Individual characteristics linked by a thread of unity-Entertainment News, Firstpost
What remains of Satyajit Ray’s posters reflects the pure artistic level to which the master filmmaker raised this facet of his cinematic exercise.
To celebrate the centenary of Satyajit Ray, arguably the most remarkable filmmaker born on Indian soil, First post will explore the lesser-known aspects of his life in our Ray-esque column.
It’s no exaggeration that the late master of cinema Satyajit Ray elevated his movie posters to the level of art. In fact, he was the only film maker in the world to create his posters by hand.
Write in the famous world Sight and sound magazine, the journal’s editor, Isabel Stevens, commented, “Directors like Stanley Kubrick or Alfred Hitchcock may have worked closely with their film poster designers; other filmmakers may have a background in graphic design [Abbas Kiarostami] or started their career illustrating posters [Polish surrealist Walerian Borowczyk]; some even sometimes designed their own [Akira Kurosawa]. But no one has written such an imaginative collection of posters for his own films as Indian director Satyajit Ray.
“Father revolutionized the whole concept of movie posters, billboards and cinematic advertising. Incidentally, Father had been experimenting with typography and calligraphy for years. It was an inert passion. It surfaced in his posters Before that, this process was completely conventional in its approach. I was too small when Pather Panchali [The Song of the Little Road, 1955] was created and published. But I heard later that people lined up to watch Pather Panchalithe poster of. Father knew what would attract attention. And that’s exactly what happened. His posters had a huge impact. At that time, our approach was multi-pronged. We had billboards, posters, kiosk stickers, newspaper advertisements and cinema billboards among a few other advertising mediums,” says filmmaker Sandip Ray, son of Satyajit Ray.
“There were no computers back then. You couldn’t enlarge or reduce the size of the paper. So the father painstakingly executed the illustration on genuine 30 by 40 inch cartridge sheets, which were acquired from GC Laha. [the famous, century-old art materials store in Kolkata’s Esplanade area]. Everything was handcrafted by him. It was completely different from the way it’s done today. For rural areas, the posters were 20 inches by 30 inches,” says Sandip. “And we also had flying posters, which were put up on street walls, cinema billboards/kiosk stickers and lobby cards. Flight and movie posters were printed on very fragile paper and had very little longevity. Unfortunately, none of the flying posters survive today.
The posters were first restored by a top-notch restorer from the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, who then trained restorers from local institutions to complete the painstaking work. This was when the Society for the Preservation of Satyajit Ray Films and Archives undertook a huge project to restore the massive legacy of Satyajit Ray’s paperwork. By the way, Satyajit Ray used to make about three to four poster variations for each movie. At present, the Ray family archives house a stockpile of approximately 70-80 posters in its collection.
Packed in acid-free sheets, the original lithograph printed posters are now stored in Godrej storage covers. The original lithographic prints, which make up the majority of the posters in the archive, are in much better condition than the serigraphs. “Silk screens tend to become brittle over time,” says Sandip.
“In fact, although poster artwork crystallized in time, my dad used to design a movie logo from the scene where he was selecting a story for a movie. [now-famous red, cloth-bound] notebooks where he wrote his screenplays. Flipping through the pages of these scripts reveals different designs of the logos as they evolve. All the logos reflected uniqueness in their own way. Devi [The Goddess, 1960], Teen Kanya [Three Daughters, 1961], Charulata [The Lonely Wife, 1964], Aranyer Din Ratri [Days and Nights in the Forest, 1970], Paras Pathar [The Philosopher’s Stone, 1958]…. It is very difficult to choose one in particular. All displayed an extraordinary touch.
Each logo had individual characteristics. But there was a very interesting thread of unity running through them,” Sandip recalls.
In Ganashatru adapted from the play by Henrik Ibsen enemy of the people, for example, Satyajit Ray decided to use woodblock printing for the poster logo. Woodblock engravings are a very old art form, prevalent in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but which has disappeared nowadays. So Sandip and some of Satyajit Ray’s crew went hunting for wooden blocks in Chitpore [in north-central Kolkata]where woodcut artisans lived and worked for generations.
Thus, all copies of the first edition of Satyajit Ray’s films remain preserved in the archives of the Ray family and the Ray Society. However, all of the original artwork is sadly lost since it was sent by Ray to the printing presses of the time. “I remember a lot of the initial artwork for the posters. Among them was a very fine charcoal drawing by Soumitra Chatterjee and Waheeda Rahman for the poster of Abhijan [The Journey, 1962]. The first posters were lithographic works of art. Then came the technique of screen printing which made it possible to produce colors that my father found much brighter. He then produces a lithograph on one side of the sheet and a screen print on the other. Again, the colors of the screen printed posters did not last long and became brittle and spoiled over time. In overseas countries, collectors are very interested in storing original posters. They are also sold for huge prices at auction. Unfortunately, here in India, that degree of interest is virtually absent,” Sandip expresses.
As for the palisades, say 30 by 10 feet, Satyajit Ray proposed a work of 30 by 10 cm, mentioning the measurements she would take in a 30 by 10 foot palisade. These were given to painters hoarders, a now extinct breed, who created the final hoard under the perfectionist eye of Satyajit Ray, to prevent distortions from creeping into it. located in north and central Kolkata. I remember those visits very well. Now those hoarding painters are gone. All billboards are printed these days,” notes Sandip.
What remains of Satyajit Ray’s posters reflects the pure artistic level to which the master filmmaker raised this facet of his cinematic exercise. In fact, this face of his consummate creativity can be probed from Satyajit Ray’s book illustrations for Signet Press or later, for other publishers. “The same creative current ran through his publicity material for the film. For example, when approaching Nayakit’s [The Hero, 1966] version, the father designed the artwork for a huge billboard that only showed two dark glasses. Passers-by looked at him spontaneously. Moreover, one could and did interpret his posters in different ways. Many moviegoers, who watched his films, called us to discuss the posters,” informs Sandip.
When Sandip discovered that a handful of original prints had been lost, he went to the producers of Satyajit Ray to find out if he could locate some. “Fortunately, a number of producers had them in their offices, and helped by showing us these posters. However, we only have the original litho posters with us, in full size. The screen prints also do not stay with the producers. What I mean are the original large-scale serigraphs,” says Sandip. Satyajit Ray rarely offered a variation in poster illustration. This, he said, would confuse viewers. Of course, an interesting example of variation is Nayak. Two different artworks were made for this poster. The two original lithograph prints are in the Ray family archives.
Satyajit Ray has used various media to shape his works, according to Sandip. It was charcoal, mixed media and poster colors. After all, one cannot forget that Ray was an accomplished artist by training who studied art in the Kala Bhavan of Rabindranath Tagore. [in Shantiniketan’s Visva Bharati University] under the direction of legendary Bengal artist Nandalal Bose. This, combined with his start at the British advertising company DJ Keymer, where he became an art director, made him a complete artist, very talented in fine art and commercial art. Add to that his boundless genius and imagination, and you have film posters of an artistic height rarely seen before or after his time.
Ashoke Nag is a seasoned art and culture writer with a special interest in legendary filmmaker Satyajit Ray.
All images from Satyajit Ray Society.