Remembering Satyajit Ray: The Rare Master of All Trades
Like his mentor Rabindranath Tagore, Satyajit Ray was a man of many hats, and the hats glowed with shining feathers. Though the world chiefly knows him as the creator of some of the most elegant films ever made, he was also a multi-talented mind. On his birth anniversary, we look at different sides of Bengal’s mini-Tagore.
Besides working with Ravi Shankar in the Apu trilogy, Ray also worked with Ustad Vilayat Khan in Jalsaghar (1958) and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan in Devi (1960). The latter two mostly disliked Ray’s interference, which led Ray to take up composing for his films, starting with Teen Kanya (1961). Merging his eastern and western sensibilities in music, he began working on music as early as the scripting stage. And thus some great scores in Charulata (1964), Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (1969), Shatranj Ke Khilari (1977) and many others were born.
The young Ray was very fascinated by typography in both Bengali and English. While working in advertising, and designing book covers for Signet Press, he couldn’t find metallic letters to go with the moods of certain books. So, he brought in more Indian motifs and calligraphic elements to advertising which led to the creation of four Roman fonts (Ray Roman, Ray Bizarre, Daphnis and Holiday Script), and numerous new fonts in Bengali. In a sense, he made the entire Bengali community discover the joy and beauty of the letters in their mother tongue.
Design and Illustration
Ray designed his own film posters, billboards, publicity materials, title cards, book covers, and also made countless illustrations. His skill in calligraphy, illustrations and his training as an artist in Tagore’s Shantiniketan at an early age made him an artiste who broke boundaries to bring in something new and revolutionary. For your information, he created the original design for the Wills Navy Cut cigarette packet.
If you watch Goopi Gyne Bagha Byne (1969) and the sequel, Hirak Rajar Deshe (1980), one of the foremost things you would notice is the costume design. Ray, with his great sense of the quirk, designed the costumes with great detail while keeping the childish innocence alive. Ah, those magical slippers!
Sandesh, the iconic children’s magazine founded by Upendrakishore Raychaudhury in 1913, was later given a new sense of fervour by his son, Sukumar Ray. After Sukumar’s death, the magazine discontinued. In 1961, Sukumar’s son, Satyajit, revived the magazine as the new editor and made it a staple diet of every Bengali family.
Besides creating Feluda, a detective, and Professor Shonku, a scientist — two of the most famous fictional characters of Bengali literature - Ray also wrote tons of short stories while contributing for Sandesh, the magazine he edited. He also translated works of many writers like Lewis Carroll and Idries Shah. Being unpretentious yet literary, his writing has an iconic status among the young readers of Bengal.
Film Society and Film Criticism
In 1947, just after independence, Ray co-founded Calcutta Film Society with Bansi Chandragupta, Chidananda Dasgupta and a few other friends and brought film culture to the city. He also wrote essays on cinema which was later published as different collections: Our Films, Their Films, Bishoy Chalachchitra, and Ekei Bole Shooting.
(The writer is a journalist and a screenwriter who believes in the insanity of words, in print or otherwise. Follow him on Twitter: @RanjibMazumder)
(This story is from The Quint’s archives and was first published on 2 May, 2015. It is now being republished to mark Satyajit Ray’s birth anniversary.)