Meet the man behind the iconic Doordarshan logo that will soon become history
If you have grown up in the ’70s, you will remember this family moment on a Sunday evening: your father wrestling with the television antenna on the terrace asking one question in a loop -- “Aya? Aya? Aya?” (Has it come? Has it come? Has it come?) – while you were coordinating with your mother positioned before the TV set, and shouting back from the balcony – ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’. When the TV would start working and the screen would light up with the image of an eye spiralling out and then stabilising into a symbol, did you ever wonder who made that image?
That man is Devashis Bhattacharyya, a former National Institute of Design (NID) student. The reason we are talking of him today is that he may soon be a quiz question; the DD symbol he made will be retired to connect to a new, younger audience.
In the ’70s, eight graphic design students of India’s first design school, the NID, were at work on a government project in Ahmedabad. A symbol for the country’s public broadcaster, the Doordarshan (DD), had to be made for its break-out era; DD, till then, had been a sub-set of the All India Radio (AIR). Bhattacharyya did his scribble, beginning with the human eye, as part of that classroom exercise. He drew two curves around it, depicting, as he says, “the yin and the yang”, and submitted his work to his teacher Vikas Satwalekar. Of the 14 designs submitted – by eight students and six faculty members – Prime Minister Indira Gandhi picked his.
NID- the ideas lab
Once selected, the work began. With the big boys of Indian design such as Benoy Sarkar and Satwalekar (Sarkar made the logo of Indian Airlines and Satwalekar designed the Operation Flood logo), as faculty or alumnus, no one gave Bhattacharyya the Student-of-the-Month feeling. “I was just satisfied with matching expectations,” says Bhattacharyya self-deprecatingly. In the ’70s, being in NID meant being among pioneers, people who were creating a visual language – their designs still stand today – and who were working with the government on brand identities for markets that were just about to emerge two decades into Independence.
The DD signature tune had already been composed by Pandit Ravi Shankar, a key figure in the AIR orchestra, with Ustad Ali Ahmed Hussain Khan, and the whole package – the symbol and the tune – appeared for the first time on television screens on April 1,1976. As the search for a new symbol begins, Bhattacharyya, now in his sixties and working as a consultant on brand identities, says he would rather not dwell on how he “feels”. He is just happy to have made the symbol for a communication system that “shook the country.”
The symbol was, in fact, upgraded through the late ’80s and ’90s when, under Vikas and Suranjana Satwalekar, and animation head Nina Sabnani, NID students worked on the new channels such as DD News, DD Sports and region-specific ones. For example, for DD Sports, the body movement of the figure of an athlete throwing the discus dissolves into the actual symbol.
The story of the eye
RL Mistry, another NID student, however, did the animation for the original symbol. Mistry says he worked on Bhattacharyya’s sketches. He made copies of them and then shot them under a camera, rotating them till it reached the final form, or what is known in popular parlance, as ‘the DD eye’. There is, however, a difference in interpretation about the sign and its semiotics among the design fraternity. Or, this could simply be about the difficulty of retrieving the over four-decade-old memories.
“I don’t think it was meant to be an eye, it just happens to look like one,” says Satwalekar. “The eye alone doesn’t make sense. You don’t just see, you also hear television…the interlocking of the curves and the space between them, it’s about getting information and transmitting it -- that’s what a news channel does, isn’t it?”
This isn’t nitpicking. The aim of design has always been about clarity and communication and it has to get cultural nuances right. The challenge in designing the DD symbol lay in the fact that it had to communicate the experience of a culture before there was one. Until 1975, the people of only seven Indian cities had sat before a television. It was a predominantly radio-listening public.
“You can’t make a Brogue and say it’s for villagers,” says Bhattacharyya. “A symbol means different things in different cultures and India has a wide variety of cultures. So the DD symbol had to be such that, reduced to its simplest elements, it would not have idiosyncrasies of meaning. An eye means the same thing to the south as to the north-east. The symbol also had to prepare the audience for an experience before it had arrived.”
And it certainly got the eyeballs. Veteran DD producer Sharad Dutt, who began his career as an AIR man before moving to DD, says it was DD, in fact, that had the better symbol. “The AIR logo is a static one; DD’s was dynamic”. The DD signature tune is believed to have been a command performance by Pandit Ravi Shankar on Mrs Gandhi’s brief that it be similar to the tune of Saare Jahaan Se Accha. But perhaps the sitar maestro being an AIR man let his old loyalties show. “It seems closer to the AIR tune. Saare Jahaan Se Accha was peppy, this was weepy,” adds Dutta.
Should the signature tune go and the symbol remain? Or should both be replaced? Symbols are connected to cultural memories. The designer who will make the new symbol has big shoes to fill.