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NEMAI GHOSH: SUBLIME WORLD OF SATYAJIT RAY

Shadowing Satyajit Ray, Nemai Ghosh with his monochromatic lens has gifted the world a most vibrant glimpse into the magnetic candour of yesteryear legends, writes Uma Nair.

Nehru Memorial Museum & Library in association with DAG presents an exhibition of infinite memories in Nemai Ghosh, Satyajit Ray & Beyond. This is a journey of monochromatic splendour. Ghosh, who has often been known as the shadow of Satyajit Ray, belongs to the period of yesteryear nostalgia. Satyajit Ray's 97th birthday was commemorated a fortnight ago and this epic culling belonging to collector and Director DAG, Ashish Anand, unravels and reaffirms the colossus of Indian cinema, Satyajit Ray as the godfather of middle class morality.


Where does one begin? My eyes hunt restlessly for an image in an oval mirror – a stunning sari-clad Paromita Chowdhury who sits with charming candour — Seemabaddha still presents a million dollar milestone in the sociocultural milieu of the yesteryear.

Nemai Ghosh presents the black and white era with its naivety and its niceties – nothing superficial nothing belonging to whimsy, just the frank and forthright beauty of a photographer who wanted to photograph the historicity of what lay before his eyes.
Sharmila Tagore
Then I hunt around for the other actors whom he captured with felicity and fervour. Sharmila Tagore, sitting in a railway coach, a subtle soft smile playing on her lips while her almond eyes gaze into the camera – Ghosh's ability to capture the naturality and simplicity of Tagore on many occasions comes to the fore. This image is a classic from Aranyer Din Ratri.
Ghosh's images of Sharmila Tagore will resonate with anyone who is familiar with the old-worldly charm of the 60's and its small petty peculiarities. Ghosh captures Sharmila in contrasting tenors – if she is the epitome of grace and beauty in Seemabaddha, as she sits in silence with a dapper blazered hero in Seemabaddha – in another image, she is equally at ease in western wear.
History states that Tagore was Satyajit Ray's discovery. He had unveiled her first as a 14-year-old in Apur Sansar.
Simi Garewal
The sophisticated swank Simi Garewal in Aranyer Din Ratri is a rare avataar. Simi, as an adivasi tribal girl Dhuli, is a sultry siren. Ghosh captures Simi in her rustic rhythm inside the little hut. Just looking at this image brings alive the scents and smells of the forests of Chhipadohar! One recalls Simi describing the experience of the month-long shoot for the film Aranyer Din Ratri that was enveloped in magic even as she grappled with humble dwellings of no electricity in the cottage, no toilets and no running water. Ghosh gives us Simi in her hamlet insignia form – untutored, uninhibited and seductively raw.
Smita Patil
Two images of Smita Patil vie for attention. While the first image has an iconic intensity, it brings back the narrative of Munshi Premchand's Sadgati. Created by Ray for Doordarshan – Ghosh captures Smita at her evocative best as she looks into the future, deep in thought, with half her face covered by her sari. If the less than one hour film captured the essence of humanity and all that it symbolised, Smita in Sadgati reminds us of the harsh cruelties of the caste system which is an essence of the reality of the world. Smita's second image is a casual moment at a balcony – Ghosh is able to grasp her mood and give us a romantic hint in the posture.
Satyajit Ray and others
Among the many images shot over 25 years, the portraits of Satyajit Ray at work bring forth a subject of imperial splendour – a colossus of rare and intellectual demeanour. Ray in his studio, while shooting Ganashtaru in 1989, is as haunting as Ray sitting on a trolley, on location in Bolpur, West Bengal, during a break from filming Asani Sanket (Distant Thunder) – a relic of tell-tale nostalgia. And, Ghosh captured so many very special moments – Ray in a pensive mood, cigarette smoke spiralling into the air above, working along in the music studio on the soundtrack for a movie, peering through the camera lens to watch a scene in progress, giving his actors instructions…so many vignettes that could have been stored only as a few fragile memories if they had not been captured on celluloid.
I was introduced to Nemai Ghosh by Paresh Maity in 2005. When asked about Ray's everyday idioms of working, Ghosh recalls: "I became Manikda's shadow in minutes of my meeting him. There was a comfort, even though he was a genius in many ways. All of us who worked, from the smallest water boy to the camera man, we were all like a family. The morning would begin with Manikda's plans on paper and all of us would look at it, discuss after reading and get to work. I shot over 90,000 images in over 25 years with him, it became a rich archive of production stills on the sets of Manikda's films and kept his cinema alive in popular memory. I was unconsciously documenting Manikda's works and capturing all the little stories that came in between. Now, when I look back, it was like freezing the frame on history."
And, they also shared a respect for each other's work, Ghosh said, "I learnt discipline, honesty and sincerity from him and, in spite of working so closely with him for over 25 years, he never asked me to take a shot in a particular way. My working relationship with him was completely unobtrusive and comfortable. Both of us respected each other's sphere. I couldn't work like that with anyone else."
At Nehru Memorial House in Delhi, lovers of photography and cinema can explore how the documentary impulse in Ghosh's work created continuity and rupture within the web of Ray's cinematic history. Ghosh's forte lay in capturing the candour and caprice of the greatest stars of cinema just before and after filming on the sets. We are introduced to interstitial moments caught between the vision of the director and the photographer to unravel deeper meanings about star personas. Ghosh's photographs invite us to contemplate predicaments and teach us that the beauty of cinema lies in understanding the power of silence. DAG hinges the memoir of ages into an album of iconic narratives. Show runs till May 30, 2018.

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