The Roy you didn't know

Published: Nov 27, 2019, 07:00 IST | Dalreen Ramos | Mumbai

A centennial exhibition showcases the works of Manobina Roy, one of India’s earliest known women photographers, chronicling countries, politics and her family with husband Bimal

Joy Bimal Roy clicked outside the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, Colaba
Joy Bimal Roy clicked outside the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, Colaba

Apart from the red and white Chinese lanterns gracing the roof of a Kala Ghoda gallery, albeit temporarily, there's little that comes in the way of this woman and her camera. Manobina Roy passed away in 2001 and she would have been 100 today. To most of the world, she is regarded as the wife of director Bimal Roy, whom she married at 17. But through her lifetime, she saw the world through a lens of independence; the first time, via a Brownie camera gifted to her identical twin Debalina and her on their 12th birthday by their father Binode Behari Sen Roy. She couldn't stop clicking, even after an eye impairment in '69. And nearly two decades after her death, 67 images captured by Roy will be displayed at an exhibition that opens today at ARTISANS'.

Bimal Roy with Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi

Grouped according to pictures of her family, portraits of famous personalities like Jawaharlal Nehru or his sister, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, and travels to England and Switzerland, the genesis of the show goes back 18 years. In January 2000, a showcase of Bimal Roy's stills were displayed at the Nehru Centre gallery. His son, Joy Bimal Roy, scoured the room for his mother Manobina, who was seated alone in a corner. When approached, she told him, "No one has ever done this for my photos." And after a long hunt for a gallery space and a curator, and bouts of serendipity, it all fell into place as an exhibition curated by art historian MC Mohan at no cost.

Manobina Roy seated in front of her husband's portrait

Sen Roy instilled in his daughters the belief that they weren't any less than men, as they grew up in Ramnagar where women adhered to the purdah system. This is reflected in her oeuvre where she establishes a certain intimacy. "She connected people. When she came to Bandra, she discovered that even though the neighbours knew each other, they wouldn't interact. So, she organised something called the Women's Social Samachar where women would meet once a week and exchange knowledge — someone would teach the group to cook Kashmiri or Chinese food, embroidery or tailoring," shares Joy.

A portrait beside Bombay-Poona highway

The verandah of her home, the now-demolished Godiwalla Bungalow in Bandra, proves to be her favourite spot and Joy's sister Aparajita, her favourite subject. Although her husband supported her work, Joy can't tell what his father thought of it. "He was conventional. But even though they shared different perspectives, they supported each other in every way they could."

Joy Bimal Roy next to a picture of his sister Aparajita at the gallery. Pic/Atul Kamble

ON Today, 6 pm onwards to November 30, 11 am to 7 pm
AT ARTISANS', VB Gandhi Marg, Kala Ghoda.
CALL 9820145397

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