‘We do not believe in conservation,’ rues photographer Nemai Ghosh. And Ghosh has reasons to be upset because his photographs are not mere prints, they are chronicles of the history of Indian cinema. ‘This is national treasure but no one has bothered to preserve it for future generations to see,’ he regrets. From being the only photographer the iconic Satyajit Ray allowed on his sets to taking pictures on the sets of other stalwarts of Indian cinema like Mrinal Sen, Ritwik Ghatak and MS Satyu, Ghosh can claim to have seen Indian cinema at close quarters — like few others have.
And yet in a year when Indian cinema celebrates its centenary year, not too many efforts have been made to bring the works to the limelight and let the cinema enthusiasts get a glimpse of the rich history of Indian films. Neither the film industry nor the government came forward to preserve his photographs for posterity. ‘No government did anything. Neither the central government nor the state government,’ said a visibly upset Ghosh.
Famously called Satyajit Ray’s photographer, Ghosh’s works would have laid in a corner of his Calcutta house, all but forgotten, but thanks to a Delhi-based gallery, they are now up for view in the Capital. Ghosh has given the gallery 1 lakh 20 thousand negatives at ‘cost price’. Of the humongous collection, about 208 are on display, informs curator Pramod Kumar KG. ‘It took three years just to catalogue the collection. We tried to focus on Ghosh the photographer rather than Ghosh as Ray’s photographer. The aim was to showcase his photographic genius,’ said Pramod.
This though, isn’t the first exhibition of Ghosh’s works. His photographs have been exhibited at the Cannes Film Festival, in Paris, London and Brussels internationally and also in Delhi and Calcutta. ‘Manjit Bawa had organised an exhibition in Delhi,’ informs Ghosh.
The photographs on display have images captured on the sets of various movies and otherwise. From Naseeruddin Shah to Smita Patil, Simi Garewal, Om Puri, Utpal Dutt, Soumitra Chatterjee, Moon Moon Sen, Jaya Bachchan, Sharmila Tagore, Rati Agnihotri, Sunny Deol — they are all there. One aspect of Ghosh’s photographs is that he does not use the flash. His use of natural light was greatly influenced by the legendary lighting expert in Bengali theatre — Tapas Sen.
Some of the photographs stay with you. Like one of Sharmila Tagore in her stylish best, with curlers in her hair, head wrapped in a scarf, on location in the forests of Palamu during Aranyer Din Ratri. Or another of Dharmendra and Moushumi Chatterjee playing badminton on the sets of a movie. Then there is one of Ray at the Shore Temple beach on the outskirts of Chennai during the shooting of the documentary Bala. And another of Jaya Bachchan and husband Amitabh sharing a joke — much before attaining superstardom.
Did he ever face any difficulty in shooting the stars? Never, contends Ghosh. ‘I always used to take candid shots. Every person has a good angle. It is for me to find that out,’ he says. His favourites in terms of photographs? Jaya Bachchan, Soumitra Chatterjee and Bengali superstar Uttam Kumar.
Catch the exhibition to find the history of Indian cinema unveil before you. Because it’s worth it!
At: Delhi Art Gallery, 11, Hauz Ghas Village
On Till: 28 January
Phone: 4600 5300