Banerjee–The Forgotten Actor

-Shingita Ghosh

Pather Panchali

Shashi Kapoor, Kamal Hassan, Sridevi, Amir Khan, Hrithik Roshan— the intersection of these names lies in the fact that they have all been child actors, like our very own Subir Banerjee. For those who don’t know yet, Banerjee was the actor who played ‘Apu’ in Satyajit Ray’s debut film ‘Pather Panchali’ based on Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay’s novel.

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‘Apur Panchali’ is the story of Subir Banerjee written and directed by Kaushik Ganguly. He has created a collage of— archival footage from Apu Trilogy(‘Pather Panchali’, ‘Aparajito’ and ‘Apur Sansar’), the story of young Subir Banerjee shot in black-and-white and present-day Banerjee’s journey of redemption.

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The Story Begins : Arka(Gaurav Chakraborty) is a student pursuing Film Studies at the Satyajit Ray Film Institute. He comes looking for Subir Banerjee who is to be felicitated as the Best Child Artist by the German Government. Initially quite standoffish, Subir(Ardhendu Banerjee) eventually drops his shield. Arka finds the story of Apu unfold in front of him, retold by none other than Apu himself.

The Flashback : The story told my older Banerjee(Ardhendu) comprises his younger self (played by Parambrata Chatterjee) and his wife Ashima(Parno Mitra). It sheds light on his sacrificed football career, his involvement in the Naxal Movement and his father’s demise as well.

Banerjee Now : Ardhendu depicts the untold misery of a man who wants to be left alone; the vulnerability of a man who reveals his life-story to complete stranger and finally the sense of triumph at his newfound self-worth. Seeing his effortless performance, it doesn’t take you long to understand that the bitterness of Subir is a result of the endless times he has been defeated by life. However, nowhere is he found complaining. There is a sad acceptance in his nature which adds to his cynical bent of mind. The uncanny resemblance between Banerjee’s life and the life of Apu, the only character he ever played as an actor, baffles us no more than it baffles him. His revulsion towards and denial of Apu becomes self-explanatory. Perhaps at some level he blames Apu for the losses in his personal life.

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Banerjee Then :  Parambrata Chaterjee showcases a typical middle-class Bengali who finds contentment in his imperfect existence. He portrays an affectionate husband rendered helpless, a sensible man rendered indifferent.The loss that Banerjee could see coming but could not accept, the grief that he bore but could not feel, the redemption that he needed but did not want—Parambrata does it all.

Technicalities : Editor Bodhaditya Banerjee has done a commendable job of juxtaposing Ray’s and Ganguly’s frames to bring out the similarity between their stories. Cinematographer Shirsha Ray creates scenes that can both stimulate your emotions and also hit you hard on the head. For instance, the Farewell scene— As Subir is returning home leaving Ashima behind, she reminds him of his chores back home before finally breaking down. As the vintage car slowly takes him away, they keep their eyes fixed on each other as long as possible. Simple yet suave.

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Apu and Subir : There are numerous threads that bind Apu and Banerjee. Both lost their fathers at a young age, both were too bound my household responsibilities to choose a career of their choice, both had a meagre job at a noisy printing press, both had wives who belonged to a higher economic class and both enjoyed marital bliss, but only for a short while. At the end, Parambrata’s Subir throws away the last memory of his wife—an amulet that she thought would be a harbinger of good luck. Apu in ‘Pather Panchali’ had similarly hurled the stolen necklace into the pond because he wanted Durga’s secret to die with her.

Special Mention : ‘Apur Paayer Chhaap’ written by Ganguly himself and rendered magical by Arijit’s voice. The song integrates the germ of the movie in a nutshell—

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“Nacchorbanda smriti shaada aar kalo jure

   Apur paayer chhaap dubche baanshir shure…”

“Stubborn memories embedded in black-and-white

  The footprints of Apu get drowned in the lilting of the flute…”

 The End : Ganguly says—“Only when you stop trying, you hit a point of subtlety.” If that is what he wanted to achieve, then he has surely reached his mark.

‘Apur Panchali’ spells beauty, nostalgia, tragedy and romance. Watch it. Experience it. Revel it. Films such as these don’t get made every day but when they do get made, you just can’t ignore them.

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