So Jahan Singh Bakshi gets to design his first film poster. And that too for a well know filmmaker – Jahnu Barua. His film Baandhon is getting a multi-city release this friday. Do watch the film if you can. And over to Jahan on “making of the poster”. Or should we say when Jahan met Jahnu🙂 Anyway, go ahead and read this very interesting post.
Jahnu Barua’s Baandhon (Waves of Silence) will be releasing in select theaters across the nation this week, and thanks to Shiladitya Bora I had the great opportunity to design a poster for the film. I haven’t seen any of Jahnu Da’s work apart from his only (released) feature in Hindi- Maine Gandhi Ko Nahi Maara- which is something I hope to change soon. But I happened to meet the soft-spoken filmmaker once before during college in Calcutta and then recently in Bombay before getting to work on the poster and it was a pleasure on both occasions- even though he speaks so gently that one often has to strain to even hear what he is saying! Moreover, I spent much of my growing years in Assam and it is an honour to have an Assamese film from one of the most esteemed filmmakers from the region as my feature poster debut, especially since this is a first-of-its-kind Pan-India release for an Assamese film.
Anyway, back to the poster. Baandhon is a disarmingly sweet film which beautifully shows the relationship between an old couple superbly played by Bishnu Kharghoria and Bina Patangia. The first half of the film plays out like a genteel comedy, with the old man and woman constantly bickering and then making up. It reminded me of so many old couples including my grandparents- they can’t live with or without each other. The second half of the film, where their grandson goes missing during the 26/11 attacks in Bombay is a comment on how it is the common man who bears the impact of the large scale politics and terror.
For me, one dialogue from the film pretty much summed it all up:
“We are common people. The world is too big for us. We have no choice but to trust in it.”
Two simple people who live in their own small world oblivious to the harshness and the cruelty that lies outside.
Since the film’s look is pretty simple and basic, I wanted to reinterpret the film a little differently while maintaining this essence. I saw the film in two halves. When I am making a poster the first thing I look out for is an image from the film that stays with me. In the first half I would say this was the image that defined the film for me.
The first thought was to use this image with the two on the rickshaw with the two holding hands in between. I loved the charming and hilarious first half of the film- I have to admit that I wished that the terror angle never came into the picture; I could watch these two quarrel endlessly!) However, I realized that the comment on terror and violence is an important part of the film and the Jahnu Da’s intent behind making it.
After watching the second half, I found what is easily one of the most haunting and defining visuals from the film:
So this was it. The old couple on a bench with the alien city of Bombay in the backdrop which could perhaps have a hint of violence or destruction. I deliberated on how I would depict Bombay in the backdrop and suggest violence without it becoming loud or overwhelming. Ultimately I zeroed in on Victoria Terminus (you’ll see why when you watch the film).
The shot in question is from behind the bench, and Deepshikha Mondal (who did the title design and was to initially do the artwork) asked why can’t we use the exact shot from the film as seen above. It is a powerful visual, no doubt. But I insisted on sticking to a front-on view. Movie Posters are after all, commercial art and it always helps to have a face on a poster, especially when a lot of the audience know nothing about the film or its characters, and especially since we were going to have only one poster, it’s essential to make that connect. And it needs to stand out.
Besides, I have a soft spot for what I like to call the ‘dollhouse’ aesthetic, with a flat symmetrical design- reminiscent as many have pointed out- of Wes Anderson films. I wouldn’t say it is inspired by him- in fact my love for this kind of frame is what drew me to Wes Anderson’s films in the first place- but yeah, they do serve as a great reference point. Also I was keen to have a caricature style for the character design- to lend the poster freshness as well as capture the innocence and droll humour of the film.
Clients, as any designer will tell you, can be a nightmare to work with. At the very least, you need to show them exactly what you have in mind for the final design, or they can’t visualize it. (And I can tell you that even after they are executed completely, the best designs often lie unused and unseen.) And I have to really hand it to Shiladitya for not even asking a single question regarding what the poster would really look like. This is the sketch I first sent him, to give him a basic idea- and it really is BASIC in the truest sense.
Anyway, I don’t know whether he really got the idea or just trusted me highly, but I really have to thank him for giving me a go ahead on the basis of this. It’s a big risk to take on someone who has done almost no independent posters before. Now the next step was to make the title logo and flesh out the character design and drawing style.
For the title design, Deepshikha suggested we create/use a font that is a fusion of the Roman and Assamese script and I was totally on board with the idea. Shiladitya didn’t like the initial title design (seen in the second image from top)- and I agreed that readablility could be an issue. However I was a bit stubborn here and managed to convince him that with bolder glyphs and minus some lines and curves it would be perfectly readable. I wanted this particularly because I wanted an Assamese touch to the poster, in the title, even if not in the image.
We had already decided on a clean, caricature style for the characters- droll, but still serious. I wanted the feeling of two simpletons sitting on a bench a la Forrest Gump, looking straight ahead at the audience. Deepshikha made the first sketch- which didn’t quite turn out as I imagined it. We tried to rework the design as Deepshikha had seen the film and I thought she could give a nice, North-East Indian aesthetic to it. Unfortunately, she was piled with other work and we were way past deadline and running out of time.
That’s when Mrinal Roy came into the picture. I love Mrinal’s illustration work and I was working with him on another poster that should be out soon. I couldn’t give him a copy of Baandhon, which is why I didn’t approach him for this poster. However, now being short on time I got in touch with him and he agreed to do it at incredibly short notice. Mrinal is one of those guys who- unlike me- doesn’t speak a lot- so I never really know whether he’s getting my vision. Anyway, I sent him as many stills and promos off the net that I could find online along with references.
When I saw the first line-drawing, I breathed a HUGE sigh of relief. He had got it down pat and pretty much nailed it perfectly.. I remember telling him that he could place the ‘kalash’ anywhere he wanted- in the center or the side (even though I preferred it in the center). He sent me this, saying: ‘I put the kalash in the center because it belongs to both of them.’ That made me smile.
The man’s face looked a little too angry, and the woman was a little too roly-poly and North-Indian. So the man’s eyes were to be made softer and sadder and the lady was to be put on a bit of a diet. That was fixed. Then came the background. I hadn’t asked Mrinal to put a lot of detail in the background- there was very little time and it wasn’t necessary. However, he absolutely floored me with the detailing he put into the Victoria Terminus sketch and the poster is all the better for it. My idea was to have a busy background and a clean foreground with gentle waves ending the picture. I think he got that right. The last thing to do was to add the smoke rising from the building which was my little contribution to the artwork.
There are a few things I would have liked to change, if I had more time. Mainly the colours and the textures. Maybe a little more detail to say, the lady’s saree, etc. But I’m largely satisfied with the result and this was a great learning experience. Most of the credit for this however goes to Mrinal. Like I said before (the night I was sent the artwork):
A thank you to a few more people:
Malvika Asher who suggested the font for the poster- Bariol was just the kind of clean, slightly rounded typeface I was looking for (it’s been used in the trailer too). Sidharth who painstakingly put it all together on Illustrator. Shiladitya and Jahnu Da for the opportunity. for And to everyone who has had kind and encouraging words to say about the poster .
Do watch the film, it releases in cinemas this Friday.
PS: Confession. I purposely didn’t send Shiladitya the line drawing and the in-progress pictures from the poster. Wanted him to see it in entirety before making any suggestions or changes. Thankfully, there were none.🙂