Satyajit Ray centenary: Recalling the man and the mentor

How was film director, scriptwriter, documentary filmmaker, author, lyricist, magazine editor, illustrator, calligrapher and music composer Satyajit Ray as a teacher and mentor?

Satyajit Ray centenary: Recalling the man and the mentor
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Hirak Sen

Every passing year I realise more acutely how incredibly lucky I was to have worked with Satyajit Ray. I was very young and thanks to his acquaintance with members of my family, I called him meshomosai or uncle. His son Sandip and I had studied in different schools in the city but being in the same age group helped us bond. That was possibly another reason why meshomoshai overlooked many mistakes that I made. And I goofed up often enough.

Nemai Ghosh was the iconic senior photographer who worked with Ray. I was a rookie, a junior photographer to assist him and the director when required. During an indoor shooting one day, I remember, I was at a loss because other crew members or props came in the way to obstruct the frames that I had in mind.

Getting increasingly frustrated, I petulantly walked up to meshomoshai and complained that I was unable to get the right angle. He was amused but patient. He asked what the problem was and then walked up to a spot and indicated that I should take photographs from there. The vantage point has escaped my eyes but he knew exactly what he was doing.

On a few occasions he took me with him for location hunting. We would visit places, heritage buildings, old mansions and other places. He would tell me what to shoot. On return to Calcutta, he would look at the photographs and draw sketches of what he needed. I was often astonished to see the details in his sketches, which reflected even the facial features of people who were in the frame. Lunch on such occasions would comprise toasts, boiled eggs and vegetables.

On the few occasions when he was pleased with my photographs, he would exclaim, Boma mere diyechho (you have bombed it). On one occasion Sandip teasingly told him not to praise me in my presence. Meshomoshai, vastly amused, declared, ‘Bhalo hole, bhalo bolboi’ ( If it is good, it is good).

For many years I had a passion for astrology and I still cherish the Encyclopaedia of Astrology, a Hamlyn publication, that he bought for me on one of his visits abroad. He would often introduce me to his visitors as an astrologer and leave me to entertain them. Sometimes I would be emboldened to tell him what I believed lay in the future.

He was ill and bed-ridden when I ventured to say that he was destined for bigger awards. He looked indulgently at me and said, ‘I have received all the awards I could hope for’. Months later he was awarded the Honorary Oscar.

(As told to A.J. Prabal. Hirak Sen lives in Kolkata)

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