The Unvanquished

No, I don’t usually do movie reviews, but I loved this one so much that I decided to give it a shot. There are some spoilers ahead, although this is the kind of movie where you enjoy the journey rather than get thunderstruck by the ending. Hope you like it……

I’m an old soul, an absolute sucker for the classics. I rarely visit the cinema, and usually end up binging on noir thrillers or heartwarming rom-coms in my room. Being one of those old-school Bengalis, I am a massive fan of Satyajit Ray, the kind who has grown up watching Sonar Kella and Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne so many times that I know the dialogues by heart.

The Apu Trilogy however, is something I watched much later, well into my college life. While Aparajito (the original one) shook me, and I found the second half of Apur Sansar slightly weird, Pather Panchali stole my heart. I had the pleasure of introducing this film to a cinephile junior of mine from Karnataka, while inundating him with trivia about the film and Ray in general, along the way. With a near-perfect cast, beautiful visual storytelling and just the right music to accompany it all, it is a film I can watch a thousand times over.

So when Aparajito was scheduled to release in mid-May, right in the middle of my final MD exams, I had decided: this is going to be my homecoming treat. And after the movie released, positive reviews started pouring in, which further strengthened my resolve. My mother, who is also a big fan of Pather Panchali, was also on board. Tickets booked, the two of us were off to the movies.

Aparajito was the title of the second film of Ray’s famed Apu Trilogy, a sequel to Pather Panchali. Director Anik Dutta, whose Bhooter Bhobishyot from a decade earlier remains till this date one of the best scripts I’ve ever seen, decided to use this name as a pun, both as a callback to the older film, as well as indicating the “unvanquished” nature of both Ray and his magnum opus.

The film is shot in black and white. An excellent decision in my opinion, since it not only evokes the old-world 1950s charm, but also because it does justice to the numerous scene recreations from the original film, which might have looked weird in colour, as evidenced by some unsuccessful attempts at recolouring some classic scenes from the film.

Artwork by Avik Kumar Maitra

And the scene recreations are simply wonderful. Pather Panchali is chock-full of incredibly well-composed frames that can be compiled into an entire calendar (copyright pending), and Dutta visits a lot of these in the film, from the rain scene to the death scene of Indir Thakrun, and of course, the iconic train scene, whose juxtaposition of jet-black smoke issuing from the train with the bright white of the kash phool would not have had quite the same visual impact had it been in colour.

The plot of the movie revolves around the making of Pather Panchali, Ray’s iconic directorial debut, and the numerous hardships he had to face in the process. And what a Ray we have here! Jitu Kamal, with his chiseled face, with a deep voice dubbed by Chandrashish Roy, is a perfect choice in casting . More great choices in casting and make-up helped create striking visual similarities with the real-life characters, like Debashish Roy as Subir Mitra the cameraman, Paran Bandopadhyay as Chief Minister “Biman” Roy, and Ayushman Mukherjee as “Manik”.

The names of course, had to be mixed up, for legal reasons. Some of these are simple: the village Boral becomes Shoral, while the film itself gets renamed as Pather Padabali. Other renamings have hidden Easter eggs. Satyajit Ray becomes Aparajito Ray or Apu, while the Apu from the film becomes Manik, the nickname of Ray in real life. Durga on the other hand gets renamed to Uma, which happens to be the first name of the actress who portrayed the character. Reel and real fuses into one. And and the Easter Eggs don’t end there.

We have a Sidhu Jyatha shoutout, when Munshida, Ray’s colleague from the advertisement office (masterfully played by Subhrangshu Bhattacharjee, my music teacher from school) shouts out “jeete raho bachhe”, while the set of a scene where Ray visits a rich Sethji for money is uncannily similar to Maganlal Meghraj’s home. A dream sequence from the middle of the give gave me strong “Nayak” vibes, while in the final scene of the film from a decade later, Ray is seen composing what sounds like either the Feluda or the Charulata theme, on the piano.

Aparajito is incredibly well-researched and goes through the entire process of the making of the film, littered with wonderful anecdotes, like how the actor who played Apu/Manik was a serendipitous discovery from Ray’s own neighbourhood, while his relentless search for the ideal Indir Thakrun took him all the way to the brothels of Calcutta, where he discovered Chunibala/Nanibala Devi who, in my opinion, is the most perfectly cast character in Pather Panchali.

Scene from Pather Panchali (1955)

The film goes in-depth into the behind-the-scene actions of some of the iconic scenes like the train scene and the sweet-seller scene, two of the most picturesque scenes from the movie. We as audiences are allowed a privileged glimpse into the mind of a genius as it tries to work out the perfect shot, followed by a nostalgic déjà vu of the perfectly recreated scenes, the combination of which gave me goosebumps.

The theme music of the film very closely resembles the original theme, and we get glimpses into the making of the music by the iconic Ravi Shankar, who plays a beautiful strain of raag Desh. I particularly loved the fact that the film explicitly mentions my most favourite musical moment of the film, the heart-wrenching wail of the taar-shehnai in raag Patdeep in the film’s climax, further proof of the impeccable research that has gone into the making of the film.

The scenes revolving around the release of the film throws light on the superficiality and hypocrisy of the pseudointellectual nouveau riche of urban Calcutta, who criticize the film during its first screening, only to switch sides and shower praises when it becomes a resounding success. Pretentious brats like these exist to this very day, the kind who will pompously sit in the front rows of a classical recital, only to start clapping in the middle of a Beethoven violin sonata thinking that the piece is over.

The film also dwells quite a bit on the mentality of the film industry and the mainstream audience about the essential components of a film, namely a love interest and 4-5 songs. It is a trend that continues and dare I say, has magnified manifold in the present day, with shallow plots and crass item songs dominating the mainstream film industry. Not every movie has to be neorealistic and “artsy”, but commercial movies back in the day still had more depth than the never-ending parade of mediocrity that gets churned out these days.

Aparajito is not about the ending (Pather Padabali was a resounding success, surprise surprise); it is the little things that make it a wonderful. The perfect casting, the smooth storytelling, the wonderful anecdotes, the nostalgic recreations: the film is bound to take you on a journey down the little road with the brother-sister duo. It is a movie I’ll come back to time and time again, and I’m positive that it will stir up in me the same emotions in me as the evergreen classic that inspired it.


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