When I saw Apur Panchali’s trailer I realised that so many child actors are out there who have worked in some well known films but sadly who aren’t recognised after their first film. I have seen the young Mukul from Sonar Kella grow ups into a talented actor, but there are very many who have just retreated into oblivion.
Even after watching Pather Panchali numerous times, it never occurred to me that Apu could have grown. It’s like the childish image of Apu has left a mark so deep in our hearts that it’s impossible to cast that away. Director Kaushik Ganguly explores that story of young Apu and tells the story of Subir Banerjee – a not-so-common-common-man.
Though Kaushik does not call his film a biopic, he had his task cut out while choosing the subject of Apur Panchali. Subir’s life follows an arc that is the opposite of the lives of great men, who begin like you and me and end up famous later in life. He started out a star and was whittled down to a common man. There are no great achievements, only painful memories. Kaushik tells his tale gently and with empathy, drawing the audience in with three tracks that are woven together like gossamer threads in an intricate pattern.
The story starts with Arko (Gaurav Chakraborty) who is a film studies student at Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute (SRFTI) comes knocking to the house of a middle-aged man. This middle-aged man (Ardhendu Banerjee) doesn’t like strangers, stays alone and hates being identified as the child actor, Apu. As Arko breaks through his initial resistance, Subir opens up about his life and the second track plays out in flashback, with Parambrata Chatterjee as the young Subir. There are uncanny resemblances between Apu’s life and Subir’s — economic hardships, marriage, death of their fathers and wives — and Kaushik reinforces this on screen with footage from Pather Panchali juxtaposed against scenes from his own film.
Midway through the film we are introduced to Subir’s young wife Asima (Parno Mitra). The serenity of the chemistry between Parno and Param is mesmerising. Parno’s heart-wrenching performance in the hospital scene would move even a rock to tears. Had Satyajit Ray been alive, maybe he could have cast the two as lead in Apur Sansar.
Ardhendu as Subir is superlative, putting in a restrained performance as the left-out Apu. And well Parambrata is, Parambrata. His performance is able and studied but I’m still waiting for that one edgy role that will let him break out of his good-boy, slightly bheto, screen sensibilities. Parno Mittra puts in a lot of effort as Subir’s young wife Ashima but it’s Ritwick Chakraborty as Subir’s friend who steals almost everybody’s thunder in a small role.
Indraadip Das Gupta had the unenvious task of composing a score that would be inevitably compared to Ravi Shankar’s haunting, soulful music in the Ray film. He succeeds to an extent, especially with the thematic refrain which stays with you.
I am going with four-and-a-half out of five stars for Kaushik Ganguly’s Apur Panchali. It’s a film that evokes a longing for the roots and ends on a note of acknowledgment that life demands one to move on.