Utpal Borpujari

February 7, 2014

The most ordinary life of Apu gets an extraordinary on-screen telling

EasternChronicleIFFI291213

(Published in Eastern Chronicle, 29-12-2013)

By Utpal Borpujari

Panaji (Goa): Have you ever wondered what those cute, innocent child actors who regale viewers with their histrionics vanish when they grow up? Do you know where has “Anjali” of Mani Rathnam’s eponymous film gone? Or where is the impish Swami of the iconic TV serial “Malgudi Days” these days? Or for that matter, what happened to those most famous child actors from classics like “The Kid”, “The Sound of Music”, “E.T.” or “The Bicycle Thieves” ?

The bitter truth is that most of them grow up to be ordinary citizens whose famous past is not known even to their neighbours.

Bengali filmmaker Kaushik Ganguly, who has made several interesting films like “Aarekti Premer Golpo” (Just Another Love Story), “Shobdo” and “Laptop” in recent years, has chosen to delve into the life of the actor who played what was perhaps the most iconic of them all – Satyajit Ray’s Apu of the Apu Trilogy.

The result – “Apur Panchali” – is one of the two Indian entries in the main competition of the 44th International Film Festival of India, and rightly so. It is an emotionally powerful life story of Subir Banerjee, who played the little Apu in “Pather Panchali” and who never faced the camera again ever in life.

Ganguly has come up with an incredibly-moving script that seamlessly interweaves the story of the screen Apu and the actor who played Apu, giving an interesting viewpoint that the narrative of the Apu Trilogy had an uncanny resemblance to the life of Subir Banerjee, who grew up to be one of those ordinary millions in Calcutta (now Kolkata).

The film starts with a young student of the Satyjit Ray Film & Television Institute (played by Gaurav Chakraborty) setting out in search of Banerjee with a letter from Germany that says the “Apu” is being invited for a special felicitation in that country for playing the most iconic child role in the history of world cinema.
He meets a very reticent Banjerjee (played with moving grace by Ardhendu Banerjee) who, as we find out later in the film, has struggled unsuccessfully throughout his life to come out of the shadow of Apu. The film then goes back and forth to show how Subir Banerjee life took an ordinary course even as the only film he acted in went on to become one of the most celebrated films worldwide. Parambrata Chattopadhyay, who plays the younger Banerjee who faced several upheavals in his personal life, lends further grace to the character with his sensitive acting.

The strength of Ganguly’s film lies in the fact that it has just the right amount of drama which keeps the story at a very realistic level, something that eschews both overt melodrama and dry documentation of a life which it could easily have been.
And the way his script has weaved the scenes of Pather Panchali with the life story of Subir Banerjee makes it an even more sensitive tale, with Bodhaditya Banerjee’s editing helping the film seamlessly connect Banerjee past and present lives with the story of the Apu Trilogy.

(www.easternchronicle.net: go to archives and select 29-12-2013 edition)

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Polish master Wajda’s moving biopic of Walesa mesmerizes IFFI

EasternChronicleIFFI291213

(Published in Eastern Chronicle, 29-12-2013)

By Utpal Borpujari

Panaji (Goa): He was stubborn, brash, street smart and was not afraid of taking on the authorities. He was a family man, but his trade union activities took a major toll on his family life. His trade union activities not only changed the politics in his home country but led the foundations of the breaking of the Berlin Wall and an end to Communist regimes in most of Europe. The man is Lech Walesa, the man with a Walrus moustache, the man who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his leadership of the Solidarity movement in Poland.

Polish master filmmaker Andrzej Wajda, at 87 , has come up with a remarkable film on this remarkable man’s life, which clearly is a tribute to the never-say-die activist politician. Having been showcased earlier in Venice and Toronto film festivals, Wajda’s “Walesa: Man of Hope” moved viewers to the core at the 44th International Film Festival of India (IFFI) here on Thursday night, with its narration full of political tension, dramatic sequences and some deft touches that brought out Walesa the man and the politician deftly.

Structured almost like a docu-fiction, the film, with its recreation of the famous labour unrests and strikes in Poland that catapulted Walesa to the status of a living legend, kept the audiences captivated throughout its 127-minute duration.
Wajda, the master director that he is, does not go for a straight biographical narrative, but interweaves episodes from Walesa’s political life with his personal life in the backdrop of the often snow-laden landscape of Poland. Aiding Wajda in his endeavour is Robert Wieckiewicz, who not only looks remarkably like Walesa himself, but also brings the character alive with a nuanced performance
Agnieszka Grochowska, as Walesa’s wife Danuta, gives a powerful complement to Wieckiewicz’s portrayal through a performance that is full of dignity and courage.

In fact, the most powerful scene in the film perhaps is the one in which Danuta returns from Norway after accepting the Nobel Prize on behalf of her husband (who did not go fearing he would not be allowed back into the country by the Communist regime if he left Poland) and is strip-searched by the security forces in a clear intimidatory tactic.

The strength of the film comes from the fact that Wajda does not make it a boring, straight narrative and brings out both the strengths and weaknesses of Walesa the leader and the Walesa the human being, even while he has paid a clear tribute to the man.

Shot majorly on location in Gdańsk, where Walesa cut his political teeth as a trade union leader in the shipyard, the film starts in the 1970s when Walesa first participated in the protests, and then shifts to 1980s when he became the undisputed leader of the workers by taking on the authorities in an uncompromising way.
Wajda’s “Walesa: Man of Hope” is a remarkable film in every way – be it cinematically, dramatically and historically. And it never falters in capturing the life of a man who was one of the most-influential global leaders of the 20th century.

(www.easternchronicle.net: go to archives and select 29-12-2013 edition)

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