Monday, April 04, 2016

Apur Sansar

I finished the final film of the most brilliant film trilogy to be made or ever will be. Apur Sansar has always been a favourite of mine – especially after I have a Kajal to become friends with, instead of being a father to. This watching just cemented some of those emotions.

Some thoughts that came this time:
Apu, being the younger son of the family (and being doted on), is bit of a spoilt brat! He is the spoilt brat when dealing with his landlord (whose lights he switches on during the day to spite him). But he is the conscientious man when it comes to paying the rent (by selling his books).

The performances of the bit players are amazing.
Apu’s landlord. His surnamesake neighbour. The school principal who advertised for a teacher. The pharma company manager whom Apu asks for a job. Apu’s much-married colleague. Aparna’s parents. All of them just shine like diamonds in the few minutes they are on screen.

Of the lead players, what more can be said?
Soumitra Chatterjee would have done to womenfolk of those times what Fawad Khan is doing now. And when you see, Ray exploits his amazing looks and exemplary elocution skills to the hilt with carefully planned scenes. And he seems to have no qualms in subjecting Soumitra to the female gaze, giving his vests gaping holes and making him exercise in pouring rain!

Sharmila Tagore, who was not even fifteen when she shot for the film, is remarkably assured in her mannerisms and dialogue delivery. In her short screen time, she manages to effortlessly establish why Apu is so much in love with her.
And in a telling scene, the husband also fans the wife after he has finished eating (when the wife was fanning him)… and he does so grudgingly, yawning while fanning and not in the sacrificial style commercial cinema is always showing. In the late 1950s, Ray knew what we are still trying to come to terms with… women’s equality would happen grudgingly, even from the good men!


The transition of emotions seemed even smoother on this viewing.
The way Apu is shown to agree to the marriage – him accepting the archaic concept of a girl becoming unsuitable for marriage if the auspicious hour passes – is very believable and almost natural. He is a modern youth with a scientific bent of mind and yet his natural goodness makes him agree to marry a girl he hasn’t even met. And he does so embarrassedly, without even being able to spell it out. He asks his friend Pulu, “Chakrita pawa jabey toh? Daritao kamano hoeni…” (Will you get me the job you promised? I haven’t even shaved…)
This unplanned marriage leads to the emotion of the helpless father who had to marry off his daughter much below his social standing due to societal pressures. Aparna’s father depicts this frustration heartbreakingly, which translates into a lifetime of resentment against the son-in-law. As a father of a daughter, I thought he ‘got’ it so well.

Much has been said about Apu’s manic grief and whether it suited the normally unemotional character that we saw growing up.
We need to see Apu as a character, who became progressively alone in his life, having lost his beloved family one by one. Finally, he had found a companion – who seemed to be a soulmate – and again lost her. This tragedy is, understandably, devastating for him. In this context, the grief seems almost normal.
The grief of Aparna’s death is built like a tragic movement where the announcement is just the beginning and the subsequent events keep adding to the point of suffocation when Apu sacrifices his novel in a moment of extreme listlessness. This extreme act of abandonment, coupled with the physical transformation of Apu from a handsome young man to an unkempt, haggard tramp, was just too draining a sequence.
The symphonic final closure – with Apu and Kajal reuniting – finally lifts this pall of gloom.

Finally, about the DVD.
The subtitles are very good. They are not literal and manage to capture the essence really well. People who don’t understand Bengali can fearlessly pick up a copy.
Among the supplements, Satyajit Ray’s Oscar acceptance is a much-watched sequence that gets included.
Another segment shows The Restoration process, which is like magic and documents the work done at New York, Bologna, LA where every scratch, every speck dirt and dust on the available negatives were painstakingly removed and the passion of the technicians shines through.
Film critic Mamoun Hassan’s detailed and gushing look at the Trilogy is almost a scene by scene deconstruction of all three films, offering a commentary on the important scenes along with his reactions. This could be a little boring for some viewers but valuable nevertheless.
The stunning piece de resistance are interviews of Soumitra Chatterjee (speaking in Bengali) and Sharmila Tagore (in English). They are still so luminous and animated when talking about their first film roles that it is an absolute delight.


If I haven’t said this already, buy the Criterion DVD set. It is probably the best cinematic investment you’ll ever make. 

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