Satyajit Ray’s Boswell

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Manik Da Memories Of Satyajit RayOf all the people who knew Satyajit Ray, one man still considered the last word on the filmmaker is photographer Nemai Ghosh. For 25 years, Nemai recorded almost every moment of Ray’s cinematic life – his expressions, his movements, his moods. He is still called ‘Ray’s photographer’. “I found him more interesting than his actors,” says the 71-year-old, who has over 90,000 photographs of the filmmaker.

Ghosh’s interest in photography developed quite by accident. He was 34 and his passion was theatre. He had a group of friends who came to his home to play cards consisting of well known actors and cinematographers like Robi Ghosh and Bansi Chandragupta. During one card session one of his friends announced that he had found a fixed lens QL 17 Canonette camera in a taxi. Since he owed Ghosh money, he gave him the camera. Ghosh was fascinated with his new discovery and coincidentally it was at the same time that Satyjait Ray was shooting his children’s film Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne which starred Ghosh’s actor friend Robi Ghosh.

Robi Ghosh took Nemai Ghosh with him to the shoot and along with Ghosh went his camera. He took pictures of the actors and of the director. Bansi Chandragupta, who was Ray’s cinematographer, showed the pictures to Satyajit Ray. “Banshi saw the photographs and introduced me to Manik Da [as Ray was fondly called],” Ghosh recalls. “He asked me to go ahead and take some more.”

It was the beginning of a long relationship. The photographer and the filmmaker rarely spoke to each other, one directed and the other photographed, yet understood each other perfectly. In fact, Ghosh had access to Ray’s home and sets in a way few others did. He recorded the filmmaker’s life on his sets, setting it down in the subtle interplay of black and white, capturing him briefing actors like Sharmila Tagore and Soumitra Chatterjee, or, in an unguarded moment hopping around in the mud trying to keep his spotless white dhoti spotless. In a foreword to Ghosh’s first book, Satyajit Ray at 70, in 1991, the filmmaker wrote: “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.”

Ghosh’s Manik Da is a slim book that highlights in brief the relationship between the great director and the photographer who gradually progressed from amateur to professional status on Ray’s sets. Of special interest to the film buff is the fact that the book contains fifty previously unpublished photos. However, while the book is undoubtedly an invaluable addition to film history, with a warm introduction from Sharmila Tagore, on the downside is the fact that the photographs deserved somewhat better reproduction and more space in which to be admired. For reasons of affordability, presumably, Manik Da has been restricted to paperback format.

Manik Da: Memories Of Satyajit Ray by Nemai Ghosh
Published by Harper Collins India

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Manik Da: Memories Of Satyajit Ray
by Nemai Ghosh

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Written by Anjana Basu
Anjana Basu

Anjana Basu works as an advertising consultant in Calcutta. In 2003, Harper Collins India brought out her novel Curses In Ivory. In 2004, she was awarded a Hawthornden Fellowship in Scotland where she worked on her second novel, Black Tongue, published by Roli in 2007. In February 2010. her children's novel Chinku and the Wolfboy was brought out by Roli. She writes features for travel magazines and reviews for Indian newspapers.

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