Utpal Borpujari

February 7, 2014

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


(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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