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Ray the Artist: The Sketches of Satyajit Ray

25 Apr, 2020 | Short Features by Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri
Ray's sketch for Hirok Rajar Deshe (1980).

Satyajit Ray not only revolutionized Indian cinema, he also introduced graphic design in India, before anyone in the country knew what design truly meant.

It was with Pather Panchali that Satyajit Ray first grabbed international attention, but it was designing the cover and creating the illustrations for an abridged children’s edition of Pather Panchali, titled Aam Antir Bhepu, that inspired his first film. This was in the early 1940s and Ray was at the time a junior visual artist for D.J. Keymer, a British advertising firm. His renown as a filmmaker overshadowed his rich and equally brilliant work as a graphic designer. 

He studied painting at the Kala Bhavan at Visva Bharati University, Santinketan, where mentors like Nandalal Bose and Benod Bihari Mukherjee taught him not only to break rules but also to look at typically Indian motifs for inspiration.
He studied painting at the Kala Bhavan at Visva Bharati University, Santinketan, where mentors like Nandalal Bose and Benod Bihari Mukherjee taught him not only to break rules but also to look at typically Indian motifs for inspiration. Looking back on his days at Kala Bhavan, Ray admitted that ‘it was there that I learnt to look at nature, how to respond to nature and how to feel the rhythm of nature’. 

At DJ, Ray created campaigns for a range of consumer products – hair oil, biscuits, cigarettes – while also designing book covers and jackets. Before this, Indian audiences had not been exposed to book designs and ads with Indian motifs. 
All of us are aware that Ray would always sketch every scene by hand to visualize it in his mind first. As his son Sandip Ray has said, ‘Storyboarding for him was a revered ritual.’
All of us are aware that Ray would always sketch every scene by hand to visualize it in his mind first. As his son Sandip Ray has said, ‘Storyboarding for him was a revered ritual.’ His shooting scripts, known as the ‘kherorkhata’, meticulously created the costume designs, sets and character looks of his films. Brilliant examples of these are the ghosts in Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (1969) and the costume designs from Hirok Rajar Deshe (1980). Or for that matter, the extraordinary rigour he brought to the sketches for Shatranj Ke Khilari (1977). Every aspect you see on screen in these films was sketched initially in Ray’s kherorkhata. 
He was the first Indian filmmaker who created his own posters for the films he made.
He was the first Indian filmmaker who created his own posters for the films he made. And unlike the tradition of the time which preferred the images of stars and celebrities, Ray’s posters originated from the essence of his stories. He introduced photography as a component of poster design. A range of styles – pen-and-ink sketches, linocuts, woodcuts – found their way into his posters. Also informing his poster design was his innate understanding of typography. Two typefaces he designed – Ray Roman and Ray Bizarre – won an international typography competition in 1971.
Two typefaces he designed – Ray Roman and Ray Bizarre – won an international typography competition in 1971.
When he revived the children’s magazine Sandesh, he designed its covers and layouts and illustrated entire issues of the magazine. He also created the cover for a 1961 literary magazine called Ekkhon and revolutionized book jacket designs, incorporating styles that went beyond the depiction of book content. 
When he revived the children’s magazine Sandesh, he designed its covers and layouts and illustrated entire issues of the magazine.
Though his contribution to graphic design is now regarded almost at par with his excellence as a filmmaker, Ray was dismissive of his own work during his lifetime. He once said, ‘I have never taken my graphic work seriously and never considered it as worthy of being exposed to the public.’ Posterity has deemed otherwise and today one can say that Satyajit Ray was probably India’s first graphic designer. 

The following are a few sketches drawn for storyboards by Satyajit Ray for Hirok Rajar Deshe (1980). There are also handwritten notations and songs for the soundtrack. One can spot the sketches  and costume designs of characters from the film that have gone on to become iconic.  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 



The images have been collected and collated from the public domain by Cinemaazi.

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About the Author

Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri is either an 'accidental' editor who strayed into publishing from a career in finance and accounts or an 'accidental' finance person who found his calling in publishing. He studied commerce and after about a decade in finance and accounts, he left it for good. He did a course in film, television and journalism from the Xavier's Institute of Mass Communication, Mumbai, after which he launched a film magazine of his own called Lights Camera Action. As executive editor at HarperCollins Publishers India, he helped launch what came to be regarded as the go-to cinema, music and culture list in Indian publishing. Books commissioned and edited by him have won the National Award for Best Book on Cinema and the MAMI (Mumbai Academy of Moving Images) Award for Best Writing on Cinema. He also commissioned and edited some of India's leading authors like Gulzar, Manu Joseph, Kiran Nagarkar, Arun Shourie and worked out co-pub arrangements with the Society for the Preservation of Satyajit Ray Archives, apart from publishing a number of first-time authors in cinema whose books went on to become best-sellers. In 2017, he was named Editor of the Year by the apex publishing body, Publishing Next. He has been a regular contributor to Anupama Chopra's online magazine Film Companion. He is also a published author, with two books to his credit: Whims – A Book of Poems (published by Writers Workshop) and Icons from Bollywood (published by Penguin Books). 

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