Apur Panchali (Bengali) / Good but could have been better

Almost every Indian film buff is familiar with Satyajit Ray’s first film Pather Panchali at least by name

Mumbai | Updated: May 7, 2014 5:10 pm
Parambroto Chatterjee and Parno Mitra  in Apur Panchali Parambroto Chatterjee and Parno Mitra
in Apur Panchali

Story and Direction: Kaushik Ganguly

Music : Indraadip Dasgupta

Cast: Ardhendu Banerjee, Parambrato Chatterjee, Gaurav Chakrabarty, Parno Mitra, Koushik Ganguly and others

Almost every Indian film buff is familiar with Satyajit Ray’s first film Pather Panchali at least by name. And no one has the slightest clue about what happened to the little boy who enacted the role of Apu in the film as he was neither seen nor heard of again.
Director Kaushik Ganguly sought out Subir Banerjee, now probably in his early sixties and wove a fictitious story around what happened to him after the deafening applause around Pather Panchali had died. Banerjee, who never acted in a film ever again, lives with the cynicism of a man who is lost in public memory but remains alive as that little boy in one of the best classics in world cinema.
Arko (Gaurav Chakrabarty), a student of direction at SRFTI Kolkata, approaches the very reclusive Subir Banerjee (Ardhendu Banerjee) to persuade him to accept an invitation to Germany to accept an award for Best Child Actor in the history of cinema. It takes time for Arko to thaw out the older man. Along the way, Subir begins to narrate the story of his life to Arko. The stories of Subir as a young man are constantly intercut with archival footage from Pather Panchali, Aparajito and Apur Sansar and we discover as do Subir and Arko, that there are uncanny similarities in the life of Apu in the film and the life of Subir, the real child who portrayed the character.
The present is cinematographed in colour while the past and the archival footage are in black-and-white. Cinematographer Sirsha Ray blends his work with the cinematography of Subrata Mitra so fluidly that nothing jars and nothing hits you in the eye. The same goes for Bodhaditya’s editing challenged by the editing in the original classic. The coincidences between Subir’s life and little Apu’s life as they grow up are one too many to take away some of the logic from the narrative. But for a film like this, who cares about logic?
Parambrato Chatterjee, who plays the younger Apu, seems out of his comfort zone at moments but his confusion is palpable as he helplessly watches his life spin completely out of control. Parno Mitra plays his wife with the charm and naïveté the character demands. Ganguly knows how to extract performances from his actors so that they match the low key treatment of his film and his casting is just right. Gaurav as Arko is brilliant and Ardhendu Banerjee matches him dialogue for dialogue. The art direction is brilliant and Indraadip Dasgupta’s background score keeps to the rhythms and the moods of Pandit Ravi Shankar’s theme music for Pather Panchali. The Silver Peacock is well-deserved but one has strong reservations about too many archival clippings used in the narrative. Aparajito and Apur Sansar never featured in Subir Banejee’s life so one is mystified about why these clippings were needed at all. The overload of clippings from The Ray Trilogy in retrospect, sometimes make on feel that they function like a moral clutch for the film-maker and scriptwriter to fall back on.

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