There are few filmmakers as versatile as India’s own Satyajit Ray – the mastermind behind the beloved Apu Series, the world of the fan-favourite detective Feluda and the genre of Parallel Cinema in India. While we have already talked about one of his lesser-known – but equally fascinating – identities as a graphic designer in a previous article, it is interesting to note that across his career as a visual artist, Ray created original fonts for the English as well as the Bengali script.
Satyajit Ray was a graphic designer long before he was a filmmaker – a secret well kept by Ray himself. In his early years at D.J. Keymar – a British advertising agency now called Ogilivy & Mather – Ray worked as a ‘junior visualizer’. Later on, when he worked for the Signet Press under D.K Gupta, he was required to design covers for books as well as illustrate them. Here, Ray introduced a collection of Indian motifs and symbols into the default script at use – his first stab at typography. The fascination for calligraphy that Ray had been harbouring since his childhood found itself taking shape in Ray’s illustrations and logos – designs that were type-centric and unique to his style.
He designed logos for several organizations like Sahitya Academy and Rupa Publications. He also designed the original book cover for Jawaharlal Nehru’s Discovery Of India. All of these designs, you will find, use text in a very unique way. Ray was always sure to embed his style of typography into his art.
Ray even designed the posters for his films himself, many of which were a beautiful combination of Ray’s vision for the film and his out-of-the-box typography
With this life-long accord with typeface and fonts, it was only natural that Ray would go on to create fonts himself. Ray created four fonts for the English script – Ray Roman, Ray Bizarre, Daphnis and Holiday Script. Each one is vastly different from the last and yet similar in its ability to stand out and evoke a certain emotion.
Ray is also credited with adding certain fonts to the Bengali language – a likely outcome of studying Bengali calligraphy at Tagore’s Shantiniketan at a young age. Additionally, he also introduced a unique style of calligraphy of the Bengali text that is still used in numerous publications, commonly known as the Satyajit Ray style. In ways more than one, Ray helped the Bengali community discover their own language again – by the means of calligraphy.
Half a century after Ray’s fonts made their way to the typeface library, India has found itself on the forefront of the typography industry. Organizations like Mumbai-based Kulture Shop and EkType are working towards creating several new ‘Indic’ and regional fonts, pushing for a revolution in the industry. Satya Rajpurohit, founder of the Indian Type Floundry (ITF) has worked to create and license fonts for regional texts on Google. But does this have anything to do with Ray’s work? The answer is yes, very much so. Modern India’s passion for typography has Ray to thank – without his initial foray into this art, who knows how it would have been treated in India? This is where the importance of representation is evident: when an Indian leaves a mark on new territory, he is followed by the rest of the country.
Organizations such as Kulture Shop, EkType and ITF are helping further a mission that Ray had always envisioned: to create a cultural affinity between a community and a script. Kochi-based Teresa George points out that that when it comes to Kerala, script is enmeshed in the culture. She says, “Type can be an extension of who we are. For the younger generation, it’s a way of connecting to their roots,”.
Satyajit Ray – a man of films and fonts – with his stunning work in design and typography may well have paved the way for an important movement: embracing the scripts that gave birth to us and letting them bring us together.
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