Bringing back Pather Panchali

Kaushik Ganguly’s Apur Panchali is inspired from Satyajit Rays’s legendary film

Mumbai | Updated: April 24, 2014 11:17 am
 Parambrato Chatterjee as Apu and Parno as his wife Parambrato Chatterjee as Apu and Parno as his wife

By Shoma A. Chatterji

Apur Panchali is releasing on April 25. What is the film, directed by Kaushik Ganguly, all about? This fictionalised narrative created by Ganguly is as fascinating as the film that inspired it – Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali. Where is the little boy who played the role of Apu in Ray’s film? Does anyone know about him today? He is Subir Banerjee who now lives in a rented room in an attic and presently leads a completely anonymous existence working in a shop trading in electrical ware and services. He never faced the camera ever again and prefers not to draw attention to himself.
“When cameraman Sirsha Ray happened to see the adult Subir Banerjee at a party, he felt that this could be a powerful concept for a feature film. This set me thinking about great child actors who are lost to time. I wondered what must have happened to Jackie Coogan, the boy who pelted stones at glass windows in Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid (1921)? Or to Enzo Staiola from The Bicycle Thieves (1948)? No one knows what happened to Henry J.Thomas, the protagonist in E.T. (1982) or Macaulay Culkin of Home Alone. They remain milestones by virtue of the classics they featured in. But they have gone missing forever. Subir Banerjee, who was an international face as a child, falls in the same bracket of anonymity and erasure. I built a fictional story around Subir Banerjee, then and today, 59 years after Pather Panchali,” explains Kaushik Ganguly.
Parambrato Chatterjee plays the young Subir Banerjee and the older Banerjee has been portrayed by Ardhendu Banerjee, an extremely talented actor and familiar face on television serials and telefilms. Says Parambrato, “This film is special for me for many reasons. I worked with Kaushikda in Brake Fail years ago and then in Laptop. To make a comeback as the real actor who enacted Apu in Pather Panchali was challenging. Secondly, it has been a consummate experience for me. I feel the film will speak for itself. The most priceless experience is perhaps this will be my last film shot on 35 mm film because with the digitisation of cinema, 35mm has almost ended.”
The story weaves in fact with fiction. It is anchored to a story that shows Arko (Gaurav Chakrabarty), a student of the SRFTII, accompanying the old Subir Banerjee to Germany. Ganguly has used around ten minutes of original clips from Ray’s Pather Panchali. “This was the greatest challenge for technicians,” says cinematographer Sirsa Ray “because the contemporary cinematography had to blend completely into the original clips shot over four long years in the 1950s without any jerks. Imagine trying to match up to the classic work of Subrata Mitra.” Musician Indradeep Dasgupta says, “The original musical score for Pather Panchali was by Pandit Ravi Shankar. I had to create a score that would not jar with the mood of the film which is bound to be influenced and inspired by the mood of the first film,” he says.
“I loved my segment where I interact as the old Subir Banerjee with a young film-maker Arko,” says Ardhendu. “I am around the same age as Subir Banerjee must be today. I recall having gone to watch Pather Panchali as a boy at the Chhaya theatre. There were about 100 people in the theatre and even as a boy, I felt sad. But later, the film spurned out its own history. I am happy that Kaushik chose me to play the old Apu, a character that is a blend of fact and fiction. Sirsa Ray and Kaushikda have realised the impossible,” he adds.
Ganguly and Sirsa sought out and interacted with Subir Banerjee and made friends with him. But the actors were not allowed to meet him because while Ganguly wished to respect the privacy of Subir on the one hand, he did not want his actors to be inhibited by their personal interaction with Subir in real life on the other. “My film is totally a work of fiction and Subir and other lost child actors like him are only the trigger that set this film off,” Ganguly sums up.


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