Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Apur Sansar

Courtesy Zee Studio, I got to see this timeless classic by Satyajit Ray this Sunday. And inspite of the examinations looming over my head, I just can't suppress the urge to have my say on the movie.

Ray's third film, and the final instalment of the Apu Trilogy, begins with a portrayal of Apu staying in a rundown shabby quarter in Kolkata. He has no fixed job, just a few tuitions thrown here and there to earn himself enough money to have a meagre meal each day. Apu also writes an occasional short story and sends it to literary magazines-- and that's what pleases him most about his life. Even in this life of extreme poverty and deprivation, nothing can suppress his indomitable, and yet apprehensive and shy, spirit-- he has not lost his dreams of becoming a great author. When Pulu, Apu's best friend, arrives and offers him assistance in finding a fixed job, Apu expresses his dissatisfaction over the idea. Apu has realised that his life's goal is to remain free and thoughtful-- not bound to a job he doesn't like doing (he quotes names of great men who never once in their life 'settled down', to prove his point). Nonetheless Apu agrees to go to Pulu's mamabari (maternal uncle's house) at Khulna with him for Pulu's cousin's wedding ceremony. On the way to Khulna, Apu shows Pulu the manuscript of a novel he has started writing-- a work of art that Pulu admires quite a lot after giving a read. However on Pulu's cousin, Aparna's, wedding-day, it's revealed that her bridegroom is mentally unstable. Aparna's mother disagrees to surrender her daughter to a madman. In a strange turn of events, Apu somewhat unwillingly yields to the pressure of marrying Aparna-- for if he refuses, no one shall ever marry her again. On their first night together, Apu openly talks to his new bride, and honestly says that he is nothing more than a poor, thoughtful man with a penchant for writing stories-- who has nothing more than a few pennies and a ramshackle quarter to his name. Apu says that Aparna may have to adjust to living such a deprived life. Aparna willingly accepts her fate-- determined to be happy even amongst such poverty.

When Aparna is brought to Apu's Kolkata quarters, she suddenly realises the magnitude of his poverty-- and the hardships that await her. But as she gazes down the window through tearful eyes, she sees a poor child smiling and playing on the street with his mother-- and this cheers her up. Apu understands how hard it must be for Aparna to see the sharp contrast in lifestyles-- but when he asks her about the same, he is greeted with a warm smile, which reflects the love and respect Aparna has for Apu, and also the readiness with which she accepts her new life. Special credit must go to Satyajit Ray here for a cinematic metaphor which only geniuses can conceive-- in place of Apu's erstwhile tattered and dirty window-curtain hangs a clean one. The visually improved condition of Apu's household couldn't be portrayed better. There hasn't been much financial betterment since his marriage, but Apu's life has become more arranged, orderly and beautiful-- something which only a soft feminine touch of care and concern can bring about. After several blissful months together, Aparna leaves for her maternal home due to pregnancy. In the following two months, Apu and Aparna exchange warm letters of love-- their craving for each other almost seems childish at times. Apu's promise to visit her at the end of the month remains unfulfilled however-- while delivering their child, Aparna dies due to labour pains. Apu is so much aggrieved to hear the news that he can't stand the truth anymore-- in a trance of unspoken and unbearable pain and sorrow, he leaves Kolkata and wanders on meaninglessly. Suddenly, Apu's life and love lose all meaning to him-- he throws away the manuscript he so thoughtfully and carefully wrote at one point of time.

Several years pass by, and in the meantime Apu and Aparna's son Kajal grows up in the Khulna-house under the care of his maternal grandparents. The little child is just like his father-- carefree, imaginative, capricious and endearing. Aparna's father soon develops a grudge against Apu-- he can't bear the fact that a father never once came to take his son with him. Even the child, named Kajal, starts regarding his father with contempt-- people taunt him due to him being practically 'fatherless'. Pulu, Apu's old friend, comes back to Khulna from abroad and finds the house in a poor state-- his mama is old and nearing his end, while Kajal remains 'fatherless' and uncared for by the old man (who naturally can't run after the naughty child and cater to all his childish whims!). Incidentally, Pulu discovers Apu in the vicinity of Khulna and learns that Apu has been doing a job to somehow sustain himself. Apu is torn between his pain due to the loss of his beloved Aparna and his duty towards his son-- he can't stand the fact that he has to love a child whose birth resulted in the death of his beloved wife. (This explains Apu's negligence towards his child.) Apu therefore requests Pulu to arrange for his son's education in some boarding school, the expenses of which he is ready to bear. Because Pulu is in a hurry to leave the place and can't keep his friend's request, as a last plea, he urges Apu to visit the Khulna-house once and at least see his son for one time. Somewhat unwillingly, Apu does so. But when Apu sees Kajal, he discovers an affection for the boy hidden in some obscure corner of his heart and overshadowed by his immense bitterness towards his fate-- but on the contrary, Kajal is not ready to accept his father's affection. Touchingly, Apu presents his son with a toy-train (those who remember Pather Panchali remember how both Apu and Durga were fascinated with trains as children), but the child throws the gift away. Just when Apu is about to leave the place, broken-hearted for a second time, Kajal hesitatingly asks if Apu is ready to take him to his father in Kolkata (which actually shows that Kajal doesn't actually believe that Apu is his own father, but still touchingly discovers love for Apu too-- if not a father, Apu still is a close friend to the little one).

The film, quite simply, is poetry on celluloid. Ravi Shankar's touching sitar chords and the brilliant camerawork only make the film better. All the actors, and especially Soumitra Chatterjee and Sharmila Tagore (for both it was a debut-- and a debut couldn't have been better!), deserve plaudits for their natural and superb performances.

Again, some of my favourite scenes in the film deserve special mention. When Apu and Aparna come back from the theatre in a horse carriage, Apu stares at his beautiful wife's expressive eyes and lovingly asks "Tomaar chokhe ki aachhe?". With a charming glint in her eyes, she evades the real essence of the question, and answers "Kajal". And hence the name of their child-- the fruit of their immense but short-lived love-- finds a special meaning.

A second favourite scene would be the one in which Apu tries to befriend a reluctant and bitter Kajal, in the same room in which he had first talked his heart out to Aparna. The expression on Apu's face as Kajal threw the toy-train away in anger reflects how hurt he is-- a symbol of his love (both for his child, and for his lifelong fascination: trains) is so hastily dismissed by his own son.

The final scene is perhaps the grandest one: Apu gets his son-- the last physical manifestation of his undying love for Aparna, Kajal not only finds his father but a close friend, and Aparna's father sees his little dream of Apu and Kajal staying together come true-- he smiles as he sees father and son go away to their land of dreams. What happens thereafter to Apu and Kajal is left for us to imagine and decide.


Anonymous said...

Dear Sudipto,

Sorry for the late response. Didn’t want to make a rush for it – didn’t want to write to you just for the sake of writing. . The subject was such that I needed time: cinema is one of my favourite topics. And this is one of the greatest classics of all time, as perhaps more aptly defined by you as “poetry displayed onscreen”.

Besides the sweet romance and the pain of parting, I’d like to talk about the ironically relevant life of Apu in the contemporary times. If we have a view at the flash-back of Apu as a child and as a teenager, we’ll find it difficult to believe (as per the wind of the present generation) that Apu was one of the class toppers of his school. Eager to know more and eager to unveil the secrets of the world, he had immersed himself in the vastness of books and knowledge. Throughout his growing years, he mortifyingly suffered several unrepairable damages: what would be more pathetic than losing each of your loved and dear one in the whole game of life and death? Firstly, his only companion of laughter and play – his sister Durga, then his idealistic, peace-loving father and lastly, his only left-over immensely treasured possession – his mother, all of them had to meet one by one that forever-questionable-end of life (and what a score of destiny! He had to lose his Aparna too). Despite of all this, Apu didn’t lose his love for life (until the death of his wife) and endeared poetry in each and every step of it.

What I intend to point out is that how many of the so-called “class-toppers” of today will actually embrace the poetic nomadic life of Apu? Exactly how many of my pals consider Mathematics as a philosophy and that Maths and literature has a strong bond somewhere – that the enchantment of one is incomplete without the other?? How many of my friends do Maths because they simply LOVE it and not because they have to sit for the compititives??

Oh no, the topper (and the multitude in that matter) of my class says, “What is the fun without money?”, “Would I get a nice girlfriend if I don’t have enough money?”, “who would give a damn care to me if I am to remain unemployed?”. All the points may be factly very true, but I ask, will my respectable friend ever get to attain happiness or love in the real sense ever in his life? Wouldn’t there be a huge gap lurking somewhere, that is as painful as hunger or thirst, at the end of the long journey? Well, I suppose, there is no use raising these questions as by now I’ve seen enough of this world to realise that sensitivity or emotions are in-born, and , so, my honorable friend (who has been unfortunate enough not to be blessed thus) holds his stand firmly and emerges victorious quite alone!

Well, the world is not as blunt as all that yet. I know a dear friend of mine who is an excellent student (though his marks and grades are brilliant too, but I define ‘excellence’ much beyond mugging-up answers. It’s intellect, ingenuity and an inner eye I refer to.) and who is so much so romantic (again, when I say ‘romanticism’, I mean love for life and not merely an attraction towards the opposite sex) that he goes to the extent of giving one-end-a-half hour of his time five days before his Pre-Board exams and at the peak hours of study to write about a film that stirred him immensely. He couldn’t contain his emotions and people might grouse and complain him for being “callous” towards his “duties”. But, oddly enough, I can’t help admiring him more.

I have been pessimistic throughout the day for strange and selfish reasons and went to the extent of questioning myself, “Am I worthy to be his friend (the person I have talked about above) at all??”, “Isn’t my inspiration faintly prodding him to put his career at stake? After all, I’m nobody really mattering to his life… ”, “Will I be answerable to his friends and family for “spoiling” him hence??”… I really can’t answer these questions to your satisfaction, dear reader, but I wish you get my point: being a true human being is under a BIG question mark these days; and even if I’m inferior in quality, I’m on the side of my friend still.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Lovely comment, Sudipto. I'm sure you will not be hurt if I point out that you haven't really said anything very original or profound (which isn't really possible after the movie has been intensively commented upon by experts worldwide for fifty years!), but I found it most heartening that in this age of philistines, when 99.9% of people around us believe is that success is a few marks in school and a mid-level manager's job in an MNC selling soap, so that one can happily and mindlessly shop for the rest of one's useless life, an age when millions of supposedly educated young people think that third-rate crap like 'Dhoom' may be exalted by the title of cinema, there are still youngsters who can appreciate good stuff, recent or from the past, when they see such things. Good to see, too, that you have friends like Sayantani who find it worthwhile to take time out and write sensible and sympathetic comments; all is perhaps not lost yet! Incidentally, the best commentary would have dealt with the Apu trilogy as a whole. Also,you might have underlined two ideas in your comment: Banerjee/Ray have insisted on demonstrating that a) poverty is not necessarily synonymous with either stupidity or misery, and b) a few formal degrees from school and college is definitely not synonymous with being smart, educated or cultured!

I don't know whether you have seen Ray's Agantuk: that's where he really rubbed these ideas in. He was getting old, and his disgust with contemporary genteel society had obviously been becoming more intense! Quite understandably, the whole of Bengali 'bhadralok' society has chosen to give both 'Agantuk' and 'Shakha Proshakha' the cold shoulder; if you can't deny all that is ugly about you, pretend not to notice and carry on as always!

One word of reassurance from someone who should know: watching a great movie now and then never hurt anyone's examination prospects. So carry on, and good luck!

Sudipto Basu said...

Thanks a lot for saying such encouraging words, Sir. I couldn't comment on the Apu Trilogy, as a whole, simply because I haven't yet watched 'Aparojito'! The day I do so, you can expect a grand review of all the three movies taken together....

And yeah, about Sayantani: she is one of the very few people who think just as I do. And while she may easily deride herself as 'inferior in quality' (she isn't so, of course, considering that she writes so sensibly and lucidly), I consider her to be one of my closest friends...

Rupkatha Roy said...

I just chanced upon this blog and I would like to echo Mr Chatterjee in extending my very sincere appreciation to Sudipto for his treatment of the entire issue with such empathy, sensitivity and insight! And that too coming from a teenager whose exams are just round the corner!
It also made me take a nostalgic trip down the memory lane!
I remember, in a scene, Kajol was admonished by the house gardener for having tried a boyish trick on him. In a simple, innocuous reflex of self defence he mildly threatens the gardener to report the matter to his father, only to be scathingly rebuked by him:
“Babake bole debe ? Babar to tiki dekha gelo na!” Kajol was taken aback and we could almost instantly feel the little boy’s sheer desperation and an emptiness of soul as he, with a dreamy, forlorn look, muttered to himself, : “ babar bujhi tiki thake ?” A very poignant moment indeed and so brilliantly, so evocatively, captured in Ray’s lens ! { And that also, serio-comically at least, explains Kajol’s reluctance to accept Apu as his father at the first instance, having missed out his characteristic ‘tiki’1}

Again, Kudos to Sudipto for having stirred my inertia and also to Shayantani for her extremely sensitive response!

Sudipto Basu said...

@ Rupkatha Roy

I think I saw your comment on Suvro Sir's blog too... Anyway, thanks for saying that! And yes, that 'tiki' scene was grand too...

If you come back to comment again, I shall be highly pleased.

Ankan said...

A very nicely written review of a movie that I watched several times at different levels of maturity. Indeed, besides the people who saw me grow up, Ray's movies are probably the only other benchmark of development and maturity for most Bengali kids. I remember, when I first watched Kanchenjunga and Jalsaghar, I had yawned off to sleep. Yet I watched them in the recent past, I was left completely spellbound.
However I couldn't understand why even the comments about a movie review had to deal with what most class toppers these days keep doing. I wouldn't like to comment about all these issues in response to the wonderful review you have written, but I would surely like to share with you some interesting movies that I have seen.
Seeing the link to my blog( pretty much dead) on your blog makes me feel elated and ashamed at the same time. I hope blogs like yours, Abhirup's and Suvro Sir's will get us more interested in reviving our writing skills!

Sudipto Basu said...

@Ankan da,
My sincere gratitude for your comments...

Besides agreeing with all you have said, I'll just like to say that my close friend just wanted to say how people have made the education system, and ultimately their lives mechanical-- devoid of any charm and beauty, quite unlike the romanticism of Apu (who, by the way, few people seem to know these days). That wasn't totally out of point if you ask me.

And yes, Ray is, I suppose, a yardstick of maturity by himself-- one gets to understand the deeper layers of understanding he delved into as he/she gains maturity (and not mere age).

By the way, I hope you start writing soon: you have an inherent ability to write lucidly.