APARAJITO (2022)

Jeetu Kamal as Aparajito Ray
  • Release Date: 13/05/2022
  • Platform: Zee5
  • Cast: Jeetu Kamal, Saayoni Ghosh, Debashis Roy
  • Director: Anik Datta

Dense, engrossing, and intriguing! Anik Datta’s film about the making of Pather Panchali is a winner all the way

— Ambar Chatterjee

For a filmi keeda like me, a film about the making of a film is even more interesting than the actual film. If the film in question happens to be the great Pather Panchali, that practically put India on the map of World cinema, then the interest and pull of that film is elevated two-folds. Anik Datta makes Aparajito with a clear objective in mind to cover as much of the process of making Pather Panchali (renamed here to Pather Podaboli) as possible. He also successfully incorporates emotional and dramatic elements that may or may not have been part of the actual story but that never for once felt forced or unwarranted. Instead, they add a lot to the overall experience of the film.

It is impossible to tell if the film is authentic or not in terms of all that it shows. There must have been a certain amount of hero worship that must have crept into the making of the film owing to the towering presence of Satyajit Ray in Bengal and also the looming shadow that he casts on Indian cinema as a whole. Having said that, the film still remains extremely grounded and shows things that can be found in the narratives of numerous works about Satyajit Ray and his Apu Trilogy. I was almost instantly hooked by the film and its simplistic way of telling us how Pather Panchali came into being, how Satyajit Ray had never read the source material before it was handed to him by his boss at an advertising company, and how making a Bengali film was one of the last things that anyone who knew Ray would expect him to do.

Aparajito is rendered memorable because of how many iconic incidents and elements are incorporated into the story. The protagonist (renamed Aparajito Ray) watches “Bicycle Thieves” in the UK and is immediately inspired to make Pather Panchali into a film and do things with it that he witnessed in “Bicycle Thieves”. When Aparajito doesn’t have funds to continue shooting, he walks up to the chief minister of Bengal and requests for funds. The CM releases him some funds allocated under a road development scheme just because his film was called Pather Podaboli which has a reference to roads. After his film becomes a hit with audiences abroad, Aparajito Ray receives a call from an American filmmaker that we immediately know is Martin Scorsese. The film is peppered with numerous such sequences that sustain your interest in the narrative throughout.  

In addition to all these, the film also documents how Ray wrote, envisioned, and shot some of the most iconic scenes of the film and why they were rendered in a certain manner. If that was not enough, Aparajito is made to talk about the iconic train scene and how his lack of theoretical understanding of rules involving shot-framing and execution made him make an error that to the viewers appeared as a masterstroke. The film is also able to convey to its viewer the troublesome circumstances that the film in question was always in and how any number of issues could have stopped its completion but didn’t. Thus, it is safe to say that a film like this was always meant to be and that was the only reason why it was made and saw the light of the day.

The set of Apu’s dwelling

Jeetu Kamal has completely transformed himself to resemble Satyajit Ray. The likeness to the great director is so completely and bewildering that there were scenes and portions where I completely forgot that this was not the man himself. In certain close-ups, you feel the layers of makeup that have been put up on his face but that is an issue that never takes you out of the experience. Most of the viewers will not even notice it. Kamal’s rendition of the man’s behavior and mannerisms were the biggest pluses that he added to the character and transformed himself into one of the most iconic characters of Indian cinema who actually existed. For people who know how Ray was and how he behaved, it might be easier to point out the discrepancies but for someone like me who has little idea about the actual man, Kamal’s performance felt, even more, real and absorbing. 

The makers made and released this film to commemorate the birth centenary of Satyajit Ray and hence must have taken extra care to ensure that the story and the characters were spot-on. Atleast that is what I expected from the overtly realistic and unassuming take that Anik Datta took on the storytelling and execution in the film. As the film takes a linear approach to the storytelling, one can forget everything else and just enjoy the story following the process of how one man powers his way through all challenges and misgivings to make a film that went on to reshape people’s assumptions and take on how films were made and what was documented through them. 

Saayoni Ghosh as Aparajito Roy’s wife is wonderful. She is not only an integral part of the entire process of making the film but is often the voice of reason in Roy’s head. The best part about her character was that it was never overbearing or irritating and almost always had a soothing impact on the troubled and constantly under pressure Ray. Her performance has a similar impact on the audiences who are also under constant duress by being on the same page with Ray’s character.  

I had high expectations from this film ever since I saw its trailer and it delivered on all counts. Datta’s astute direction holds on to the audience’s attention and keeps them intrigued in a story that they already know the end to. That is not a mean feat to pull off and Datta does so with clinical ease and elan. I would have loved to see this film on the big screen owing to its aesthetics and the black and white color palate that Datta went for but unfortunately, it came and went without making a noise. Thus, watching it on Zee5 is the only available option for us now, unless you live in Kolkata or plan to visit the city sometime soon. This is for the hardcore cinephiles and people who are intrigued by the process of the making of a troubled masterpiece. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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