented him extensively. The book will be quite a classic,” says the veteran lensman, who started his career with a twin lens camera.
Not a fussy eater, he samples a bit of garlic pepper shrimp — whole garlic, mirin, sweet soy chili sauce and gives it a nod too. Ghosh is working on yet another book which will examine the journey of Calcutta to Kolkata.
Having a bite of tiramisu — he has a sweet tooth — Ghosh says with pride, “The exhibition is so huge that nobody will be able to finish it. I am happy with the way it has been curated by Pramod Kumar KG.”