The Font of Ge­nius

Satya­jit Ray’s graphic de­signs are un­der­rated, says ORI­JIT SEN. The com­pre­hen­sive com­pi­la­tion is a much-needed cor­rec­tive

Tehelka - - BOOKS -

EV­ERY­ONE KNOWS Satya­jit Ray was a great film­maker. But not many are aware that he was also a pro­lific com­poser, writer, il­lus­tra­tor and de­signer who cre­ated hun­dreds of ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paigns, wrote and il­lus­trated books for chil­dren and adults, edited mag­a­zines and de­signed the sets, ti­tle se­quences, posters and other pub­lic­ity ma­te­rial for al­most all of his own films. Ray was also a mas­ter cal­lig­ra­pher and type­face de­signer, com­bin­ing the roles of ed­i­tor, au­thor, de­signer and il­lus­tra­tor on many a print project. Through this wide-rang­ing en­gage­ment in the print medium, he helped give shape to a dis­tinct con­tem­po­rary id­iom in Ben­gali graphic de­sign over the course of three decades of ac­tive prac­tice. In more than one way, Ray’s ground­ing as a fine-turned-com­mer­cial artist work­ing along­side able and gifted con­tem­po­raries, in the ex­cit­ing early years of In­dian in­de­pen­dence, be­came the solid foun­da­tion on which he built his unique vi­sion of In­dian cinema in the 1950s. And for that rea­son alone, Look­ing Be­yond — Graph­ics of Satya­jit Ray by Jayanti Sen should be con­sid­ered es­sen­tial ma­te­rial by any­one in­ter­ested in Ray’s cinema, its so­cio­cul­tural con­text and its aes­thet­ics.

But there are sev­eral other rea­sons. Jayanti Sen, daugh­ter of close as­so­ci­ates of the great man, has ac­cessed not only Ray’s orig­i­nal art­work, but also his fel­lows, fam­ily mem­bers and friends to put to­gether a com­pre­hen­sive and very en­joy­able over­view of this some­what for­got­ten as­pect of his oeu­vre. And what a de­light­ful as­pect it is! From the bold strokes of brush cal­lig­ra­phy to del­i­cate trac­eries of pen-and-ink, from dra­matic op­po­si­tions of dark form and light space to sub­tle har­monies of colour, ev­ery page of this book re­veals Ray as a pas­sion­ate and skilled prac­ti­tioner of the graphic arts. And we learn that it all be­gan at Kala Bha­van, in Shan­tinike­tan, un­der the en­light­en­ing tute­lage of masters Ben­ode Bi­hari Mukher­jee and Nan­dalal Bose. Or did it? Per­haps it re­ally be­gan much be­fore that — from the day he was born into the house­hold of Upen­drak­ishore Roy­chowd­hury and Suku­mar Ray, of Leela Majumdar and Nalini Das — Cal­cutta’s il­lus­tri­ous fam­ily of writ­ers, artists, pho­tog­ra­phers and print­ers.

Hey, with an­tecedents like that, we could all be ge­niuses! But since we’re not, it’s in­struc­tive to al­low Jayanti Sen to walk us through a chrono­log­i­cal and the­matic un­rav­el­ling of Satya­jit Ray’s graph­ics, be­gin­ning with his ear­li­est years at DJ Keymer — then Cal­cutta’s lead­ing ad­ver­tis­ing agency, through his years with the as­tute DK Gupta’s Signet Press, past the se­ries of daz­zling posters and lo­go­types he cre­ated for his own films — from Pather Pan­chali on­wards, to the years of Sandesh (the chil­dren’s mag­a­zine orig­i­nally launched by Suku­mar and later re­vived by Satya­jit), and the amaz­ingly de­tailed sketches and sto­ry­boards for his 1977 film Sha­tranj Ke Khi­lari. We only be­gin to per­ceive the slow­ing down of this in­cred­i­ble out­put in the late ’80s and early ’90s, in the years lead­ing to his death, as he tried to con­serve his wan­ing en­er­gies for the fi­nal films of his ca­reer.

The book throws up some very in­ter­est­ing nuggets. We learn, for ex­am­ple, that Ray had been com­mis­sioned by an Amer­i­can type foundry in the mid-’60s to de­sign a se­ries of new fonts — re­sult­ing in the cre­ation of ‘Daph­nis’, ‘Bizarre’, ‘Ray Ro­man’ and ‘Hol­i­day Script’. Who would have thought? The pages from his Ben­gali primer Hatekhadi are also a reve­la­tion — fea­tur­ing mon­tages of beau­ti­ful jewel-like im­ages to go with each of the al­pha­bets. Else­where, we are al­lowed to com­pare his il­lus­tra­tions for an abridged ver­sion of Pather Pan­chali, the

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