“I did them because I loved the look of it, I felt good working, that’s all, my eyes dictate the choice of my style.” This, according to Sandip Ray, is one of Satyajit Ray’s comments on his own graphic work, which includes book covers, both for children and adults, that he began doing during his work with the Signet Press early in his career, his advertisement work and posters for films. In LOOKING BEYOND: GRAPHICS OF SATYAJIT RAY (Roli, Rs 895) Jayanti Sen brings into focus a side of Ray people are aware of without always paying it separate attention. Before becoming a filmmaker, Ray was trained as an artist. Sen traces his evolution through his Kala Bhavan days to his first job in D.J. Keymer and his work with the new Signet Press to his emergence as a filmmaker who designed his own posters while also creating covers for books and journals, especially the rejuvenated Sandesh, and illustrated his own and others’ stories for children.
Sen’s selection of Ray’s vast graphic work is rich and perceptive, capturing the range of his sophisticated originality, the astonishing variation in his use of line and colour, his ability to blend Western influences with all that he learnt from Nandadal Basu and Benodebehari Mukhopadhyay that he subtly turned into something new. In the narrative of six chapters, Sen evokes the history of the modernization of book covers, illustration, lettering and advertisements, recalling the personalities around the young Ray as well.
Ray’s inheritance from his grandfather, Upendrakishore Roychowdhury, and his father, Sukumar Ray, is treated in some detail, both in the text and in the graphics. Mastery of the technology of visual production and its creative use ran in his blood. As interested in typography as his grandfather, Ray designed a number of typefaces, the most well known of which is the Ray Roman. He had wanted to create typefaces in Bengali — “if I get the time”’, he had said. The cover of the journal, Ekshan (left) is one example of the way he used calligraphic patterns, and he created fresh designs every time.
Ray made the book cover truly modern, as is demonstrated by the 1953 wrap-around cover of Abanindranath Tagore’s children’s story, Budo Angla (right, top). The combination of the cheerful red and off-white with grey, even in the title, makes it festive with just a shade of seriousness. But most striking perhaps is the stylized figure of the eponymous boy, a slightly mad yet beautiful mix of cubes and curves, matching the diamonds that run around it.
The playfulness of the cover contrasts with the tragic-sinister impact of Ray’s design for the booklet of his film Devi (bottom, right). The arches of a thakurdalan or a temple are suggested by the lettering of the logo that also hints at a tiara or crown. The theme is overwhelmingly Eastern, yet the presentation seems to contain a secret allusion to the West, so subtly melded in the crucible of Ray’s sensibility that these are impossible to distil.
One of the rarest reproductions in Sen’s book is the page from Tagore’s Centenary Year Calendar that Ray designed in 1961 on the occasion of Rabindranath Tagore’s centenary (middle, top). In it, Ray illustrated various stages of the poet’s life. This style is different again, almost alluding to the later Abanindranath in its articulate outlines and dynamic movement, but oddly dreamlike in colouring, while the brush picks out, like those of Ray’s favourite teachers, details such as the two crows on the distant wall.
Hard-edged patterns have a different function from that on the Budo Angla cover in the illustration from Royal Bengal Rahasya (middle, bottom). Here they create a sense of tense confrontation by insinuating a pattern into a naturalistic image. When the young Ray sketched in the Western style, Nandalal had taught him that “outlines in themselves are dead things”. Ray had learnt from “Mastermoshai” that “in objects, the most significant aspect is the inner rhythm that must be caught”. Nothing could be more alive than the inner rhythm in this picture.