Wednesday, November 02, 2011

The Art of Satyajit Ray and an Appeal for Sandesh

Images courtesy: Satyajit Ray Film & Study Centre - University of California, Santa Cruz

In the second instalment of tracing the art of Ray, I have just put together examples of magazine cover design. Ray's favourite format of design was to experiment with the fonts & typography of the magazine's title. For two magazines, he did this with an incredible inventiveness.
The first was Eksan (Now), a literary magazine edited by Soumitra Chatterjee (among others). The second was Sandesh (the famous Bengali mithai, also meaning news) - which was Ray's family enterprise started by his grandfather and revived by him.

But first, another angle of his versatility.
Being approachable, Ray got thousands of requests for contributions to magazines, anthologies and special issues - which he refused only on extenuating circumstances. For example, somebody approached him for an article on Pablo Picasso for a special issue on the legendary artist. Ray refused since he was in the middle of shooting a film.
But being the bhadralok he was, he got a little embarrassed by the disappointment of the people who came to him. He offered to sketch a portrait of Picasso for their cover.
Totally delighted, the magazine's publishers asked when they should come to pick up the sketch. He asked them to wait, picked up his drawing book and drew out the portrait you see here.












For Eksan, he also did quite a few portraits for special issues on a really diverse group of people. The three I found have Karl Marx, Manik Bandopadhyay (a fantastically, under-rated Bengali novelist) and Alighieri Dante on their covers!




All the covers of Eksan were radically different despite being essentially reprisals of the same three letters. Using the concept of negative space, different styles (from ancient scriptures to modern) and motifs, he made them look completely fresh.




 
And then, we have Sandesh - which follows the same principle as above but the visual imagery is completely different, keeping the audience in mind. Sandesh being read - and occasionally eaten - was the leitmotif here.




Sandesh ran almost entirely on Ray's creative output as he illustrated entire issues of the magazine, wrote stories and novellas, created puzzles and brain-teasers, judged contests and even answered fan-mail. His involvement can be summed up by the opening paragraph of this article by Sandipan Deb.

I met Satyajit Ray only once, when I was seven years old. Like every month, my father had taken me to the office of Sandesh, the children's magazine that Ray co-edited, to collect my copy. We rang the bell, and the door was opened by the tallest man I had ever seen. Far above me hung a huge face seemingly carved out of granite, which now turned and called inside in a voice of distilled thunder: "Mini-di, here's a subscriber of yours." (Mini-di, or Nalini Das, was Ray's cousin, whose home doubled as the Sandesh office.) As we waited, my father kept prodding me in the back: "Ask him, ask him!" So, finally, shyly, I did. "I sent in a story three months ago..." I squeaked to this unknown giant. (Sandesh had a section which carried the literary efforts of its underage readers.) "What's it called?" asked Ray. I told him. "I'll see," he said, and we left. The next month, the story was published in Sandesh.

The office that he talks about was a rambling building on Rashbehari Avenue, not very far away from my home in Calcutta. Every time I walked past this building, I imagined Ray to be somewhere inside - maybe hunched over proofs or changing some element of the typesetting.
In a comment on the earlier post, Sue mentioned that the office was being demolished and I have felt incredibly sad ever since. Here was a place which I can literally call my Palace of Memories and that was going to make way for - presumably - a swanky apartment block.
I wondered how apt it would have been (and a friend echoed my thoughts later on) to build a Feluda Museum in that plot.
I have no clue of the property prices of South Calcutta but surely, it couldn't have been too difficult for a million Feluda fans to contribute a small amount each and make it happen through a publicly funded trust? I believe a Feluda Museum will easily draw enough footfalls to be run profitably through ticket prices and merchandise sales.

Tintin has many museums and even parks dedicated to him. Surely, Feluda deserves his spot under the sun too...
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