Art sans Flash

If Boswellism, in the English language, has come to be accepted as a term to denote a constant companion who records observations in print, the language of cinema should be proud of a similar term ‘Nemai Ghosh’ which implies one who does the same with a camera, and without being constrained by any ism whatsoever.

Jan 01, 1970 05:01 IST Sudhir Raikar

For someone whose tryst with photography began with the accidental acquisition of a Fixed Lens camera, his creative accomplishments in the chosen medium proved nothing short of prophetic. His intimate and intuitive relationship with director Satyajit Ray is well known across the globe. He’s better known as Ray’s Boswell but Nemai Ghosh is way beyond just that. One of his epic works ‘Dramatic Moments’ is an invaluable tribute to the world of Bengali theatre. ‘Faces of Indian Art’ and ‘The World on a canvas’ are no less invigorating. 

At 78, he may be devoid of the physical endurance of his younger days but his enduring ‘Flash-free’ passion for his art form is still intact. Despite having been advised rest and notwithstanding his restricted movements, he’s full of zest for a life full of theatre, camera and of course Ray. He selectively shares his thoughts with Sudhir Raikar, understandably precise but perceptive all the same.   

On theatre
I was in the Little Theatre Group for five years, working with Utpalda. Later we parted ways, formed ‘Chalachal’ and staged Thag adapted from Sartre’s Nekrasov. Later I came in contact with Ray and subsequently moved from collective art to individual art. I have written at length about this in Dramatic Moments.

On Cartier Bresson
I have always been interested in Cartier Bresson’s photography. I was particularly impressed by his way of using the deflected light. I tried to follow this in my work as well, keeping myself away from using expensive gadgets. I tried to meet him for some time, so when I actually had that opportunity, I was very happy. I showed him my work and asked whether I should continue shooting. I was blessed with his approval.

On Ray as an actor
I always found Ray a natural actor. With his poise and dignity, each of his movements was worth noticing. But apart from that, whenever he tried to demonstrate what he wanted an actor to do, it was always a treat.

On Actor Nemai Ghosh
Acting in films never came to my mind. Moreover, had I taken to acting on a regular basis, the photographer Nemai Ghosh would have been lost to the world.

On Mahanayak Uttam Kumar
I occasionally captured Uttam Kumar in various moods. The photographs were lying in my albums and I thought they should be accessible to the admirers of the great actor. I do not know whether his ‘best ever performances’ were under Ray but I can tell you for sure that Nayak would not have been possible without Uttam Kumar.

On the archive sale to Delhi Art Gallery
I am happy that the legacy remains in India. I am also happy about the way DAG has treated the material. I appreciate their hard work and dedication. Ray and Cinema covers only a part of the archive though. I will be most happy if people are also interested about the other areas of my work.

On the public reverence for Ray: prized possession for followers, iconic documentary material for peers and ritualistic pledge for mainstream makers
I do not really concur with your stray comments. You only mention a part of the reality. My memories of working with Manikda are prized possessions for me. I have enjoyed every bit of it – thoroughly. And I learnt a lot from him. His methodical mind, minute observations, dedication to his work – all of it taught me a lot.

On Ray as ‘first among equals’
I do not look at the issue in that way. I have seen Manikda and his work from close corners and admired it. It is not a proper thing to compare him to others when I do not have similar experience with them.

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