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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. That day from the shooting schedule of the 1975 film is etched in the memory of photographer Nemai Ghosh. "It was a crowded street and Manik da (Ray) did not want any crowd in the scene, so he tilted the camera and only the sky and top of the houses could be seen," recalls Ghosh, 79, surrounded with over 200 images associated with the filmmaker on display at Delhi Art Gallery in Delhi. The exhibition will later travel to Mumbai.
The images span more than 25 years, starting 1968 when Ghosh was introduced to Ray. He was 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 the 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 also includes the few assignments Ghosh did for other filmmakers, including Aparna Sen and Tapan Sinha. There are moments off the sets too — Sharmila Tagore in a salon, Smita Patil holding a camera with large telephoto lens and Jaya Bhaduri and Amitabh Bachchan in the days when they were dating.
Ray, however, dominates the display. "He was involved in every aspect, just like (Charlie) Chaplin," says Ghosh. While the photographer notes that Ray was not effusive in his praise, the filmmaker did recognise the valuable photo archive. He called Ghosh, "Baswell working with a camera rather than a pen". Encouraging words also came from Henri Cartier- Bresson, whom Ghosh met in Paris in 1987. However, Ghosh was disappointed when no one in India came forward to buy his archive, till he met Ashish Anand, director of Delhi Art Gallery, who purchased Ghosh's archive comprising 1,20,000 photographs in 2006. The current exhibition curated by Pramod Kumar KG is a selection. "There are several more," says Ghosh.