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Updated: November 24, 2009 21:55 IST

Ray of light

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RAY'S PHOTOGRAPHER: Nemai Ghosh with his exhibits (in the background) Photo: K. Murali Kumar
RAY'S PHOTOGRAPHER: Nemai Ghosh with his exhibits (in the background) Photo: K. Murali Kumar

Nemai Ghosh captures Satyajit Ray at work, and in the process the magic of filmmaking too

Nemai Ghosh's photographs of Satyajit Ray are a tribute that not only record the intensity and thoroughness of the master film-maker, but also to the nitty-gritty of his craft.

Ghosh's canvas is large: he recorded the Bengali film-maker at work for 25 years and has a whopping 90,000 photographs of Ray, some of which are now on exhibition in Bangalore.

From a frame of Ray deeply engrossed in illustrating the shots of his last film “Agantuk” (1991), the photographs reel back to Ray briefing actors such as Utpal Dutt, Soumitra Chatterjee, Shabana Azmi, Swatilekha Sengupta, and Sir Richard Attenborough through movies such as “Shatranj ke Khiladi”, “Ghare-Bhaire” and “Charulata”.

The exhibition also hearkens to the range of Ray's genius: he composes music in one frame, conducts the orchestra for the background score in the next, enacts Utpal Dutt's action for him and draws the costumes after that.

The exhibition, “Satyajit Ray: From Script to Screen, A Suite of Photographs by Nemai Ghosh” also has some rare glimpses into Ray's sketchpad in which he masterfully stroked his visualisation of shot sequences especially for epic scenes such as the British army's march into the Oudh in “Shatranj ke Khiladi”.

Ghosh, who originally started out as a theatre artiste in the Little Theatre Group, later moved and began a separate group called Chalachol with actor-friend Robi Ghosh. His obsession with photography began when he received a camera as a gift from a friend. He took it along on his visit to the sets of Ray's “Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne”, and took some photographs of the actors rehearsing. Later, the pictures were shown to Manik da (Ray), who asked him to keep clicking, and he did, almost till Ray's death on April 23, 1992.

It is not only Ghosh's subject and reputation as “Ray's photographer” that makes him stand out.

Praise for his work came from his muse himself, who wrote in the foreword of Ghosh's first book “Satyajit Ray at 70”: “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. Insofar 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.” A compliment only spiked by another foreword in the same book, written by the great French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson: “Through his visual gift, Nemai Ghosh allows us to be intimate with filmmaking, and to feel with great fidelity the drive, the alertness and the profundity of this giant of cinema in all his majestic stature.”

The exhibition is on till November 28 at the National Gallery of Modern Art, #49 Palace Road, along with a screening of Ray's films.


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