THE OTHER RAY – THE ART OF SATYAJIT RAY BY JAYDIP MUKHERJEE
'Jaydip Mukherjee, a documentary filmmaker, presented his 34-minute, well-researched documentary called The Other Ray – The Art of Satyajit Ray which was part of the Indian Panorama Section Indian Panorama Section as part of the special section on Satyajit Ray at the International Film Festival of India in late 2022,' writes Dr. Shoma A. Chatterji.
Noted Indian film scholar and author, Dr. Shoma A. Chatterji writes, ‘the Society for the Preservation of Satyajit Ray Films, better known as Satyajit Ray Society or just Ray Society, founded in 1994, is committed to restoring and preserving the priceless legacies the great genius left behind when he passed away in April 1992.’
Though most of us are aware of the multifaceted genius of Satyajit Ray, few beyond his home state West Bengal have had the opportunity of having witnessed his genius in the world of fine arts. Besides acquiring a command over all areas of filmmaking, Ray was an author, an essayist, editor of a children’s magazine called Sandesh, first brought out by his grandfather and resurrected by Ray many years later with help from his close friend poet Subhash Mukhopadhyay and aunt Leela Majumdar. Sandesh became a big hit with children across age groups, and now has great value for creating characters like Feluda, the detective, a Ray creation. Ray was also a lyricist, a music composer and an artist. In an excellent exhibition organized by Ray Society at the North Gallery of the Academy of Fine Arts, Kolkata, some years ago, one could step into this little-known world of this internationally renowned filmmaker called Satyajit Ray.
The Society for the Preservation of Satyajit Ray Films, better known as Satyajit Ray Society or just Ray Society, founded in 1994, is committed to restoring and preserving the priceless legacies the great genius left behind when he passed away in April 1992. The exhibition was unique in the sense that it spans Ray’s creative genius in fine arts over four long decades, from 1940 to 1983, beginning with his sketches made during a visit to the Konarak Sun temple as a student of Kala Bhavan in Santiniketan in the early Forties, and closing with sketches of Hirak Rajar Deshe in the early Eighties. It also covered almost all areas of fine arts in which he worked, drawing just a fragment from the strong and massive treasure trove of 70,000 in all, preserved mainly in the Ray family home in Kolkata at 1/1, Bishop Lefroy Road now known as Satyajit Ray Dharani near Elgin Road.
Ray fundamentally transformed all notions of designing books in India. Discarding the clean formality of British style of jacket design, he was the first Indian artist to have introduced to the book-jackets style of brushing that was entirely Indian in character and content. For his book jackets for a biographical series on Sri Sri Ramkrishna Paramhamsa authored by Achintya Kumar Sengupta (1952-1957), Ray drew from the calligraphy contained in ancient texts and framed these with decorative designs that concretise the holiness of the subject on who the books have been written. The colour of the jacket changed from one volume to the next but the design remained the same.
Image: Costumes of Goopy Gyne Baghe Byne
“It was Binod-da (Binode Bihari Majumdar) who taught me calligraphy. He had acquired a mastery over calligraphy during his stay in Japan. Later, I applied my knowledge of calligraphy when I joined the advertising world. I made an effort to introduce the tradition of Indian art into advertising artworks in a decent and tasteful way. This knowledge also helped me introduce a new gharana of graphic design in book jacket illustrations. I think that I would not have been able to build my own style if I had not had the opportunity to go to Santiniketan.” This is what Satyajit Ray, the greatest of filmmakers India has produced, said about another area of his creative works – fine arts in the specific area of graphic design, credit titles and cards of his films, book jacket illustrations, magazine headpieces, innovative typefaces and so on.
Recently, Jaydip Mukherjee, a documentary filmmaker, presented his 34-minute, well-researched documentary called The Other Ray – The Art of Satyajit Ray which was part of the Indian Panorama Section Indian Panorama section as part of the special section on Satyajit Ray at the International Film Festival of India in late 2022. Mukherjee explained that the creativity ran in Ray's genes from his grandfather Upendrakishore Ray Chaudhuri and father Sukumar Sen, but his training under legends like Nandalal Bose and others at Shantiniketan clearly reflects in Ray's works.
Mukherjee added that the film also captures other influences on Ray's development of characters, like his years spent as Junior Visualiser at the advertising firm D.J. Keymar or learning Western musical notations from Professor Alex Aronson, which was part of his composing and orchestration process for many soundtracks in his films.
Image: Jaydip Mukherjee and Aloke Banerjee
Mukherjee recalled how he had discussed the idea of 'Other Ray' with Satyajit Ray himself, but had to struggle over many decades to give shape to it. "I had to take pictures of Ray's paintings and other works at an exhibition in Kolkata in 2007, apart from the inputs of Sir Richard Attenborough and Ray's other friends in London," Mukherjee said.
Ray’s bold typefaces for the credit titles of his films, the book titles and the head pieces for Sandesh carry his inimitable signature that can never be mistaken for the work of any artist other than Ray, so popular is his insignia to most Bengalis, young and old. Detailed sketches for the ghosts in the famous ghost song from Goopi Gyne Bagha Byne (1968) are shown with scribbled notes on all sides describing the colour, the costume, the character of each ghost precisely despite the fact that when one watches this ghost dance on screen, it comes across as a shadow play filmed with silhouetted figures of the dancing ghosts. Another beautiful sketch is that of the dignitaries who guests at the court of King Halla were in the same film.
One set design of Lord Outram’s study for Shatranj Ke Khilari, executed in Black and White on a pinkish background has a complete list of details scribbled in Ray’s beautiful hand on the right. Another set design from Sonar Kella (1974) sketched in colour shows even the positions of where and how the characters are seated in a drawing room in precise detail. An unused hoarding of Devi (1960) executed in colour, comes across as a montage and is so striking that one wonders why it remained unused. A set design and prop list for Shatranj Ke Khilari (1978), the complete title cards for the films Kanchenjungha (1962) and Sonar Kella, a detailed layout for the outdoor shooting schedule for Sonar Kella in Rajasthan through Jaipur, Jodhpur, Bikaner and Jaisalmer offer model lessons in how complete filmmaking as an art, science and economics is to contemporary and future filmmakers. The various shades of Ray’s aesthetic genius – sketcher, calligrapher, music composer, director – have been covered holistically in the film.
The film goes on to address Ray’s training under legends like Nandalal Bose and others at Shantiniketan, which is clearly reflected in Ray’s works. Mr. Mukherjee added that the film also captures other influences on Ray’s development of characters, like his years spent as Junior Visualizer at the advertising firm D.J. Keymar or learning Western musical notations from Professor Alex Aronson – which was part of his composing and orchestration process for many soundtracks in his films.
Image: Set design. Sonar Kella