Cast: Jeetu Kamal, Saayoni Ghosh, Debashis Roy, Shoaib Kabeer
Director: Anik Dutta
Running time: 137 minutes
Where to watch: In theatres
Will you be considered a Bengali if you haven’t watched a Satyajit Ray film or don’t know ‘by heart’ a Tagore poem? We literally worship Ray and Tagore. So, imagine the risk zone director Anik Dutta was treading when he took upon himself the job to narrate or should I say ‘recreate’ Ray’s challenging journey to make his debut feature film Pather Panchali. One wrong step in Aparajito and not only Rayphiles but entire Bengali clan placed across the world would have diced him. He knew his every move was being watched carefully.
Maybe that’s why Dutta chose to tell a simple tale without any gimmick. Dutta’s Aparajito is an unpretentious and straightforward narrative of a Bengali man, who was consumed by innate passion of filmmaking. He was ably supported by his family, especially his wife and a team comprising brilliant technicians. Also, his intense study and understanding of films changed Indian cinema forever.
It’s noted critic Shamik Bandopadhyay’s interview with Ray on AIR that weaves the narrative. By then, Pather Panchali had been released and Ray was a name to reckon with. His interview introduces us to him as an art student in Santiniketan. We watch him grow as a designer at British-owned DJ Keymer where he nurtures his interest in Western classical music, thanks to Munshi da. It was at this ad firm that the idea of making Pather Panchali came to him when he was commissioned to draw illustrations for Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay’s novel Aam Atir Bhepu. Then, comes his first trip to London, which changed his life. It’s the time he watched Vittorio De Sica’s neorealist film Bicycle Thieves.
For many of us who revisit Ray, read him or watch his interviews available on the internet, Aparajito is like a Neil O’Brien’s quiz show. Filled with anecdotes, you will silently give a pat on your back, if you get the answers right. Also, the film touches on the family man Ray. The co-writers — Sreeparna Mitra and Utsav Mukherjee — deserve equal credit as Dutta.
Dutta’s Aparajito is a brilliant way to document the making of an iconic film. The Ray admirers, film students or most of us might know what Ray, his family and team went through to make Pather Panchali happen. But what about the others? Like I said, do you expect everyone to watch a Ray film? Or does everyone know who Subrata Mitra, Dulal Dutta, Bansi Chandragupta or Anil Choudhury is? Ray’s team is as important as his script. In Aparajito, Dutta has changed the names of all the characters barring Tagore. So, Satyajit becomes Aparajito, his wife Bijoya is Bimala, Pather Panchali is Pather Padabali, Bicycle Thieves is Bicycle Riders, and even Apu and Durga’s names have been changed. Do you expect everyone to know who ‘Martin Scottish’ is? Dutta’s Aparajito stays otherwise authentic to the master and his text and so, why change the names?
Be it the synchronization with a dog, the rain sequence with a bald man or actor Jeetu Kamal holding a cigarette, Dutta has masterfully recreated the sequences of Pather Panchali in his film. In fact, in recent Bengali films, Dutta’s Aparajito has one of the best castings. Who thought Jeetu Kamal could do such a ‘kamaal’ (pun intended) as Ray? And he not only does he look like Ray, he acts like the man too. His performance will be counted as one of the best outings in recent times. Let’s give a shout out to Chandrasish Ray too for the baritone, which made the character more life-like. For the time being, all eyes are on you Jeetu.
If Jeetu looks like Ray, then it’s the magic of Somnath Kundu, the makeup artist. You now know why even Sandip Ray thought he was watching his ‘baba’ at times on screen.
Then, there is Saayoni Ghosh as Ray’s wife. From choosing Apu in Pather Panchali to suggesting a quick solution on the set, she is omnipresent in his life and cinema. And Saayoni does justice to it. The young lot of Dutta’s Aparajito, just like Ray’s Pather Panchali team, does well. Debashis Roy as Subrata Mitra and Shoaib Kabeer as Bansi Chandragupta deliver a balanced performance. Aparajito is shot in monochrome and cinematographer Supratim Bhol deserves kudos for recreating those cult Pather Panchali shots. It wouldn’t have been an easy task for sure. Aparajito is like a nostalgic trip for those who have grown up watching Ray’s works. It’s worth a revisit.