Chandragupta, Bansi

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Art Director. Nationality: Indian. Born: Sialkot (now in Pakistan), 1924. Education: Attended schools in Kashmir; studied painting in Calcutta. Career: 1950—assistant art director on Jean Renoir's The River; 1955—first film as art director, Pather Panchali, first of many films by Satyajit Ray; directed several documentaries; President, Art Directors Association, Bombay. Died: In New York, 27 June 1981.

Films as Art Director:


Pather Panchali (Father Panchali) (Ray)


Aparajito (The Unvanquished) (Ray)


Parash Pathar (Ray); Seema


Jalsaghar (The Music Room) (Ray)


Apur Sansar (The World of Apu) (Ray)


Devi (The Goddess) (Ray)


Rabindranath Tagore (Ray—doc); Teen Kanya (Two Daughters) (Ray)


Abhijan (Expedition) (Ray)


Mahanagar (The Big City) (Ray)


Charulata (The Lonely Wife) (Ray)


Kapurush-o-Mahapurush (The Coward and the Saint) (Ray)


Nayak (The Hero) (Ray)


Aranyer Din Ratri (Days and Nights in the Forest) (Ray)


Maya Darpan (Shahani)


27 Down (Kaul)


Shatranj Ke Khilari (The Chess Player) (Ray)


36 Chowringhee Lane (A. Sen)


Aarohan (Ascending Scale) (Benegal)

Films as Director:


Glimpses of West Bengal (doc)


Ganga Sagar (doc)


Happening in Calcutta (doc)


By CHANDRAGUPTA: articles—

Montage, July 1966.

Madhuri, 16 November 1978.

In The New Generation, 1960–1980, edited by Uma de Cunha, New Delhi, 1981.

Obituary in Variety, 1 July 1981.

* * *

Bansi Chandragupta, by far India's best production designer, aspired to be a painter and went to Calcutta to study painting at the insistence of Subho Tagore, but friendship with Satyajit Ray in the late 1940s attracted him to the career of art director, then an unheard-of concept in Bengali or Indian cinema. Ardent and long viewing of Western films with Ray, mostly at the Calcutta Film Society (founded by Ray and his friend Chidananda Dasgupta, later a noted film critic), nurtured his imagination for realistic production sets, then lacking in most studio-oriented Indian films.

Opportunity came with Renoir's The River on the recommendation of Ray and Harisadhan Dasgupta. But the most satisfying beginning was made with designing outdoor sets for Ray's Pather Panchali, e.g., the hut in which Apu spends his childhood and other locales of the Bengali village. His most accomplished work that marked him out in later life were studio sets for Ray's Charulata, Nayak, and Shatranj Ke Khilari. He designed the bogey of the highspeed train for the shooting of Nayak so flawlessly that it was mistaken by most viewers as a real railway compartment. He recreated the mid-nineteenth century milieu of the British general Outram and the pre-Mutiny Muslim habitats of Lucknow in Shatranj. His ambition to switch over to directing was cut short by his untimely death, though he made three documentaries for the West Bengal Government.

Chandragupta's ideas on art direction and production design were very unconventional. Although a pioneer and ardent advocate of location shooting, he told an interviewer later in life that "outdoor shooting cannot compare with the excellence of indoor setting where factual details can be more easily established." It is surprising to hear from him that "85 per cent of Ray's films are shot indoors." For his most acclaimed work, in Shatranj, he was helped by Ray who studied pre-Mutiny Lucknow thoroughly, and by the paintings of Gaziuddin Hyder, a Nawab of Audh, preserved in the Victoria Memorial, Calcutta. The throne of Wazed Ali, for example, was copied from one such painting. Bansi was critical of set design in the commercial Hindi films of Bombay which were crudely expensive, gaudy, unrealistic, and generally outside the purview of directors. "Spending on sets is not infractuous but it is also challenging to design sets within a limited budget." For good set designing, there should be close collaboration between the director, the scriptwriter, and the designer. A set should not be a replica of what already exists, but built with a view to its photogenic appeal. "Anything that is not effective through the lens, is a waste of good money and effort," he told an interviewer in 1966.

—Bibekananda Ray