Portraits of Satyajit Ray

Nemai Ghosh’s photographs of Satyajit Ray show a master filmmaker at work, both on location and at home in his study.

Andrew Robinson
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Satyajit Ray with actor Arjun Guha Thakurta on the sets of Pikoo (1980)

Satyajit Ray with actor Arjun Guha Thakurta on the sets of Pikoo (1980)
Credit: Nemai Ghosh/Delhi Art Galley

Anyone drawn to Satyajit Ray and his films owes a debt of gratitude to Nemai Ghosh, who photographed Ray at work and scenes from his films from 1968 right to the end of Ray’s life in 1992.

The master photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson, certainly recognised this. Cartier-Bresson called Ghosh the “photo-biographer” of Ray, and stated with perfect truth: “He allows us to be intimate with filmmaking, and to feel with great fidelity the drive, the alertness and the profundity of this giant of cinema in all his majestic stature.” So do I, as the biographer of Ray in the 1980s. Years after Ray’s death, it was a unique privilege for me to work with Nemai on a large-format illustrated book using the finest from his tens of thousands of images. Entitled Satyajit Ray: A Vision of Cinema, the book comes closer to the mind and heart of a great filmmaker’s ‘inner eye’ than perhaps any other book on the cinema.

Ray directing Sharmila Tagore and Soumitra Chatterjee in Days and Nights in the Forest (1969)

Ray directing Sharmila Tagore and Soumitra Chatterjee in Days and Nights in the Forest (1969)
Credit: Nemai Ghosh/Delhi Art Galley

Ray trusted Ghosh, who worked for the love of Ray’s films, not for money, until 1982; indeed, Ghosh’s obsession with Ray swallowed up the last rupee of his savings. So he was allowed to become a fly on the wall during all stages of the process of filmmaking.  As Nemai himself writes of Ray: “Afterwards, seeing the pictures, he would frequently ask: ‘When did you take it?’ Whatever he was doing – whether writing, designing, acting, directing, operating the camera, editing, composing and recording the music, or simply meditating in the middle of noise and crowds like some sage – Manikda [Ray] was preoccupied. In his eyes, I felt I could see the whole film. I tried to catch that impression.”

Ray on the set of The Home and the World (1984) with actors Soumitra Chatterjee and Swatilekha Chattopadhyay

Ray on the set of The Home and the World (1984) with actors Soumitra Chatterjee and Swatilekha Chattopadhyay
Credit: Nemai Ghosh/Delhi Art Galley

Ray in his study at Bishop Leroy, Calcutta, 1988. This photograph was taken during the production of Omnibus: The Cinema of Satyajit Ray, a BBC documentary on Ray. The gentleman behind the camera is Adam Low, director of the feature

Ray in his study at Bishop Leroy, Calcutta, 1988. This photograph was taken during the production of Omnibus: The Cinema of Satyajit Ray, a BBC documentary on Ray. The gentleman behind the camera is Adam Low, director of the feature
Credit: Nemai Ghosh/Delhi Art Galley

Ray behind the camera for An Enemy of the People (1989)

Ray behind the camera for An Enemy of the People (1989)
Credit: Nemai Ghosh/Delhi Art Galley

Saeed Jaffrey and Sanjeev Kumar in The Chess Players (1977)

Saeed Jaffrey and Sanjeev Kumar in The Chess Players (1977)
Credit: Nemai Ghosh/Delhi Art Galley

Ray behind the camera on location during his first Hindi film, The Chess Players (1977)

Ray behind the camera on location during his first Hindi film, The Chess Players (1977)
Credit: Nemai Ghosh/Delhi Art Galley

Ray used to operate and handle the camera himself

Ray used to operate and handle the camera himself
Credit: Nemai Ghosh/Delhi Art Galley

Ray behind the camera with crew and assistant director Suhasini Mulay on location on Calcutta's streets for The Middleman (1975)

Ray behind the camera with crew and assistant director Suhasini Mulay on location on Calcutta's streets for The Middleman (1975)
Credit: Nemai Ghosh/Delhi Art Galley

Actor Soumitra Chatterjee as Professor Udayan with his students in Kingdom of Diamonds (1980)

Actor Soumitra Chatterjee as Professor Udayan with his students in Kingdom of Diamonds (1980)
Credit: Nemai Ghosh/Delhi Art Galley

Ray touches up Soumitra Chatterjee's make-up for The Home and the World (1984)

Ray touches up Soumitra Chatterjee's make-up for The Home and the World (1984)
Credit: Nemai Ghosh/Delhi Art Galley

Ray at the HMV recording studio in Dumdum, Calcutta

Ray at the HMV recording studio in Dumdum, Calcutta
Credit: Nemai Ghosh/Delhi Art Galley

Ray at work in his study at Bishop Lefroy Road, Calcutta

Ray at work in his study at Bishop Lefroy Road, Calcutta
Credit: Nemai Ghosh/Delhi Art Galley

Ray reclining at the back of the empty HMV recording studio in Dumdum, Calcutta

Ray reclining at the back of the empty HMV recording studio in Dumdum, Calcutta
Credit: Nemai Ghosh/Delhi Art Galley

Ray sketches the opening credit sequence for The Fortress (1974)

Ray sketches the opening credit sequence for The Fortress (1974)
Credit: Nemai Ghosh/Delhi Art Galley

Satyajit Ray in front of the Grand Hotel in Calcutta's Chowringhee, scouting for locations for Company Limited (1971)

Satyajit Ray in front of the Grand Hotel in Calcutta's Chowringhee, scouting for locations for Company Limited (1971)
Credit: Nemai Ghosh/Delhi Art Galley

Ray on location in Santiniketan during the filming of The Inner Eye (1972), his documentary on artist Benode Behari Mukherjee

Ray on location in Santiniketan during the filming of The Inner Eye (1972), his documentary on artist Benode Behari Mukherjee
Credit: Nemai Ghosh/Delhi Art Galley

Ray working at night in his study

Ray working at night in his study
Credit: Nemai Ghosh/Delhi Art Galley

Ray summoning his cast on the set of Distant Thunder (1973)

Ray summoning his cast on the set of Distant Thunder (1973)
Credit: Nemai Ghosh/Delhi Art Galley

Nemai Ghosh’s first portrait of Ray: Ghosh took this photograph of Ray rehearsing with actors Tapen Chatterjee and Robi Ghosh (back to the camera) on location of The Adventures of Goopy and Bagha (1968)

Nemai Ghosh’s first portrait of Ray: Ghosh took this photograph of Ray rehearsing with actors Tapen Chatterjee and Robi Ghosh (back to the camera) on location of The Adventures of Goopy and Bagha (1968)
Credit: Nemai Ghosh/Delhi Art Galley

Ray behind the camera with his crew on location in Calcutta's streets for The Middleman (1975)

Ray behind the camera with his crew on location in Calcutta's streets for The Middleman (1975)
Credit: Nemai Ghosh/Delhi Art Galley

Ray sketching costumes, possibly for The Home and the World (1984)

Ray sketching costumes, possibly for The Home and the World (1984)
Credit: Nemai Ghosh/Delhi Art Galley

Ray directing Sharmila Tagore and Barun Chanda for Company Limited (1971)

Ray directing Sharmila Tagore and Barun Chanda for Company Limited (1971)
Credit: Nemai Ghosh/Delhi Art Galley

Ray managing crowds on location at Chausath Ghat in Benares for The Elephant God (1978)

Ray managing crowds on location at Chausath Ghat in Benares for The Elephant God (1978)
Credit: Nemai Ghosh/Delhi Art Galley

Ray on location at the Shore Temple beach on the outskirts of Madras city during the filming of Bala (1976), about the legendary Bharata Natyam dancer Balasaraswati

Ray on location at the Shore Temple beach on the outskirts of Madras city during the filming of Bala (1976), about the legendary Bharata Natyam dancer Balasaraswati
Credit: Nemai Ghosh/Delhi Art Galley

Ray directing Days and Nights in the Forest (1969)

Ray directing Days and Nights in the Forest (1969)
Credit: Nemai Ghosh/Delhi Art Galley

Ray on location during filming of Distant Thunder (1973)

Ray on location during filming of Distant Thunder (1973)
Credit: Nemai Ghosh/Delhi Art Galley

Satyajit Ray on location at the Shore Temple beach at Mahabalipuram, on the outskirts of Madras, during the filming of Bala (1976)

Satyajit Ray on location at the Shore Temple beach at Mahabalipuram, on the outskirts of Madras, during the filming of Bala (1976)
Credit: Nemai Ghosh/Delhi Art Galley

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