Jawaharlal Nehru descending from a second-class compartment and Mahatma Gandhi stepping down from a third class compartment…. You could tell that the two photographs were intentionally placed side by side. Kulwant Roy’s famous photographs that are now adorning the walls of Piramal Gallery, at NCPA, witness truths of a bygone era. Roy’s nephew, Aditya Arya, who’s put together the exhibition, admits, “Notice that Nehru was status conscious, so he’d not travel in the lowest class compartment, while Gandhi would have travelled even in a fourth class, if there was one.”
Roy has recorded crucial moments with Md Ali Jinnah, Lord Mountbatten, Jacqueline Kennedy, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and many others in his frames. Roy’s camera never lied, asserts Arya. “Today you can digtalise pictures, it lies all the time. But in those days, these guys were purists and didn’t engage in manipulation,” he emphasises.
Arya, who has bequeathed these photos, has been preserving and restoring them for the last two and half years now. Arya realised that his uncle’s photographs were purely a documentation of India in the 1930s and 40s. “These photographs, chronicling the pre and post-independence period, were unfolding the drama of the political movement. It’s a twin story of photojournalism and political history,” he says.
Arya rues that there is a lack of interest in these kinds of archives in India: “These photos need to be catalogued properly, before it’s too late, for the posterity. The problem is that a lot of photos from his collection are in bad shape and have thousands of cracks.”
Like Roy, who used to sell his pictures around the world, Arya is trying to take the rare archive places. He’s already had three exhibitions in Canada, one in Washington and another one is due in London. “It’s going to be a group show where 80 photographers from the Indian subcontinent have been selected. We are a significant part because these photos are not available anywhere else in the world,” Arya informs. He has received good response abroad. His Gandhi archive has remained the most-demanded one in the US.
Incidentally, Roy never took colour pictures; he only hand painted them in his studio for foreign magazines and newspapers. His photos of the Bhakra Dam project give a glimpse of yet another world he had captured. “My next exhibition will be on the cultural and social issues that he recorded,” Arya promises.
History In The Making, a coffee table book that shows equipments Roy used and 350 images of his
visual archives has been launched. The book has a foreword by Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh.