“You may leave Cinema and move on but sometimes Cinema doesn’t leave you.” – Kaushik Ganguly
Aloof from the crowd in the deep, narrow lanes of South Kolkata resides a forgotten old man, a lost jewel- Subir Banerjee. We all know Apu by his name, a child that has won millions of hearts with his innocent face and glowing eyes but how many of us know Subir Banerjee, a grumpy man trying to pull together the remains of his life.
Ray, Apu and Ganguly
Battling with the difficulties for four years, in 1955 Satyajit Ray made his directorial debut through ‘Pather Panchali’, an epic film that took Indian Cinema to newer heights of success. It backed the National Award for Best Feature Film and the Cannes Film Festival for Best Human Document. Following this, Ray made a lot of other films based on social issues like unemployment, gender discrimination, modernization, corruption, etc. Not only that, but Ray has also made sci-fi, comedy films especially for children, which were, of course, enjoyed by the elders as well, and some of his Feluda books were adapted into films. In the words of Shyam Benegal –
“The influence of Satyajit Ray on the many cinemas of India has been immense but rarely acknowledged. There are many filmmaking areas where his influence has been felt to a greater or lesser degree, whether in acting styles, photography, production design, the use of sound, and even in the creation of music scores that were rarely thematic before this time.”
Nearly six decades later, Kaushik Ganguli came with an answer to the question that might have occurred once to every Pather-Panchali-lover, “What happened to the little boy who played Apu”, since he never appeared in any other film. Released in 2014, Kaushik Ganguli’s Apur Panchali is a tale of Apu beyond the bioscope.
As the thunderous applause around Pather Panchali faded away, the child who played Apu’s role – Subir Banerjee – also saw his identity fading away. Now he in his early sixties is leading his bitter life as a recluse. He has cut all strings that connect him to the world of cinema and has curled up in his apartment as if he never existed. He spent all his life in desolation.
One day, his deathlike tranquil life was stirred when Arko, a student from Satyajit Ray’s Film and Television Institute, approached his doorstep. Along with him, he brings Banerjee’s recognition back to him once again in the form of a letter- an invitation from Germany to accept the award for Best Child Actor in the history of cinema.
It takes a lot of persuasion on Arko’s part to thaw the cold demeanour of Banerjee. Alongside, Subir narrates his life incidents to Arko which resemble much with the life of Apu as shown in Apu Trilogy- unemployed young man, his dying father, pushed into a marriage, gradually building a relationship with his wife, wife’s sudden death whirling his life topsy-turvy and him trying to grab all that he can, eventually ending up reuniting with his son and both of them start life at a fresh note.
Parambrato Chatterjee plays brilliantly as young Subir Banerjee who is vexed, defeated and discouraged repeatedly. The older role is taken by Ardhendu Banerjee as a man who has built walls around himself and is like a rock on the outside but on the inside is still a curious, innocent soul craving for acceptance. Parno Mitra is Subir’s wife Ashima- a young, very charming, typical Bengali housewife. Gaurav Chakraborty is Arko- a diligent, young boy who finds himself honoured to accomplish the task he is bestowed upon.
Similarities and Contrasts
With many similarities in Apu’s and Subir’s life, there are some contrasts as well. The doors that Apu left open are closed by Subir and the doors that Apu closed are reopened by Subir. The iconic train scene in Pather Panchali is a metaphorical threshold between the traditional and modern world that Apu crosses, marking his entry into the modern world. Here, we see Subir has closed all doors between himself and the world – squinting at the camera flash, erupts at the idea of a press conference and is quite surprised to know that the photos nowadays are done digitally. In Apur Sansar, the grown-up Apu abandons his son and travels to different corners of India while here Subir takes the responsibility of Arko by not denying him as his son and heads to Germany.
The film draws parallel lines between the real and the reel life of Apu, cinematographed parallelly in coloured and black and white frames. The past life of Subir, that he narrates, is in grayscale, juxtaposed with archival clips from Aparajito and Apur Sansar. Shirsha Ray fuses his cinematography with that of Subrata Mitra just as Indradeep Dasgupta’s music follows the notes of Ravi Shankar’s soundtrack; both leaving no gaps ajar. Bodhaditya Banerjee’s clips sync well with Dulal Dutta’s, without disturbing the flow of the story.
The plot switches between the past and current life of Subir Banerjee with such efficiency that it might have a reverse effect on the audience, leaving them in perplexity as to what is what. However, that isn’t much trouble for a viewer who pays little attention to the narration.
Parambrato as junior Subir is cranky and defenceless to see his world-shattering, bit by bit. On the other hand, the same man in his older self has grown quieter perhaps because he has nothing to lose anymore. A man who was celebrated globally for his role in a film is now shooed away from a shooting location, is compared with his brother to remind him of his incapability and is doing a meagre job he refrains from doing.
Apu and Subir have parted their ways after Pather Panchali but has Apu ever left Subir, apparently no. Apu was a cherished character as Subir narrates his days of shooting. But now the glory of Apu has been sifted and what stays in the sieve is the remains for Subir. He is upset with Apu because Apu never left him, like a shadow he followed him.
“Amaye baad toh dilen, kintu ami baad galam koi!”
There are films that make you happy and there are films that make you sad in the end. There are films that end when all come together and there are films that end with separations. Then there are films that do all; talk about reconciliation and departure, talk all about the past, chuckle and embrace the future. They make you happy with tears ebbing in your eyes and leave you with a lump in your throat. Apur Panchali is that afterthought.