Circles, Vines & Riddles

Shubho / October 26th, 2010

‘Now draw a tree,’ our Professor [Nandalal] Bose would say. ‘Draw a tree, but not in the western fashion. Not from top downwards. A tree gorws up, not down. The strokes must be from the base upwards…’ This was basic—this reverence for life, for organic growth.

—Satyajit Ray
Our Films, Their Films

Rarely do we get to compare two great designers in this fashion. Nandalal Bose designed the Nandan seal in the 1930s, for Nandan, Santiniketan. Satyajit Ray designed the Nandan logo about 50 odd years later, for Nandan, Kolkata.

Nandan seal by Nandalal Bose, 1930s

The similarities are remarkable, yet the differences are more striking. Both use a circular format, both arrange the letters vertically, both use vegetal motifs. But both negotiate the circular space, which is rarely used for vertical lettering, in their very distinct ways. Nandalal, for his tiny wooden seal, breaks the circle in 3 distinct latitudinal tiers, and then negotiates each tier according to its spatial demand. Satyajit’s spatial organization is more complex and at once latitudinal & longitudinal. While there is a conceptual tiering, it is concealed by a more conspicuous longitudinal division where the left hemisphere, occupied with the highly stylized & playful lettering, is mirrored on the right with a vine-like flourish.

Nandan logo by Satyajit Ray, 1985

The use of the rising vine appears to serve another function, apart from that of space, of being a rather playful pointer for something else: something rooted in Satyajit’s obsession with wordplay. The word nandan in Bengali is a palindrome, if we take the conjunct na-da as a singular unit, as it is done while lettering: it reads the same from backward or forward when written in Bengali letters. Being a vertically arranged text, the flow of the eye would usually be top-down, but the rising vine counters the ocular flow and makes the eye go bottom-up. This directional tension might appear accidental, but it draws our attention towards the fact that these letters being a palindrome it should read the same bottom-up as well. Knowing Satyajit Ray’s penchant for wordplay & riddles, I personally wouldn’t be surprised if this was part of the scheme which, even without this little discovery, would appear no less brilliant.

I would also like to think that while designing it, Nandalal’s much earlier design was somewhere at the back of Satyajit’s mind. Satyajit himself always mentioned Nandalal’s influence in his illustrations. And when he was in Santiniketan, studying under Nandalal in Kala-Bhavan (where the Nandan is), the logo was already in use. But in Satyajit’s case it functioned merely as a starting-point.

© Shubho Roy 2010


11 Responses to “Circles, Vines & Riddles” more

rama / 27 Oct 2010

Many thanks for this very interesting post.

rama / 27 Oct 2010

I was unable to comment on the post on Typography. I would like to bring to your attention, in case this is not known to you, the typographical experiments by the Bengali anti-establishment writer, Subimal Misra. An interview with him on that subject on this blog would be very nice!

Shubho / 27 Oct 2010

Thanks again, rama! An interview with Subimal Misra sounds great. However, I am not sure if this blog is (or if I am) ready for this as yet. My exposure to Subimal Misra's work is very limited. And if you take a charitable view of my literary benightedness, so far as I know - Subimal Misra's typographic experiments do not extend beyond letter arrangements (sort of visual treatments along the lines of experiments done by Apollinaire or Cummings...maybe) and they do not involve any designing/modification of the 'shape of the letters'. He probably also used various pre-modernist, modernist & post-modernist literary techniques such as carmen figuratum, erasure, 'concrete' experiments etc., more for literary effects than for their aesthetic value (which is this blog's primary concern). But this young design blog being still in the process of figuring out its boundaries, I don't rule out such a possibility...maybe some time in future!

But thanks again, for dropping in & suggesting! You are surely making us think! I also discovered your blogs, which are excellent, and I am particularly looking forward to learning more about Subimal Misra from your anti-stories blog, which I think is a really, really fine effort!!

Karambir / 02 Nov 2010

dear sir /madam
i am a typeface designer. I have design aprox 200 typeface in "indic languages"
i want to design some bengali typeface with Rarh.


Rarh Design Studio / 03 Nov 2010

We are honored, sir! You are a legend in this field & your work is very well known. We are humbled! We shall definitely contact you!

Bhaswati / 10 Nov 2010

What a wonderful study in contrast. You revealed to my lay eyes a whole new way to view Satyajit Ray's design. And I just love the quote by Nandalal Bose. How appropriate in the context.

Shubho / 10 Nov 2010

Thanks a lot, Bhaswati :)

Bijou Ganguly / 20 Jan 2011

Are you a Kala Bhavan graduate?

Shubho / 20 Jan 2011

Yes, I am. Thanks...

Sarang Kulkarni / 03 Jun 2011

Superb :)

Shubho / 03 Jun 2011

Thanks a lot, Sarang :)