Book Review: Manik-Da: Memories of Satyajit Ray

Aman Kanth

Once in a while comes a time when a single incident changes the entire course of human life. One such life-altering instance took place in the life of Nemai Ghosh, a onetime theatre artist, who accidentally took up photography after being inspired by Satyajit Ray, one of the greatest auteurs of modern Indian cinema.

‘Manik-Da: Memories of Satyajit Ray’ portrays the camaraderie of Satyajit Ray, known to his intimates as Manik-da, one of India’s most respected film makers and Nemai Ghosh, photographer extraordinaire.

A HarperCollins India publication, ‘Manik-Da’ is an English translation from the Bengali original by SK Ray Chaudhuri, which includes an insightful Foreword by Sharmila Tagore, rare anecdotes about Satyajit Ray along with over fifty exquisite, never-before-seen photographs of the great artist through the lens of Nemai Ghosh, a kindred spirit, whom Ray took under his wings, thus forming a lifelong partnership that spanned over a quarter of a century.

‘Manik-Da’ is a warm, personal read and a befitting tribute to the filmmaker, where one is almost touched by Nemai’s childlike fascination and reverence for his hero Satyajit Ray.

In the book, Nemai goes on to narrate that how one fine day he chanced upon a Canon camera and was persuaded by his friends to capture Satyajit Ray, who was shooting for ‘Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne’ in the neighborhood. Later on, when Nemai went to Ray with his pictures, he couldn’t believe his ears when the latter said, “You have done it exactly the way I would have, man, you have got the same angles!” This was the beginning of Nemai’s lifelong romance with photography.

“My lens captured various poses of that intense self-contained man – the minute trembling of his fingers, the way he sat, walked, the poise with which he stood.”

The black-and-white pictures of Nemai are a moving poetry, which capture the multifaceted personality of Satyajit Ray – a man with the simplicity of a child, untouched by vanity and a firm believer of do-it-yourself.

“He would receive all phone calls himself. He would open the door himself, attend to his guests and see them off at the door personally.”

“To him there was no one superior or inferior, high or low. He believed in giving everyone their due regard.”

“Whenever I would go to his place, I would always find him engrossed in something or other. He was interested only in creation.”

Encouraged by Ray, Nemai went on to work with the filmmaker in films like ‘Aranyer Dinratri’, ‘Pratidwani’, ‘Seemabaddha’, ‘Asanti Sanket’, ‘Shantranj Ke Khiladi’ and ‘Ghare Baire’ and soon became a professional photographer from a struggling amateur, learning the craft from none other than Ray.

“When I asked him, he would explain, like a teacher, instructing a student, why those were not good in all respects. Some shots might have been good but the background was not proper. This is how I learnt the art of perfect photography from him.”

The biggest moment in Nemai’s life came when his guru in photography, Henri Cartier-Bresson wrote a foreword to a picture book on Satyajit Ray.

“With the first copy in my hand I ran to Bishop Lefroy Road, to Manik-da’s house. I presented him the copy and offered my pranam by touching his feet. He immediately stood up and embraced me.”

The death of Satyajit Ray was the most devastating incident of Nemai’s life. Deeply indebted to Ray, Nemai cannot forget the mere touch of the genius called Satyajit Ray who completely changed his life.

“I was fortunate to have met him. He is no more; his memory, his photographs are what keep me going, give me inspiration for new ventures. Those memories, incidents – big and small – energize me, are my raison d’être. I have learnt the lesson of life from him. I want to continue to work till my last breath. This is my only prayer, my only desire.”

‘Manik-Da’ is a rich, insightful, lucidly written and fascinating book on the life and times of Satyajit Ray through the lens of Nemai Ghosh. ‘Manik-Da’ is a highly recommended book if you are a Satyajit Ray fan.

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