The world knows him as Apu. He is the sprightly, skinny, bright-eyed, shirtless boy from Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali, the first of the trilogy based on Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay’s novels. But few know the name of the child actor who played Apu in Pather Panchali. Even fewer know what happened to him.
His name is Subir Banerjee. Kaushik Ganguly’s Apur Panchali chronicles his life. He was just ten when Ray zeroed in on him. Subir was from a family nearly as impoverished as the fictional one he was about to enter. He recalls that, every so often, Ray—whom he called Kakababu or uncle—would hand his father envelopes containing hundred rupee notes. There are other striking parallels between his life and Apu’s, which Ganguly tries to highlight using techniques inspired by Ray’s work, and tells parts of the story in black-and-white.
The film takes off from a real-life incident. The German government wants to fly Subir to an event where he would be felicitated along with other child actors from classic films like De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves and Spielberg’s ET. Only, they don’t know where he lives. They send the invitation to the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute in Calcutta and Arko, a student, takes up the responsibility of delivering it. Thus began the search for Apu-Subir.
The elderly Subir finds his life disrupted after being largely ignored and having spent a lifetime making his peace—a precarious one—with the ghost of Apu. It’s at once a source of distinction among acquaintances in an otherwise ‘ordinary’ life as well as a source of discomfort—a stark contrast between iconic imagery of childhood and the utter anonymity of life thereafter. One scene shows a film director shooing away Subir, who is a spectator trying to watch a shooting. The shot being taken involves a child actor. Indeed, when approached by Arko, Banerjee stifles his anger and refuses to admit to being ‘Apu’.
Ganguly creates an interesting ‘myth versus reality’ counterpoint between the stories of Apu and the making of the Apu trilogy on the one hand, and the real life of Subir Banerjee on the other. Apur Panchali consciously emulates Ray’s limpid style while detaching itself from the narrative of his legendary life and work, rather showing him from Subir’s perspective, which is sometimes critical and coloured with a sense of hurt and betrayal.
However, the parallels between Subir’s life and that of the fictional Apu extend even to adulthood. It gives Ganguly a free hand at making his own Panchali. Ganguly juxtaposes key events of Subir’s life, like his father’s illness and his wife’s untimely death with uncannily similar events from the trilogy. At times this is predictable. What works better is the more straightforward showcasing of the extraordinary ordinariness of Subir’s life, a stunning reflection of the central idea of Apu the Everyman, as created by Bibhutibhushan and limned by Ray.
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
Remember that little boy quite well. Fascinating story.
Kaushik Ganguly in his film Apur Panchali chronicling Subir Banerjee's life has actually rediscovered a character under the shade of another character. But there is a surprising resemblance that we find between the two chronicles of lives _ one Apu in Apu's trilogy and another in Subir Banerjee's mediocore Bengali entity. It seems Subir could not subconsciously try to come out of Apu's shadow that enveloped him entirely.In fact, Subir Banerjee is a symbol of every Bengali who never craves for fame and fortune and is satisfied with his minimum requirements. Needless to say, Subirbabu could have got much opportunity to prosper materially in life with his prominant association with the historic film Pather Panchali. But even in this age of electronic media he has preferred to keep himself away from public. Perhaps he has restrained himself lest his reverie surrounding his golden memories should not break.
The film, undoubtedly, will make the Bengali nostalgic.
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