Tuesday, November 01, 2011

The Art of Satyajit Ray... 1

Images courtesy: Satyajit Ray Film & Study Centre - University of California, Santa Cruz

Recently, Blaft Publications (in their Twitter avatar, @blaftness) put up some antique Bengali book covers. While their dated value was undeniable, they were not really the 'classic' variety or the best of cover design. In fact, any discussion of cover designs for Indian books cannot exclude Satyajit Ray. So, I managed to pick out some covers designed by Ray from this wonderful collection.
I had come across some of these covers (on real books!) when I was a child and while I marveled at some of them, I did not know they were designed by Ray.

Some of these covers are for stars of Bengali literature while some of them are for unknown books. But the attention to detail, the play with typography and the connect to the content are present in each of the designs. I wanted to present them without comment but for the non-Bengali reader, a bit of description becomes absolutely necessary.

Aam Aantir Bhnepu is a part (about a third) of Bibhutibhushan's classic, Pather Panchali, which (roughly) corresponded to the plot of Ray's film. It was while illustrating a children's version of this book that he discovered the film. The cover has all the simplicity of an idyllic village life that distinguished the film.

Abanindranath Tagore, unfortunately, has to be introduced as Rabindranath Tagore's nephew. He was not only one of the major Bengali artists but an amazing author for children.
The following cover is for his autobiography, Apon Katha, and has a simple - yet perfect - portrait of the author.

Along with the above, I would put the cover of Raj Kahini - which was a rendering of the historical tales of Rajputana and its valiant rulers. As kids, we all got to know of the honour & valour of the Ranas from this wonderful. (If you want to convince your kids Chhota Bheem is not the bravest bloke around, you can pick up the book here.)

Talking of bravehearts, I have written about Shankar of  Chnader Pahad earlier. This cover for the book brings out the dangers of African jungles and a single boy's adventures quite chillingly. (My father and aunt had this book, which I read as a kid and never realised it was Ray cover).

The following book cover is by a completely unknown (at least for me). But Suruchi Senguptar Sreshtho Golpo is a collection of short stories, with the words of the title presented like the flowers in an arrangement.  

Lila Majumdar - another stalwart of children's literature in Bengali - wrote this book called Tong Ling (which I haven't read) for which the cover is a wonderful play of the Bengali fonts as two letters have become the eyes of sort of scary character.

The next book on - as is evident - Charlie Chaplin was written by Mrinal Sen has a lovely sketch of the auteur-actor on the cover. And it highlights how one top director lent his skills for the project of another (despite having many professional differences).

Banalata Sen is the most enigmatic woman in Bengali literature and the cover of the book of poems (containing the poem about her) keeps her exactly that way.

Bede (pronounced bay-day with a soft d) has a wonderfully done play of the two Bengali syllables put together almost like mirror images. 

And finally, an eternal favourite - Khai Khai - by Sukumar Ray (who's also, unfortunately, only Satyajit's father for non-Bengalis). It is a simple re-creation of the title which, literally (but inadequately) means "Eat Eat"!

That's the first 10. Any other suggestions / links? 

As you can see, I have every ambitiously numbered this post as  '1'. Evidently, more such posts are being planned. Hopefully, one for magazine covers and logos and one more for covers and illustrations from his own books.


March Hare said...

Oooh. Tong Ling! This brought back SO MANY memories. You should definitely read it. It's one of the most exquisite creations in Bengali, and it took me a long time to realize that this apparently children's book is also a strangely melancholic work with an all-pervading sense of loneliness.

Ah. Where would I be without the Ray poribaar?

Sudeshna said...

As a complete aside, a few years back Puffin published a translation of Aam Antir Bhenpu (of course you knew that!), which then got re-translated into Korean. And, would you believe it, the Koreans put almost the exact same cover for their book as the Bangla original: Ray's design. Strange how ideas travel, isn't it.

Sue said...

Did you hear about the Rashbehari home of Sandesh being demolished? I believe work started this Monday.

I do not read Bangla (cannot) but that cover of Chander Pahar brought back very vivid memories of my childhood in Calcutta.

Diptakirti Chaudhuri said...

@Sue - you just broke my heart.

Anonymous said...

Amazing! The one of Bonolota Sen is so utterly close to the picture I had in mind. He could have made his name just as a painter, if nothing else was going on.

Thanks for sharing.

~ Krishanu

Hampton Bay said...

I do not read Bangla (cannot) but that cover of Chander Pahar brought back very vivid memories of my childhood in Calcutta.

Anonymous said...

how about aalor fulki