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Satyajit Ray: The Work And The Man, Through The Lenses Of His Cinematographers

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One of India’s most prolific filmmakers, Satyajit Ray.

“Not to have seen the cinema of Ray means existing in the world without seeing the sun or the moon,” legendary filmmaker Akira Kurosawa had said about the Indian cinema giant Satyajit Ray. A luminary in the field of Indian cinema, Ray was born on May 2, 1921, and his journey as a filmmaker started with Pather Panchali in 1955 and with nearly 40 films to his credit, he was one of the most awarded directors of his times.

In the field of cinema, it is always teamwork and though Ray was a one-man army, his squad had bright stars who made him shimmer at a time when Indian cinema was yet to develop. Two professionals of his team — Soumendu Ray and Nemai Ghosh, share their stories of how Ray helped them reach the pinnacle of success in their respective fields.

Nemai Ghosh, holding the photo clicked by him during the shooting of Goopi Gyne Bagha Byne.

While Soumendu Ray worked as Satyajit Ray’s cinematographer between 1960 and 1991, Nemai Ghosh is the person who can be credited with the candid shots of Ray and his shootings. Both Soumendu Ray and Nemai Ghosh are names to reckon within their respective fields but neither of them fail to give credit to their beloved Manik da.

“If there is one person who taught me the language of films and everything about setting up lights and giving the perfect exposure to a shot, it was Manik da,” says a meekly smiling 88-year-old Soumendu Ray. Initially, Soumendu Ray worked as a camera caretaker of Satyajit Ray but in 1960, he was in for a shock.

“One fine morning I received a call from him (Satyajit Ray) when he asked me to visit his place. Upon reaching, he told me he would be shooting two films that year and wanted me to handle the camera for the documentary on Rabindranath Tagore while another movie, Teen Kanya, would be shot by Subrata Mitra, a stalwart cinematographer. Thus started my journey as a cinematographer with the great Satyajit Ray.”

Roy also adds that later on, Teen Kanya had to be shot by him after Mitra suffered from an eye problem. Finding himself at the right place at the right time was another man, Nemai Ghosh, whose journey with Ray started after he randomly clicked photographs of a shoot.

Soumendu Ray with a smiling face.


“I was never much into photography, but one day I found a camera left behind by someone in a taxi. I started clicking. I was more invested in the world of theatre and that’s how I knew Rabi Ghosh. As Rabi da was busy shooting Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, our rehearsals were stalled and I landed up at the sets with the camera at Boral,” says Nemai Ghosh adding, “Ray was busy in the shoot and I started taking some candid shots and I finished my two sets of films that I had with me that time.”

“One day, the renowned art director and production designer Bansi Chandragupta came to our place to play cards when I casually showed him the photographs I had clicked. He took me to Manik da and when Manik da saw the photographs, he patted me on my back and asked me to enter the sets and click photographs,” Ghosh narrates as his eyes travel to the past, probably attempting to relive the days of working with the legendary filmmaker.

It was after this day that Ghosh started working as Ray’s personal photographer. However, it was never easy to work with Ray as he used to stress upon thorough homework and always asked for new things. Trying out the yet to be done always gave him a thrill but it used to be a challenge for the one executing it.

“While shooting Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, Manik da said he needs different dimensions of light to portray the characters. My previous experience told me that the cameraman always avoided white light and I had to use white light and create soft shadows. It was tough but I that day I learnt something new and the film is still dear to me,” says Soumendu Roy.

Soumendu Roy on set with Satyajit Ray.

Soumendu Ray also narrates another challenging situation for him. “While shooting Postmaster, I was in charge of the indoor lighting. I was so invested that I forgot to eat and when a nervous me showed Ray the rush footages, a simple ‘thik hain’ was probably all that I was looking for from him. Satisfied, I went back home and when I ate, my mother asked me why was I eating so much that day,”  Soumendu Ray laughs at that memory which soon fades into a bleak smile. A pair of eyes glimmer when he says, “Simple words from Manik da were so motivating.” Ray was a great pacifier on sets.

On the advent of colour films, Ray too shifted to the new form but his teammates were worried. It was while shooting Ashani Sanket when an unsure Soumendu Ray was pacified by Manik da who said, “Think that you are shooting a black and white film and just keep the camera exposure right. We will work out the rest.”

Ray was all about being natural and so were the photographs we see today. Ghosh remembers how he never asked Ray to pose for a click. “Neither did I ever ask him to nor was he interested in posing and thus all the photographs you see today are candid.”

Actress Suhasini Mulay assisted Satyajit Ray on Jana Aranya (1976).

When asked about the difference between the real and the reel Satyajit Ray, Ghosh snaps and says, “Manik da was a humble person and the same came off my lens too.” Legends never die, they live through the works they have done in their lifetime. The same goes for Satyajit Ray’s son Sandip Ray whose life as a filmmaker started holding his father’s hand.

“Homework and research are the two main things I have learnt from my father. The more you stress upon these two, the less time you waste during shooting,” says junior Ray and almost in the same breath, does not fail to give credit to Soumendu Roy and Nemai Ghosh saying, “Both of them are legendary in their respective fields and I have learnt a lot from them.”

Ray on set, shooting Pratidwandi (1970).

Even today, Manik da is remembered by scores of people and every May 2, his birth anniversary is celebrated merrily. “The doors are open for all on this day, anyone can come and take part in the celebrations,” says Sandip Ray.

Note: this article was originally published here

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