Bishop Lefroy Road in Kolkata is famous by association – one of its residents was the late film-maker Satyajit Ray. Before he moved there in 1970, he lived on Lake Avenue from 1948 to 1959 and then in an adjacent lane, Lake Temple Road. In fact, Ray made some of his most celebrated films – Pather Panchali, Charulata, Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne and Sonar Kella – while living in these neighbourhoods.
Mudar Patherya, a resident of Sarat Chatterjee Avenue near Lake Avenue, knows this history well, and now thanks to him, the neighbourhood can visualise the part these addresses played in Ray’s life. Patherya, who runs a content and design house, has been using the electrical boxes installed by the Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation as canvases for art educating the residents of Lake Temple Road and adjoining neighbourhoods about their cultural heritage.
One electrical box sports a pair of opera glasses painted on a maroon background along with the words “Satyajit Ray lived at 3, Lake Temple Road when he made this film”. This iconic image is from Ray’s Charulata, a film based on a Rabindranath Tagore novel that tells the story of a married woman living a lonely life. Another box shows an image of filmmaker Debaki Bose, who lived on SN Roy Road, to highlight his contribution to playback singing in Indian cinema.
Pathreya got the idea when he saw an electrical box in his neighbourhood that had been used by someone to make cartoon graffiti. “While it was an improvement from the usual barrage of half torn and fraying posters, it was still a very childish visual,” said Pathreya. “I thought, let’s take the idea to another level and bring in the aspect of neighbourhood pride in this. If everybody started talking about their neighbourhoods and its heritage, Kolkata would be so much better for it.”
Over the next few weeks, Pathreya immersed himself in research about the neighbourhood’s history. “Talking to the older residents and scouring the internet unearthed many iconic personalities who had lived on Sarat Chatterjee Avenue, Lake Avenue and SN Road. The project for me was not even about Ray or Bose living there, but the entire aura of this neighbourhood, highlighting the flavours, noises and conversations associated with these places.”
Along with a designer and a painter, Pathreya has managed to make 11 murals. Apart from Ray, these feature artists like playback singer Hemanta Mukherjee and actor Soumitra Chatterjee.
“We have also been engaged in ridding the neighbourhood of all kinds of visual pollution,” said Pathreya. “Wherever we see posters and stuff, we rip it out, but we can’t weed these out really. They come and stick these in the middle of the night. With this initiative at least they will think twice about putting a poster.”
Earlier this year, other parts of Kolkata too were covered in artworks as part of a beautification initiative called Kolkata Street Art Festival. Around 15 artists from the city covered the walls in prominent areas like New Alipur, Ballygunge Tram Depot and Shyambazar.