The priceless find includes negatives of 100 hitherto unseen photos clicked by Satyajit Ray, over 1,000 unseen negatives of working stills from the sets of the master’s early movies, and letters and telegrams from stalwarts of cinema such as Frank Capra, Arthur C Clarke, Akira Kurosawa and Richard Attenborough.
According to Sandip, who has carried the Ray legacy forward with a series of whodunits revolving around his father’s fictional sleuth Feluda, the long overdue clean-up had thrown up the perfect collection for Ray fans to feast their eyes on during his birth centenary on May 2 next year.
Photo courtesy of the negatives and letters: The Ray family
“We used to clear a bit of the loft once in a while, but there was never this kind of uninterrupted time to check if there was anything important lying there,” Sandip said.
Till 1959, the Ray family’s address had been south Kolkata’s 31, Lake Avenue. They then shifted to 3, Lake Temple Road, before finally moving to their 1/1 Bishop Lefroy Road address in the heart of the city.
While shifting homes, a lot of stuff kept piling up, but throwing these away was never an option because the family didn’t want to risk disposing of something precious. But it wasn’t until now that Sandip realised what an invaluable treasure the loft held.
Some of the negatives in the collection have never seen the light of day. “I don’t rem-ember seeing them printed. Among them are working stills from Pather Panchali,” Sandip said.
When shooting for Pather Panchali began at Boral in South 24-Parganas in 1952, acclaimed photographer Nimai Ghosh hadn’t yet joined Ray’s unit. Art director Bansi Chandragupta, who had done the production design of the Ray classic, used to shoot stills on the sets. Chances are these negatives, once printed, will add a fresh perspective on the making of the classic.
Asked to give a rough estimate of the retrieved negatives, Sandip said the count was huge. “During those days, one exposure meant 36 photos. We have managed to retrieve at least 25 such wallets,” he said.
Pather Panchali apart, unseen negatives of the Apu Trilogy and Jalsaghar have also tumbled out. “These will need to be cleaned and scanned. Some have decayed. Films, unfortunately, suffer from what is called the vinegar syndrome. But what is left remains absolutely priceless,” Sandip said.
Besides stills from the sets, there are negatives and transparencies/slides that are the Oscar-winning legend’s own work. Ray was a huge admirer of the French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, and the collection that was hidden in the loft includes photos of people and places shot by him during his visits abroad.
“These photos show Baba as a photo journalist. In some cases, the colour has faded. With the current technology that is available, I am sure we will be able to restore them,” Sandip said, recalling that some earlier photographs by the master had been showcased in an exhibition. “But the ones we have retrieved now have never been seen. I think we can host at least three exhibitions of Baba’s photography from what we have retrieved. Besides, we have also found some photographs that were clicked by me on the sets,” he said.
Some printed pictures have survived the ravages of time, although these aren’t exactly in good condition. There are some of Ray in different moods, captured by the likes of Raghubir Singh and Raghu Rai.
The letters from iconic filmmakers to Ray are episodes in themselves. “Arthur C Clark had written to Baba about the stories he was writing and the kind of research he was doing. I had read some of these letters. Most of these communications were about cinema. Baba had met Frank Capra at the Delhi Film Festival. He was a jury member there. Subsequently, they developed a friendship and started writing to each other,” Sandip said.
The Rays believe there are more hidden gems waiting to be discovered since only 50% of the loft has been cleared. “This is a terrible and uncertain time. Nobody knows if the lockdown will get extended. The future is also very uncertain. Chancing upon this treasure trove has been a ray of hope for us,” Sandip said.
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