Ray of genius

Aug 26, 2012, 10:49 IST | Fiona Fernandez

From detailed, intricate handmade masterpieces across genres and influences to memorable characters and icons who have become integral to our literal, political and social psyche, Satyajit Ray's graphic designs open up yet another window to his legend and genius. Sunday MiDDAY caught up with Jayanti Sen, author of Looking Beyond, a new book that pays tribute to Ray's mastery over diverse art forms

How did the idea to work on this ambitious project come about?
Actually, the idea was with me for the past 14-15 years. In 1995, we were curating the first-ever exhibition on Satyajit Ray’s graphic design in Kolkata. In the process, I was able to scan through his archive. Later on, several people insisted that I work on this grand project. Roli Books approached me in 2006 and that’s how it was realised into a book. As a filmmaker, I had learned the craft from Ray himself, as part of his film unit. Going back to the starting point of this project, various colleagues Amal Ghosh and Sandipda (Sandip Ray, Satyajit Ray’s son) had indulged me into working on this. Both introduced me to plenty of archival material and it triggered off my pursuit.

The poster of the film, Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne

What was the most difficult part of collating and putting this project together?
There was no dearth of content; in fact, it was the opposite — that of working with a lot of information. All of this had to be managed to create this book. The first section, which chronicles the early days of Ray’s career, was the most important. Sandipda was heavily involved at this stage, in all aspects, including the design. We would sieve through content, continuously, to ensure justice was done to the icon’s work.  I’d like to add here that I was keen to do this entire project by myself, especially since it was about a legend like Ray. It was important to remain focused throughout as each decade was affected by all kinds of social and political developments. Take, for example, the chapter, The Tumultuous Seventies — it was an effort to bring out all the moments from that decade, including the graphic design that evolved rapidly.

You were lucky to have worked and learnt your craft from the man himself. Tell us about those days.
My first memories of Ray go back to 1981. I had joined him as an observer in the camera department for Ghare Baire. I watched him at close quarters, and honed my skills in cinematography. The interaction — though from a distance — was enriching. Around this time, fellow legend Mrinal Sen was also shooting his films. To watch both giants tackle visual thinking in the same space remains a memorable experience. Ray came across as someone who young people could approach with ease. One almost forgot about the genius behind the man during such encounters. As a student at National Institute of Design, his work contributed a whole sequence to one of my animation films.  Honestly, back then, on the sets, I never exchanged a single syllable about graphic design with Ray…I didn’t have the guts to look at him, directly. In hindsight, it was multifarious exposure for me — film, theatre and the role of make-up in theatre. All of this went a long way in adding value to my work. My parents, Tapas Sen and Dr Geeta Sen (who had a rich collection of graphic art works), were equally responsible for the shaping of this book.

Cover design of a film society journal, Chitrapat

Ray’s mentor Annada Munshi, others including Snehangshu Mukherjee, Debashish Mukhopadhyay, Raghunath Goswamy, Purnendu Pattrea and Paritosh Sen, played invaluable roles in putting this large trove into place. Artists such as Shivshakar Bhattacharjee, who honed his skills under Satyajit Ray, were also crucial. Artists, filmmakers, writers, graphic designers and poets offered to share their rare works and collections for the making of this book.

What were some of the logistical problems that you faced during this project?

The most important challenge was to keep myself focused. I didn’t want to distract myself, as I was handling a vast amount of rare, archival material

How relevant is Ray today? Will his graphic design hold fort now?
He will never lose relevance in any era, whatsoever. He was a towering personality whose use of imaging and graphic design will always be an inspiration for generations to come.  Personally speaking, graphic design is a universal language of its own. The most important aspect with Ray’s designs is that it breaks barriers. It doesn’t need to be introduced. The visuals are arresting in their own right. The book will speak for itself.

What are your strongest memories of him?
This is difficult to answer. He was my father’s friend and accepted me as his daughter. Our family was the first to felicitate him, formally, after the release of Pather Panchali. Apart from honing my craft, the love and affection I received from him was unforgettable.  Tell us about the measures being taken to ensure that Ray’s work lives on. The Ray Society is doing a lot of good work here. They were of great help when I was putting this book together. His legacy is in good hands. 

Looking Beyond:
Graphics of Satyajit Ray, Jayanti Sen, Rs 895 Published by Roli Books 

> Annada Munshi had a great influence on Ray. He is believed to be the main artiste responsible for bringing in indigenous elements in the Indian advertising industry
> Ray used Indian folk decorative motifs in his layouts
> Pather Panchali never had a complete script. It was made from Ray’s drawings and notes. Influenced by Neorealism, he developed his own style of lyrical realism in this film
> Ray’s heart was very close to the famous photographer Henri Cartiere-Breeson and was inspired by his sense of composition
> Before his death in 1992, Ray did his last illustration of his last story of the Professor Shonkhu series, Swarnaparni, showing for the first time the face of a young Professor Shonkhu 

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