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Satish Bahadur, the guru / Photo SC

Had things gone right, Professor Satish Bahadur should have been the one writing these books, nor me. He would have done an infinitely better job than I am ever going to be capable of. So please be warned, dear reader, that in reading my stuff you are compelled to make do with only the second best. Bahadur sahib wrote miles and miles on the black board but was most reluctant to touch pen to paper. Even now I can see the great teacher smiling his blessings through clouds of chalk dust as I begin.

Satish Bahadur was our truly ‘listening’ Professor of Film Appreciation at the Film Institute of India in Pune where I spent three years as student of film direction in the late 60s. Within weeks of our arrival he showed us Pather Panchali, followed by Aparajito and later Apur Sansar. These were eye openers as you can imagine, after which we were converts for life. I certainly was. In 1974 I returned to join the direction faculty but spent that time being an extended student with Prof Bahadur. (Even our offices were next to each other and I would usually be found in his.) When in 1983 he superannuated and left the Institute, I felt very very nervous and alone. He had inspired a whole generation of us but left nothing behind for those coming later. Prof Bahadur passed away in 2010 at 85. He knew at the time that my book on Pather Panchali was on the way but couldn’t hold out. A huge loss personally for me, for I would trust none other’s feedback than his.

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At the moment I have three books on Apu trilogy to float on this blog. They’ll be released one by one, and true to the spirit of bogging, chapter wise. That should take about a year. That done, more will follow.

The first, therefore, would be a refined version of the The Pather Panchali of Satyajit Ray published by McFarland and Company in the US.

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McFarland had plans to bring out an Indian edition through their Indian partners, redesigned but more importantly re-priced for our chiefly browsers’ market. (The American edition was sold exclusively online—you never got to thumb through the book at a book shop—and priced at $55!). But two years on nothing came of it. In February 2014 the rights reverted back to me. Since then my experience with Indian publishers has been dismal. I didn’t know any top honchos and approaching through routine channels they made me feel as though I was looking for a job. Unlike Americans, they were excessively secretive and kept neither their word, nor deadlines. So I have now dropped the idea of getting rich through writing and decided instead to directly reach out to the world sitting at home.

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 No more squeaky accented women to deal with on the phone, no Bengali commissioning editors assuming exclusive rights on ‘Shautojeet Roy’ to meet in their featureless, sterile cubicles.

The second and third books would be on Aparajito and Apur Sansar. Words for both these are ready, only illustrations remain to be done. I don’t want to ask Girish Sahasrabudhe, who did such an excellent job for Pather Panchali, to do these since I couldn’t pay him matching price for his talent and labour. I paid him just 22 thousand rupees in 2009 whereas 50 should have been in order; today, even more. For my part, in case you are curious and interested, I received just one single cheque of $200 from McFarland for my entire effort on the project! Dileep Padgaonkar told me he received a similar amount from his book on Rossellini or Pasolini, I forget which since I haven’t seen the book. Writers apparently are supposed to make their kill from publicity fallouts of writing: be nominated on committees, invited for lectures, inaugurations, weddings, funerals; essentially from living on page 3. Back in the 70s, the FFC filmmakers earned their monies from non-descript ad shorts, documentaries and corporate films while their New Wave titles got them name and prestige, and from that a claim on large budgets. Post Ankur, Shyam Benegal demanded the use of a state helicopter from Bansi Lal for a Haryana government documentary and got it. The film he made? Never mind.

After Apu trilogy other books under Professor Satyajit Ray can be analyses of famous—or my favourite—scenes from some of his other films, both fiction as well as fact. Or just structural notes on some others without necessarily going into details. Or even related material, say a rare interview with the master, which provides hands on academic insights into Ray’s world suitable for a learning filmmaker. Jalsaghar, Mahanagar, Charulata, Aranyer Din Ratri, Seemabaddha, Jana Aranaya, Kanchenjunga, Ashani Sanket, Shatranj Ke Khiladi, Pikoo’s Day, Rabindranath Tagore, The Inner Eye, Bala.  Again words for most of these are ready, sketches would follow. Given the advantages of the medium of blogging I would have colour film illustrations in colour. Publishers tend to cringe having to include colour plates in paper books.

So unless help comes along in some form, I intend to do the rest of the illustrations myself. They are after all no more than black board work, the illustrations, at which I can assure you I wasn’t bad in my days. And who knows, with practice I may even improve!

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Ray is among the most consistent of filmmakers in the world. Kurosawa, Bergman, Mizoguchi are others on whom my kind of books are possible to write and they could all be learnt from by self-taught filmmakers. In addition, Ray is also rock bottom low on budget, which gives students a sense of kinship with him. In my opinion what learner filmmakers need are insights into the technique of the masters (technique as distinct from technology) and not necessarily their so-called worldview. Nuts and bolts, in other words, of how a scene was put together and not aesthetic discourses as so often tirelessly pedalled and obfuscated by critics and film studies departments. But more of this in my Preface to the Pather Panchali book.

About the same time that I got introduced to Satyajit Ray’s cinema in late 60s, an army cadet explained to me the technique of ballroom dancing that they were offered as hobby in the National Defence Academy. How does the couple relate without stepping on each other’s toes, I wanted to know. Putting his arm around my waist and holding my other hand above, he raised his first elbow in level with the shoulder to offer my free hand a firm support to rest over. The man initiates the woman, he told me, providing her an assurance and trust of security so that she can experience the bliss of romance. A trust that she’d never be cheated by this partner.

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I don’t know if the cadet was right on facts about ballroom dancing but watching a Ray film, I certainly feel like that privileged woman.

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Book Aparajito /Chapter 1(a)

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Fade in

Titles. On a firmer, printing paper, rather small letters and with occasional short horizontal lines separating sections.

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Unlike Pather Panchali’s parchment, it’s clearly a print effect. Later in the film, an adolescent Apu works in a printing press in return for getting to live in a room upstairs.

Last title, Satyajit Ray’s, dissolves to—huge iron girders of a bridge passing in front as the view travels riding in a train. “Benares” you say as the image, complete with the rumbling sounds, sinks in. Echoing the famous Howarah bridge over Ganga and Delhi’s over Jamuna, you have to cross this similar British-built iron bridge over Ganga before arriving at Varanasi railway station.

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Soon enough a title superimposes on the shot to confirm both, the city and the year—1327 of the Bengali calendar, equivalent of 1920.

Not only are you aboard the train, you are already into the story. Pather Panchali ended with the family leaving for Kashi—the old name of Benares, today’s Varanasi—and here they are entering the city as the film begins. The river below is Ganga, the legendary Ganges, and you can already see a glimpse of life on its bank as the view fades out.

Fade in now on a man feeding pigeons. The image is a near silhouette and it’s a holy man of the ancient city, slim, bearded. “A Hindu,” you might hear among a western audience, which of course would be right.

Firmly centred in India, Ray sought to reach the widest circle of audience.

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Notice the birds collecting from all over; the shots, the backgrounds, the action. First, three pigeons along a stone perch, flying off. Next some birds landing on a high platform. Then a top view of the platform with more birds landing. That in a way is the whole action, which is only enlarged and amplified in the next few shots, introducing more elements of the location—a basket umbrella top for one—and wider views of the ghats.

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Notice that the two long views of the ghats are not cut directly but through a brief landing of the birds insert. The two would not cut easy directly because of conflicting direction. A direction-neutral shot bridges the jump admirably.

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The gathering of birds builds over an octagonal high top, before the view tilts up to show the rising sun.

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Pigeons are important to Aparajito. The birds collecting now would disperse dramatically towards the end of Benares sequence, almost in the manner of an unwinding action. Sunrise too is important to the film—as indeed to Benares ghats. When later Harihar is climbing the steps ill, the sun is reflecting on the water body in the background (as also a flight of pigeons going overhead at the same time) to give the image an ominous, burning quality, reminiscent of Pishi begging Sarbojaya for water in Pather Panchali.

Ray’s Benares diary extracts (Our films, their films) make a prominent mention of both, the pigeons as well as the sun.

Next, three shots of details of bathing, followed by three of general atmosphere on the ghat from a moving boat.

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The large umbrellas against the sun are a common feature to all. The sounds over this introductory stretch also dissolve to highlight different features of the ghats. A sermon is one, a stretch of street music another. But overrunning everything are recurrent temple bells, now close, now far, high-pitched as well as base. Bells are a fact of life in this temple town and would be heard as leitmotif and with variations—school bells, rail station bells and the like—throughout the film.

Harihar is one of the bathers here. Having finished, he fills ganga-jal in his lota and collects his glasses from a priest sitting under an umbrella.

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The priest also offers sandal paste which Harihar applies on the forehead before beginning to climb the long run of steps home.

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Harihar would again do this same innocent stretch—more in painful detail and with variation—under changed circumstances of his health.

So, that’s the opening of the film and the introduction to the ghats of Benares.

Notice that the ghats may be a raw documentary footage, the shots are by no means casual. The coming fiction incorporates, rather builds on elements taken from them. The pigeons, the bathers, the umbrellas. In old civilisations river fronts decide the very character of the cities on their banks and this fundamental truth is perhaps the basis of the mise-en-scene of the Benares episode. After all everything in the Benares episode happens between the ghats and Harihar’s house.

Immediately after the pigeons there’s even a widow sitting facing the sunrise under an umbrella. Before the episode ends, Sarbojaya herself would be a widow.

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The ghats done, the view follows Harihar home.

That happens in three shots, each one taking us deeper inside the lanes and by-lanes of the city. Each of these locations would subsequently repeat. The first is the entry point to the lanes just after you have cleared the steps from the ghat.

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Even here there are a couple more steps to climb before you come to smaller temples on both sides, which Harihar bows to before proceeding further. The old women (both widows in white, incidentally) come up the shot.

Next is a shops-cum-residential section with sit-outs on both sides.

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Here are bystanders and hawkers passing by as in a bazaar.

The third is a purely residential area where Harihar is a familiar figure—somebody greets him and he answers. He is known and respected, we notice. This last shot unlike the two before follows Harihar through a pan as he turns a corner and approaches the steps in front of his house.

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Harihar’s passage through the lanes provides another example of what I have been calling geometry and its simultaneous breach. When we first saw him after the high steps, he is seen going down the shot, then coming up in the next; then we see him coming up again but this time, instead of a dissolve, it’s a continuous pan through which he passes us by and is seen going down the lane, soon to enter the house. It’s going down the shot, then coming up, then again coming up and finally going down. The pattern of dissolves is broken in this last shot, replaced as it is by a camera pan.

Also the number of people keep getting reduced, he keeps getting bigger in image size and the lanes keep getting less and less deep. Interestingly, in the last shot as he gets in the house there is a cow in the distance but it’s not noticeable. Cow in the lanes is a trait of Benares, which gets to be used soon in humorous and plain factual ways.

Book Aparajito /Structure of the Film

Satyajit Ray seems to have visualised Aparajito as happening over three broad sections. The family’s life in Benares leading up to father’s death; mother and son returning to Bengal but in a new village home; and their separation once Apu moves to Calcutta ending with mother’s death. Thus if the film were to be 90 minutes, the three sections would roughly be 30 minutes each.

As matters stand, Aparajito is 89 minutes and these sections measure at 31, 23 and 35 minutes.

As in PP, there are two story milestones in Aparajito, the two deaths. As dramatic high-points it’s imperative that they are placed neither too close to each other, nor far apart. Nor indeed such that they divide the film in two equal halves. Equal halves, in case you are wondering, are normally not sound on aesthetics. Not Ray’s aesthetics at any rate. As a classicist, Ray is more comfortable with the Golden Section approach to Art, roughly one-thirds and two-thirds. Which is what the film’s three sections would readily fall in if the second and third could be seen as one continuous development, which indeed they are. In this extended sense, therefore, Aparajito is a film in two unequal sections, 31 and 58 minutes at roughly 1:2, each one leading to two harrowing, soul-stirring deaths.

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Benares section in Aparajito is structurally as autonomous as is possible in a longer film. And yet it doesn’t stick out like a glaring patch. Rather it lends this section an extra dimension of a unique feel and appearance rightfully deserving of that one-of-a-kind ancient city. Happily, Calcutta too at the other end is a city with its own magic (in size, language, culture, history, and experientially) that is deserving of an independent treatment. Thus the film begins in one city, middles in a village and ends with the large metropolis, albeit this one in instalments. This fragmented approach given to Calcutta has two advantages. The film doesn’t get to have a ‘list-like’ feel—a Tale of Two Cities of sorts—and the city gets to gather a momentum in Aparajito for a full-scale location for the next film Apur Sansar. (Which too maintains the rural back and forth in changed circumstances.) Both cities are located on Ganga but compared with so much emphasis on the waterfront in Benares, there is just one reference to it in Calcutta when the two friends go there to relax. Likewise, abruptness of departure from Benares is contrasted with graduated scale of introduction of Calcutta. Variety and variations built-in in the story are thus further enhanced by Ray’s treatment.

On the whole, the two cities come to be treated as different from each other as the two deaths that they are associated with.

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Here are my 10 chapters of Aparajito.

Titles. (01:15 mts)

  1. Family in Benares. (11:15 mts)

Arrival, pigeons, waterfront, family’s newly found prosperity, neighbors, another priest, no school so Apu roams, Kashi Vishwanath Temple.

  1. Harihar is taken ill, dies. (11:45 mts)

Unwell on Diwali, asks his own medicine given. Falls atop the waterfront steps, doctor called, a ‘predator’ neighbor makes an advance to Sarbojaya, rebuffed. Night, dawn, Harihar asks for gangajal. Apu woken up, sent to get it from the river, brings. Mother/son pour water in his mouth, Harihar dies.

  1. Sarbojaya finds employment as cook but soon leaves Benares. (07:00 mts)

A visiting uncle offers to take her to his village, Sarbojaya undecided. She cooks for a rich household and they like her work. But the chance sighting of Apu growing up to be a servant changes everything. She leaves Benares with the old uncle.

  1. Instead of training as a priest, Apu wants to join school. Joins. (14:35 mts)

Train journey to Bengal, new village home where railway line runs even closer. Priestly training sessions, discovers the village school. Tells mother he wants to join it, joins. Inspector’s visit. Headmaster lends him books, encourages him to learn.

  1. Apu wants to join college, go to Calcutta. Mother reluctant but gives in. (08:00 mts)

Grown up Apu has won a scholarship. Creates a scene at home, walks away into the darkness. Mother finds him, brings him home. Shows him her savings from Benares. Departure. Apu leaves for the station. Sarbojaya returns to empty house.

  1. Apu finds his way in Calcutta. Settles down. College routine. (09:00 mts)

Getting off at large railway station, Apu carries his bundle, goes looking for his address. Headmaster’s letter to the printing press owner finds him place to stay in return for work in the press. Writes to mother. College by day, press by night. Makes a friend.

  1. Holiday visit home to mother. (11:45 mts)

Mother’s been waiting as he comes. But nothing interests him in the village, he is bored. Holidays over, he leaves for the station but decides not to take the train at the last moment. Returns to a gleaming mother. I missed the train, he smiles.

  1. Calcutta-village-Calcutta-village. (09:00 mts)

Back to college, routine. Letter from mother. Writes back inability to come. Mother is in declining health. In college with friend, refuses a smoke. Mother is delirious, imagines his arrival. Fireflies in the dark.

  1. Apu receives letter, goes to the village, mother is no more. (02:40 mts)

Back from college a letter awaits him with press owner. It’s not from mother but he has to go. Return train journey the same as when he had come. Home, empty through and through. Mother is no more. Apu sits down weeping. Old man comforts.

  1. Apu decides to return to Calcutta. (02:40 mts)

Apu sits sorting household things just as Harihar had at the end of PP. He will perform last rites in Calcutta, he tells the concerned old man. Ties his bundle, takes the senior’s blessing and is gone through the door even as the old man’s hand is slowly returning. He is walking down a similar dirt road as the family had taken at the end of Pather Panchali.

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As in PP, Aparajito’s ‘chapters’ are of vastly different durations. But unlike that first film they are not formally marked with fades. Rather they correspond with the linear narrative logic within the larger scheme of the story.

I think this kind of approach leaves the filmmaker free to improvise within a section than carry the burden of the whole film at all times.

Book Aparajito /PP & After

Anyone taking up arts as profession strives sooner or later to consolidate two things. A style that is distinct and a worldview that’s revealing of the artist’s range of interests and sympathies.

Of the two style is the more difficult to achieve. It’s like hitting upon a personal formula, a mould of sorts in which to pour your viscous content each time. It also goes by the name and label of andaaz-e-bayaan in our part of the world. The manner of the matter. Inevitably there is a period of churning involved. Gods of cinema, Antonioni, Bergman, DeSica, Kurosawa, all made a number of films before they settled down with what came to be identified as their signature style. Godard made a number of ‘crazy’ films before it hit the world—and probably him—that he was being “consistently inconsistent”!

Satyajit Ray has to be a rare example in the history of cinema to have got all aspects of style right in his very first film. Once perfected, the tenets of his andaaz—strictly Academy Aperture compositions, tracking for emphasis, his way of music application, narration through spiral cutting, intelligent engagement through deductive logic—were fixed for the rest of his films. It’s well known that he never apprenticed; instead he picked up technical information from half-a-dozen books then available, learnt grammar from just watching films (mostly Hollywood; Indian films by and large taught him what not to do) and relied upon Bibhutibhushan for his visual content. All this tempered with shrewd observation, vivid visualisation, a great sense of humour and never taking leave of robust common sense.

Going by considerations of style alone it may not be wrong to conclude that Ray’s entire career of 35 years taxies on one long plateau without ever taking off. Whether it’s high praise or criticism depends upon the eyes of the beholder.

Post PP all Ray was left to concentrate on was to juggle with variety; of genres, periods, subjects, never letting us (or himself) settle down to a habit. Indeed he seems to have gone to extraordinary lengths to do that. After having five stunning deaths in the trilogy, the danger of being called a “death specialist” must have been real. Even Jalsaghar, which came after Aparajito—a song and dance film to redeem his position in the trade, as he said—ends with the death of the self-destructing zamindar. But when even his next, Prabhat Kumar authored Devi, happened to be ending with death, he force-changed the ending to the main character only losing her mind, not life. Interestingly when he visited the Institute in 1969, he gave us detailed aesthetic explanations on why he had done that, without mentioning this as the key consideration. But that can hardly be held against him. He was simply exercising his right of a juggler not to reveal the tricks of his trade.

After the trilogy, Ray only returned to portraying death 13 years and as many films later in Ashani Sanket. Teen Kanya, Kanchanjangha, Abhijan, Mahanagar, Charulata, Kapurush, Nayak, Goopy Gayne, Aranyer Din-Ratri, Pratidwandhi, Seemabaddha, none has death as high point of their beautiful expanse and exposition.

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The first half of Satyajit Ray’s career was a breeze.

Then over Charulata and Nayak came the split with his cameraman Subrato Mitra. And soon afterwards followed the inevitable spat with that hornets’ next called the Indian new wave. Shorn of genuine talent, the government-backed wave could never quite win self-sustenance but did manage, at least in India, to dent Ray’s image.

I had known Subrato Mitra as an occasional visitor to the Institute. He was a tongue-tied fussy perfectionist who, as Ray told us in 1969, couldn’t quite say why he wanted another take. In actual fact, perhaps both men had had enough of each other. Both knew that nothing could deny them a place in the history with a dozen or so brilliant films they had done together and wanted to move on. In the event both lost. After some indifferent films here and there, Subrato took to teaching in the FTII and Ray could never again manage that luminous, marble quality of looks in his films.

The new wave filmmakers were for most part Institute ex-students looking for a break and were obliged to take a position on Ray. Using heavy academic jargon and with eager help from journalists, they began to fault-find him on two counts. One saying that his cinema was politically aloof and second that he had failed to keep pace with the medium. Institute was the undeclared war room of this attack.

Political commitment in those days meant being leftist. Communism was still firmly in control behind the Soviet iron curtain and much like everywhere else communist thought was the toast of Indian intellectuals. Accordingly cinema at that time could only be either Progressive or Reactionary. But Ray seemed to fall in neither category. As such some sought to ignore him while others assigned him to international skies in the company of other ‘humanists’, whatever that broad label meant. Students made it a point to see his films as and when they came—mostly without subtitles, it should be added—and came out moved but somewhat unexcited. Their preferred viewing, with lots of ‘repeat’ value, was European films from both sides of the political divide, east and west. Ray lacked the sexual fizz. That and less than perfect cinematography is what actually made his films look out of step with the times.

To be sure Satyajit Ray wasn’t a prude when it came to sexuality. But then there was the censor board which he wasn’t willing to mess with. As early as Devi he was constrained to show a lip-to-lip between a young married couple through a mosquito net, in the silhouette and in a long shot! The world scene on the other hand was experiencing a spurt of permissiveness. Take out sexual sting from films like Closely Guarded Trains, Virgin Spring, Cries And Whispers, Shinoda’s Double Suicide and even, let’s say, Jan Kadar’s minor Adrift and see what remains. You couldn’t blame the drooling students if Miklos Jancso, film after film, had flooded his lush green Hungarian countryside with a feast of shapely nudes walking uncut among horse riders who seemed to be rather interested in Marxism. Why, the communists once even tried a topless newsreader reading hard news on one of the Soviet channels!

Much as one might defend values of subtlety and the power of the suggestive in art, it’s not as though a film like Silence is any less suggestive and subtle. The truth is we as a society have been excessively prudish when it comes to portrayal of sex in the public arts. For somebody who played on the wider world scene, it wasn’t a level playing field. Come to think of it, one of the most embarrassing moments in Ray’s cinema is the kiss in Ghare Bahire. Self conscious and clumsy to the limit, seeing that shot you rather see the breath held of the unit members while taking it. If ever after the dog following the children in Pather Panchali there was another Ray shot that needed 13 takes, it was this one in Ghare Bahire.

All of which is not to deny, of course, that the second half of Ray’s cinema was on a natural decline even if none of these factors counted. It indeed was.

It can hardly be otherwise.

Book PP /Acknowledgements

Here is gratefully acknowledging:

Professor Satish Bahadur, whom I had expected to be the first reader of this book just as we his students used to expect him to be the first viewer of our diploma films. Sadly he expired while this book was under production.

Anil Srivastava, Director, OHSL and Dr Craig Smith, Chair, Film and Electronics Arts, CSU, Long Beach for advice and help in realising this book.

Tripurari Sharan, IAS, a genial boss at FTII for 5 years, for being ever so encouraging and helpful; Dilip Kumar Chakraborty, IAS, for sending a permission letter at Sharan’s instance on Pather Panchali.

Sandip Ray for prompt permission to use his father’s two articles; Jaya Bachchan, my batch mate and the first lady of Indian cinema, for getting Filmfare’s clearance for reprinting them; Jitesh Pillai, editor Filmfare, for the clearance. Also Dileep Padgaonkar, Dilip Basu, Prasenjit Dasgupta and Soumen Paul for advice on the subject.

Professor Dilip K Basu of Satyajit Ray Film and Study Collection; Professor Vinay Shrivastava, Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts, San Francisco State University; and Eswaran Pillai, Assistant Professor, Department of English (Film Studies), Michigan State University, for their critical comments on the sample pages. Professor Basu also for writing such a kind foreword.

Jon Boorstin, scriptwriter and teacher from Hollywood, for just about anything when in doubt. Thanks Jon; just that you earn a living from writing isn’t enough explanation for being so good with words! You almost started a revolution in Pune, man!

Professor Satish Bahadur, Haimanti Banerjee, Shyam Benegal, Vishnu Mathur, Pankaj Saxena and Sanjay Agrawal for their valuable comments on one or the other part of the manuscript from time to time. Anil Srivastava of the FTII for research.

Girish Sahasrabudhe, the young illustrator of this book who felt truly inspired with the project and won all-around praise for his sketches. Prithvishwar Gayen, a generous, chance-find calligrapher, for the entire pencil work on the sketches and illustrations. As well as later for photoshop work for the present blog version. Also my younger brother, Davinder Choudhary, for looking after our 94 year old father on my turn in Delhi, while sketches kept me extending stay in Pune from 1 to 8 weeks.

My family—wife Indu, daughter Sonia and son Gyan—for providing unexpected sparks of appreciation at times when they were most needed. Now I know how you cannot write books without family’s support.

And finally my alma mater Film and Television Institute of India and generations of students that I dealt with there, for sparing me some unsullied space so I can still ask some innocent questions.

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Book PP /Filmography

There are better more detailed filmographies available at the end of scores and scores of books and publications on Ray. Here is a straight list of them for casual reference.

Those in bold are documentaries and short fictions.

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1955  Pather Panchali (Song of the Little Road)

1956  Aparajito (The Unvanquished)

1958  Parash Pathar (The Philosopher’s Stone)

1958  Jalsaghar (The Music Room)

1959  Apur Sansar (The World of Apu)

1960  Devi (The Goddess)

1961  Teen Kanya (Three Daughters)

1961  Rabindranath Tagore

1962  Kanchanjangha

1962  Abhijan (The Expedition)

1963  Mahanagar (The Big City)

1964  Charulata (The Lonely Wife)

1964  Two

1965  Kapurush O Mahapurush (The Coward and the Holy Man)

1966  Nayak (The Hero)

1967  Chidiakhana (The Menagerie)

1968  Goopy Gyne Bagha Bayne (The Adventures of Goopy and Bagha)

1969  Aranyer Din-Ratri (Days and Nights in the Forest)

1970  Pratidwandi (The Adversary)

1971  Seemabaddha (Company Limited)

1971  Sikkim

1972  The Inner Eye

1973  Ashani Sanket (Distant Thunder)

1974  Sonar Killa (The Golden Fortress)

1975  Jana Aranya (The Middle Man)

1975  Bala

1977  Shatranj Ke Khiladi (The Chess Players)

1978  Joi Baba Felunath (The Elephant God)

1980  Hirek Rajar Deshey (The Kingdom of Diamonds)

1980  Pikoo

1981  Sadgati (Deliverance)

1984  Gharey-Bahire (The Home and the World)

1987  Sukumar Ray

1989  Ganashatru (The Enemy of the People)

1990  Shakha-Proshakha (Branches of a Tree)

1991  Agantuk (The Stranger)

 

 

Book PP /What to read—and what to avoid—on Ray

To my mind, Ray’s filmography should be the best bibliography for the readers of this book. When in doubt, ‘read’ his films.

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Any of them is good for a close study since each one bears his distinctive style and signature. Luckily there are about 30 features, 5-6 documentaries and two short fictions to choose from. Most are available on the Internet for free download. Even the early 70’s short fiction The Two and a documentary commissioned by the Chogyal of the then independent kingdom Sikkim, which for some reason had gone missing, are today available. My own collection was picked up largely in India about 10 years back when most of them were released on DVDs. True, the quality is something that Ray wouldn’t approve of—often they seem to have been transferred from used prints—but I am grateful to have them and they run. However, since the Oscar, various international agencies have begun restoring his films and quality versions are regularly being released.

Next in importance would be his screenplays, all written single handed without collaboration. But sadly most of them have remained even to this day untranslated, in Bengali. The few that were either written in English or translated under one or the other arrangement have been released as books or otherwise exist in print: Agantuk (translated), The Alien (in English), The Apu Trilogy (translated), Nayak (translated), Sadgati (translated), and Shatranj Ke Khiladi (in English).

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According to Ray’s filmmaker son Sandip Ray, Devi is currently in translation.

Ray’s own writings on cinema would be next on my list. He wrote both in Bengali as well as in English and almost everything is now available in English. My Years with Apu is his account of the making of Apu trilogy. Our Films, Their Films collects articles in English on Indian and foreign films. Speaking of Films includes translated lectures and articles.

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Picked up when it first appeared in 1976, my own copy of Our Films, Their Films is by now in tatters. Whenever low I have found that book truly uplifting. As it turns out Speaking of Films too is no less inspiring but it’s shocking that it should have taken 30 years to cross the translation barrier. The Bengali original of this book was released along with Our Films in 1976 but the translation came only in 2005, good 13 years after Ray’s death! However the two are true companion pieces, wholly complementary to each other—no overlaps—and should be bought up on sight without hesitation.

2

Among those written on Ray, Marie Seton was the first to begin the process in late sixties (along with Robin Wood’s unassuming little paperback on Apu trilogy) with her intimate, internationally released, Portrait of a Director, Satyajit Ray.

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Since then there has been a steady output of titles from the west as well as in India. These have included critical appraisals of his films along with detailed biographical sections, special focus volumes brought out for film festivals, compilation of homage write ups by renowned personalities, and in 1991, Satyajit Ray at 70, a beautiful collection of photographs by his lifelong official photographer Nemai Ghosh, with introduction by Henri Cartier-Bresson who, with touching humility, regrets he never got a chance to photograph the great filmmaker. The latest and the largest coffee table volume is Andrew Robinson’s Satyajit Ray: A Vision of Cinema (2005) with lots of pictures and visual information on his career, varied interests, personality and working methods. But by far the best and most comprehensive—and dense—update on information as well as write ups on the man and his range of work (including designing) remains Satyajit Ray, an Intimate Master (1998) edited by Shanti Das.

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That the book is also affordably priced (if available) should be music to the film students’ ears.

On the whole Indian contribution to scholarship on Ray has been surprisingly little. I am not aware of the quality of stuff that has remained locked up in Bengali but whatever has appeared in English doesn’t inspire much confidence. Either the writers are in awe of the man and use mindless superlatives or they are over anxious to seem even handed and assume school masterly airs. Professor Satish Bahadur was one Ray scholar that all of us in India had been waiting to complete his book on Apu trilogy, but seeking endlessly to match his mentor’s level of perfection, he kept refraining from ever signing off that book. Which to my mind is a tragic and huge loss. A third category of Indian writers is openly committed to promoting the Indian new wave of 70s—long since subsided—and they descend to childish limits to underplay and undermine him. But sadly in all cases the reviewers are so frequently wrong even on factual details that Ray was often irked into writing back long protest pieces in papers, magazines and journals. Even as late as his 1990 Shakha Proshakha, the fading master was constrained to point to misreading of facts on the part of his long time friend and senior commentator Chidanand Dasgupta. Instead of watching what is on offer, we seem to know ahead.

And likewise for interviews. Even in best of cases, when not pointing out the actual expression he had used in a certain context instead of the one being ascribed by the reporter—“I think I used the term departure and not breakthrough…”—Ray’s interviews with local journalists read embarrassingly one sided. By comparison he found the western reviewers better informed on the medium, more thorough as professionals and offering insights that felt truly rewarding. His terse little coinage for Indian critics was “anybody with access to print”. They too on their part hit back in all kinds of ways.

There is however one category of writing where the world has no option but to live with the Indian scholarship. That is on purely sociological (or is it anthropological?) evaluation of the phenomenon of Ray in Bengal and in India. Leaning heavily on stills from films—little oases of pleasure in a vast desert of words—these ‘studies’ are littered with expressions like “Nehruvian India”, Ray’s “Brahmo” origins, “Tagorean Synthesis”, “Bengal Renaissance” “Mythicality(!)”, “archetype” etcetera. Apparently the film studies clientele is happiest with this kind of writing but because of stills and misleading titles—Cinema of Satyajit Ray, for example—they end up in our hands too and do nothing but obfuscate and mislead. Seeking to create a certain kind of ‘intellectual’ culture of films, such books club together all kinds of odd and obscure films, pretending as though all are equal on value quotient. And what film would not offer half a dozen stills that look promising! If bibliographies are permitted to have a negative reference, for the purpose of this book at least I would say it is this kind of writing. Read them at your own risk.

In fact even genuine critical writing I would hesitate to recommend at early stages of learning filmmaking. Asked to write a synopsis of the film that they propose to make as their next exercise, the students at FTII would often come out with a 4-line piece written with the typically evasive flourish of a publicity handout after the film is made. Unless taken with utmost caution, my belief is that critical writing, even the best of the lot, can veer a young filmmaker—most inadvertently and with the best of intentions, no doubt—away from filmmaking and into pure wordsmanship.

So go attack that library only when the story telling abilities have been honed. Until then your instincts should be good enough to guide you through what might constitute a story as against, say, a mere incident. That struggle with the self is important and you would be surprised how much you already knew just based on life experience. We have all heard stories on grandmother’s lap and simplicity of approach never killed anyone. But once you are home on story telling (or at least firmly home bound), you can throw open all your windows like Mahatama Gandhi said and allow all kinds of wind from all kinds of lands to freely pass through…including Mythicality!

3

But the last word on filmmaking must rest with Sergei Eisenstein. Mainly with his books Film Form and The Film Sense, and if available Notes of a Film Director.

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Admittedly, Eisenstein’s style is didactic and his references, being from the rather insulated Soviet cultural mainstream of the times, unfamiliar, but coming from a genuinely bright and original mind—Bertolt Brecht should be a fair comparison to him in stature—they are every bit worth aspiring to read and eventually hoping to make sense of. A spiritual bath of sorts; for which the least you can do is to have your own copies of those books around.

A theatre and film director, film teacher, theoretician, and above all a great thinker, Eisenstein is perhaps the only “scientist” of cinema in the history of the medium. Working over the switchover years from silent to sound cinema, those were also the times when the great Soviet socialist experiment was at its peak. Vladimir Lenin had declared that cinema with its wide communication potential was for them the “most important of arts” and Eisenstein as a true experimenter made the most of the situation. But after initial success he didn’t have a smooth sail in the mercurial political dispensation of the times and died rather young at just 50.

Simply put Eisenstein believed that when two shots are joined by a cut, the result is not A + B but rather their product, a third entity C. According to him it is a situation of dynamic conflict between the contents of the two shots rather than that of ‘tame’ summation and should be striven for in film practice. This was the essence of his theory of montage which he further classified into 4 or 5 kinds, arising out of various traits of the visual (and by extension aural) character of the medium as well as situations that it is often called upon to portray.

Through this book I have been using the term mise-en-scene in various contexts. Originally a French expression from theatre, Eisenstein was the first to adapt it for the cinema. In theatre, mise-en-scene means the comprehensive creative strategy to staging a play and the process begins with visualizing the set that the play calls upon to ‘house’ the action (or equally, since it’s a two-way dynamic relationship, visualizing the action of the play that a set would be designed to contain and accommodate). Since, unlike the fixed position of the audience in theatre, the film camera is a moving eye, the application becomes that much more compounded and complex in case of the cinema. Here mise-en-scene becomes a concept at once applicable to a shot, a scene and the whole film.

Welcome (if you are still with me) to the world of mise-en-scene!

Normally never the one to go for jargon, Ray often used the concept and expression mise-en-scene in his discussions on cinema. In one of the Western documentaries on him in mid-80s, some of us were elated to notice Eisenstein’s framed picture hung over a mantlepiece in his living room.

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Book PP /A post-trilogy article by Ray

Beside adaptation notes, Should a film-maker be original? offers a clear statement on which part of the trilogy came from what source.

Here is the gist.

The three films of the Apu trilogy are based on two books of Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay, Pather Panchali and Aparajito. The film PP is based on the first half of the book PP. The film Aparajito is based on the last portion of book PP and the first portion of book Aparajito. Film Apur Sansar is based on the second half of book Aparajito.

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Should a film-maker be original?

By Satyajit Ray

From Filmfare, August 28, 1959

Apologies.

Pending Filmfare’s formal permission, the text of the article is being withheld. The same, however, is available in my book ‘The Pather Panchali Of Satyajit Ray’ published by McFarland & Company, 2011.

Book PP /A post-Pather Panchali article by Ray

Beside those included in Our films, their films and Speaking of films, many of Ray articles have remained scattered. I chanced upon the two included in this book, A New Approach and Should a filmmaker be Original? during a random search of our FTII library’s dump of magazines. Both are from the Apu trilogy days and are being published for the first time.

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A New Approach

By Satyajit Ray

From Filmfare, August 17, 1956

Apologies.

Pending Filmfare’s formal permission, the text of the article is being withheld. The same, however, is available in my book ‘The Pather Panchali Of Satyajit Ray’ published by McFarland & Company, 2011.

 

Book PP /Flow of Scenes

Chapter 1

Titles.

Sejo-bou bows to the tulsi plant, notices disturbance in the garden below and yells at a little girl, who runs away.

Ducking mother on the way, little Durga comes home. Old Pishi is away, so she places the stolen raw guavas in her bowl. Then pours milk and feeds the kitten.

Sejo-bou is still cursing Durga on her terrace when she spots mother Sarbojaya at their well and begins to go at her. A friendly neighbor, Nilmoni’s wife offers help to carry the pitcher but Sarbojaya declines.

Pishi is now back and eating in her veranda as Durga sits watching. Sarbojaya returns from the well, calls Durga away and scolds her. As Durga goes to return the fruit, Sarbojaya shouts at Pishi for spoiling the child. Angry, Pishi folds up her things—a mat, a couple of bundles and a lota—and leaves in a huff. Durga returns just in time and tries to stop her but Sarbojaya restrains her.

Night. Durga is asleep. Father Harihar anxiously paces up and down as Sarbojaya is in labor. Sejo-bou—she’s a relative—and Nilmoni’s wife attend to Sarbojaya.

Morning. Led by an excited Durga, Pishi returns the same as she had left. Durga puts her things in her old place and joins Pishi at the entrance of the labor thatch. Moved at the sight of the newborn, Pishi wipes a tear.

Pishi has taken charge at the cradle string while Durga sits counting her seeds alongside in the veranda. In the kitchen Harihar joins Sarbojaya and soon both begin speaking of their modest ambitions. “Being able to repair the house, send the boy to school, find a good husband for Durga and two square meals, what else do we need…”

Pishi sings a lullaby.

Chapter 2

Sarbojaya comes calling Apu, then asks Durga to wake him up. Durga is now an adolescent and Apu an easy smiling six-year-old. A glimpse of the morning routine suggests that life has remained much the same as before.

Sarbojaya and Durga fondly dress up Apu for school. Durga goes to leave him there.

Apu is at school. Or is it rather the grocer’s shop? It is both. The pot-bellied Prassana dictates a sum to a class of “nine gems” while he weighs and sells his wares, as also deals with some villagers collecting jatra subscription. But suddenly he can be less funny and has a defaulting pupil dragged to him by another for a round of supple caning. Seeing which Apu squirms even as a girl customer runs off.

Home. Pishi tries to pinch some chilli from Sarbojaya’s kitchen. She is checked in time by Sarbojaya. Pishi broods as she cooks in her veranda when Durga brings in front of her eyes, first one stolen guava, and then a second. That spreads cheer across the wrinkled face.

Sarbojaya calls Durga over for help. Then sitting in the kitchen veranda, she gives her a long sermon saying what a girl her age is expected to do. She also checks on her forehead for fever.

Apu returns from school with Harihar. He goes over to mother, says he’s hungry. Just then he is called over by Durga who, sitting under their window, quietly asks him to get something from inside.

Harihar is headed towards the kitchen when Pishi calls him for help. She shows him a large hole in her wrapper and is promised a new one by Harihar. Sarbojaya resents this and shows annoyance when he asks cinders for his hookah. He then settles down in the kitchen veranda next to her, but gets away when she begins to press him for money for repairs, for clothes, to return Sejo-bou’s loan of five rupees…

Apu gets mustard oil from the living room shelf for Durga’s tamarind paste. Then sitting under the window, both lick the preparation in secret—it’s too sour for him but Durga loves the tang.

Presently, the sweet-seller’s familiar bells are heard. Durga sends Apu to father for money but already knows they are not getting it. “Let’s go after him!” she says.

One little caravan they make—the sweet-seller with his dangling pots, followed by Durga, Apu and even a dog—and soon reach Sejo-bou’s house where a chorus of voices greets the seller. Durga and Apu enjoy the sight from the courtyard door. Then Durga is taken inside by one of the girls while Apu stays out. On the terrace Durga finds Tunu beading her necklace but the girl wouldn’t let her even touch it. As usual Sejo-bou had been rude and mean with Durga downstairs but here her daughter Ranu comes over and slips a sweet in her mouth.

Evening. Durga and Apu bring the cow from the fields while Sarbojaya and Pishi offer their brief prayers at the tulsi plant in the courtyard.

Night. Sarbojaya calls Durga away from Pishi for doing her hair. The unsuspecting girl even gets a tight slap this time. Both mother and daughter settle down in the veranda next to Harihar and Apu. Harihar is doing accounts as also supervising Apu’s lesson. Mother and daughter talk about Ranu’s coming marriage. Presently the night train is heard and the children talk of going and seeing it some day.

Pishi in her own veranda keeps trying to thread an impossible needle by the lamp flame to mend her wrapper.

Chapter 3

Sarbojaya is feeding a playful Apu as he trains his bow and arrow at a hungry dog. Then he begins to run about chasing his arrows and she has to give up. The dog gets the food.

Suddenly, Sejo-bou appears at the door. Tunu’s necklace is missing and Durga has stolen it, she declares. Where is Durga?

Sarbojaya is struck dumb. A child accompanying Sejo-bou goes in and gets Durga’s box, but there is no necklace in it. Just then Sarbojaya sees Apu making frantic gestures to warn off Durga and sternly calls her to appear.

Durga denies the charge, upon which Sejo-bou moves to grab at her, but she is held back by Sarbojaya who herself begins to search the girl.

Just then Pishi comes in dragging a large dry palm leaf behind her and wants to know the matter. But no one tells her. Only some raw fruit are recovered from Durga’s pallu and this draws taunts and counter-taunts from both sides. Sejo-bou scores reminding Sarbojaya the 5 rupees that she still owes her. Finally asking her to return the necklace when found, she troops out of the house. “Like mother, like daughter!” she declares to a passing woman outside. “A bunch of thieves!”

Sarbojaya is breathless with anger and humiliation. Durga is collecting her things in the box as Sarbojaya calls her over. When the girl doesn’t move, she grabs her by the hair and begins to drag her on the ground, past the bushes, towards the courtyard door. Pishi tries to intervene but gets pushed back. Apu merely watches by the post. Beating her all the way, Sarbojaya finally pushes Durga out of the house and slumps against the door exhausted.

The storm over, Pishi begins to collect Durga’s scattered playthings in her box, while Apu tiptoes across the courtyard to rinse his mouth from eating just a while ago. He’s back to the veranda, book in front and reading aloud, when mother calls out from the door. She asks him to go and call Durga for food.

Smile breaks out on the boy once again as holding his bow and arrow, he goes out bouncing, looking for his sister.

Chapter 4

The same night. Pishi is narrating a story to the children, with Durga lying in her lap and Apu in Durga’s. Pishi’s shadow on the wall could well pass off as the witch from the same story.

The session is interrupted with Harihar’s call. He has brought a large fish which Durga brings to the mother in the kitchen, but Sarbojaya still carries the day’s incident on her mind.

Harihar is bubbling as he washes his feet in the veranda. He has received his three months’ salary which he passes on to a much relieved Sarbojaya. Later, taking his meals in the kitchen he relates another happy incident with relish when somebody from another village came introducing himself and requested him to perform a certain initiation ceremony in his family. Harihar had been clever not to show his eagerness to accept immediately. Again they discuss expenses to be met from the salary: Harihar mentions clothes for children and a wrapper for Pishi but Sarbojaya wants to first return Sejo-bou’s five rupees. The repairs once again get postponed till after the Pooja festival but as always Harihar is upbeat. “Everything will be done, don’t you worry,” he tells her.

As they settle to sleep children exchange notes on the missing necklace.

Night train is passing as retiring to bed, Harihar mentions a plot for a new play that’s running in his head. Sarbojaya sits mending clothes by a lamp in the next room as children sleep beside. She asks him about the ghats of Benares where he had spent some years leaving her behind and whether they can shift there to make a living. Harihar dismisses the thought saying he had come back to the home of his ancestors leaving Benares once and can’t think of going back there again.

Sarbojaya takes a deep sigh. She is worried about having to live in a house like theirs. Says it’s like living in a jungle, with nobody to share your thoughts. She’s afraid when he’s away for days together but even when he’s there, he’s so carefree… There’s no response from Harihar; he’s fallen asleep.

Outside, sitting in her moonlit veranda, Pishi sings a boatman’s song with great devotion: A poor beggar am I, O Lord, the day is done, evening falls, ferry me across the river…

Chapter 5

Durga and her friends are playing at cooking in the jungle. Apu and some others help as girls cook on an improvised fire.

Pishi goes around showing off a new wrapper. A little girl pokes fun asking if she’s getting married.

Durga continues to conduct children with great gusto.

A woman washing at the pond asks Pishi where she got her wrapper from. Pishi tells her that a certain Raju gave it to her. Looks nice on you, says the woman.

Ranu comes running and joins Durga and others at cooking. Says her mother is away so she came. While going over ingredients that they have collected, Durga discovers that oil has been forgotten. A quarrel ensues but Ranu pacifies matters offering to go and get it.

Sarbojaya is airing new utensils and quilts from a large cane box in the veranda when Pishi tries to enter unnoticed. But Sarbojaya spots her wrapper and demands to know who gave it. She flares up on the mention of Raju and says if they can clothe her, let them feed her too.

A heated exchange ensues. An angry Pishi begins to pound something in her veranda while Sarbojaya takes out a tin trunk to empty it at the pond behind her house. Excited, she gets into a bout of coughing and drops the trunk, spilling its contents over the steps leading to the water.

Pishi leaves everything and comes over running to help and comfort Sarbojaya but Sarbojaya remains unrelenting: Pishi must go.

Durga and Ranu sit side-by-side enjoying the food they have cooked. Durga counts the number of days left for Ranu’s marriage and Ranu tells her that her mother too is looking for a husband for her. “Marriage won’t happen to me,” Durga keeps saying. “I know it won’t.”

A number of little boys run across chasing each other noisily. They pass by a bent, still figure of Pishi by the pond, wearing her new wrapper but once again homeless.

A dissolve later she appears at Raju’s door, announcing herself and asking if she can get shelter for a few days. “Only a few days,” she says panting, doddering. “There’s no peace at home. Nothing but complaints…”

The unseen Raju welcomes her.

Chapter 6

A drumbeat announces Durga pooja. The festival spirit is in the air with both children hurrying to rush as Sarbojaya adjusts their new clothes. Like others, Apu and Durga are headed towards the big household where Sejo-bou distributes sweets to hordes of outstretched palms. Apu and Durga get their share.

At night is the jatra performance which Apu watches with great involvement.

Next morning he is in front of a mirror trying to sport a tinsel moustache to a tinsel crown. Durga is at first amused, then suspicious—he’s indeed gone and used her scissors and material! After a hot chase in and out of the house, Durga pins him to the ground but Sarbojaya intervenes and separates them. Durga had wanted to go see Pishi but the mother now asks her to go and look for their calf. After a brief exchange of sobbing looks and tongue showing, animus dissolves and the children go running out of the village and into the open fields looking for the missing calf.

The time-ravaged courtyard door which Pishi is heard approaching. She now carries a stick and doesn’t look too well. Wants to spend her last days in her ancestral home, she says gasping, but Sarbojaya warns her of trouble if she didn’t go away instantly. Out of breath, she puts her bundle and lota on her veranda and sits down tired against the post.

Durga sits alone chewing at a sugar cane stick in an open field. Apu appears in the background but before he can catch up, Durga jumps off her perch and moves away. Apu follows.

Goaded by Sarbojaya, Pishi begs her for water. Sarbojaya sits eating inside the kitchen and merely takes the lid off the pitcher next to her. Pishi struggles to it with her lota and takes a pause to smile at Sarbojaya, but Sarbojaya holds forth unmoved. Pishi drinks water and brings the left over to pour over her stub of a plant. Then collecting her belongings she turns to take one last look at her veranda—already there’s a dog there—and moves on to leave. A momentary touch of remorse passes on Sarbojaya’s face before she resumes eating.

A crisscross of wires on telegraph poles as Durga stands listening to the hum below. Wading through stagnant water Apu joins her and tries to listen too. Durga moves on.

They are submerged in a field of tall kaash flowers where Apu briefly looses track of his sister. Then he receives a hit of the sugarcane stub and finds her sitting under a tuft of grass. He joins her and begins to ask questions. At one point she sits up listening, then stands up. She can hear the train.

Both children run towards the tracks to have a close look. Durga stumbles and falls early but Apu rushes ahead. Preceded by a growing rumble, the monster suddenly enters big in close foreground and begins passing uncut. Through the blur of wheels on the other side emerges the tiny figure of little Apu who is barely able to complete his climb to the tracks before the train is all gone. The whole sky is left filled with a long trail of smoke.

Apu and Durga are returning with the calf. On the way in the bamboo grove sits Pishi. Durga is the first to spot her and cautioning Apu behind her with a gesture, begins to soft step towards her. Apu watches from a lower position as Durga bends low to take a look at Pishi’s face sunk between her knees. But Pishi doesn’t stir. When she tries to shake her by the knees Pishi rolls over, her head hitting the ground with a thud. Apu’s eyes transfix with shock but Durga has as if been touched by death itself. Then scared as she gets up and turns to go, Pishi’s lota gets dislodged. It goes rolling down the slope finally landing into a patch of water, splashing as the children struggle with the calf and run away to report.

Pishi’s boatman’s song is heard as the pallbearers carry her away outside the village for cremation. The children sit in her veranda, Durga now where Pishi used to be. Harihar and Sarbojaya stand silently at the pond staring into the water.

Chapter 7

Dilli dekho…” It’s the bioscope-man come to the village. Apu and Durga stand watching from a distance as hordes of children converge shrieking to the magic box.

Harihar is preparing to go on a journey. He and Sarbojaya have collected his pieces in the main veranda. He’ll be back in seven days, he says. He’s hoping to get some regular income in a nearby town. “Then we can sit back and relax…”

He’s forgetting something—his umbrella, which he goes in to get. While returning he bows to the Ganesh idol on the way. Sarbojaya too, standing in the veranda, bows her head in prayer after him as he leaves.

Standing as before, Durga spots father and sends Apu over for coins. She then runs to meet Apu at the bioscope. Harihar sends a silent blessing to the children as they both stand peeping into the magic box.

Sarbojaya has laid out a number of preparations to dry in the sun. Durga comes in carrying a kitten and the mother sends her to fetch two-paisa worth of jaggery for a favourite dish of Apu’s.

Chitti! Chitti! Chitti!…” Apu comes running into the courtyard bringing a letter from Harihar. As Sarbojaya reads it, a shadow appears on her face. Yes, he has met the person who had approached him for the initiation ceremony, but there had been deaths in his family, and so—. But he would be proceeding to the town and will be back with money, don’t worry. Whatever God ordains can only be for their good. Blessings and love to the children—.

A mendicant approaches the house singing for alms. Depressed and lost, Sarbojaya remains sitting motionless on the steps while Durga comes to the door with a bowl of rice. “Bless you, little mother, may you marry a king!”

Night. Carrying the day’s worries, Sarbojaya sits awake next to the sleeping children. The night train passes and her mind is made up. Sarbojaya bends to kiss Apu and feels Durga’s forehead. Then she takes the lamp and comes to the other room. Here she opens her large cane box and takes out shining brass utensils.

It’s still early when carrying the brassware Sarbojaya opens the courtyard door and leaves. When she returns a while later, the morning mist has given way to patches of sun. Under her wrapper she has brought a bundle of rice, which she empties in her storage pitchers.

Chapter 8

A party of uniformed brass band players stand playing in front of the big house. Village elders watch with excitement and exchange notes. Apu runs up and jostles his way through a group of boys coming to stand right next to a horn-player. The unshaven old man plays as Apu watches intently.

Inside, fish and vegetables are being cut in large quantities. Sejo-bou supervises as women work. Her head bowed, Sarbojaya too is here among the women.

Ranu is being dressed up for the ceremony. Smiling contented, she looks at Durga who wearing a bindi and eyes lined with kohl, smiles back wistfully.

The marriage ceremony at night. An old priest conducts, chanting from the holy text. Durga looks even more remote.

Chapter 9

The storage pitchers are now empty. Nilmoni’s wife discovers this in the kitchen while Sarbojaya, deep in despair and sobbing, sits in the veranda outside. Nilmoni’s wife offers help and much against her refusal to accept, leaves behind some money.

Chitti! Chitti! Chitti…!” Apu brings another letter—and gets slapped for being too playful. But this time the letter carries good news. Harihar has at last found some means of earning money and is returning soon. It seems our luck has turned at last. Whatever God ordains can only be for our good…

The famous, sublimating, water-lily sequence. The pond, flat leaves, dog, kitten… At the end Sarbojaya lies on the veranda floor, drained and exhausted.

The gentle wind begins to gain strength and thunder to roll. Durga has had a bath and now hurries through planting a sapling and saying related prayers. A carefree Apu is returning from school.

Sarbojaya comes to as Durga runs away closing the courtyard door. Apu too throws his schoolbook and wrapper through the window and runs off. Sarbojaya calls after them as she begins to take the drying clothes off the line.

The first drop of rain falls on a bald pate fishing by the pond. Soon it’s a big downpour all over. Both Apu and Durga bathe in the fields. Apu takes shelter under a tree but Durga keeps taking the rains in full. Going round and round in the open and teasing Apu, she finally joins him under the tree. Then wrapping her pallu around him begins to recite a song asking the rains to go away.

The rain beats on as Sarbojaya is returning home carrying a large edible leaf. Near the pond on the way lies a fallen coconut. Checking to see no one is looking, she snatches up the fruit under her pallu and continues as though nothing has happened.

That’s when Durga gets her first sneeze under the tree. And then, a second.

The village doctor, a phlegmatic old man himself, examines Durga with a stethoscope. Nilmoni and his wife are present. The doctor prescribes sago which Nilmoni’s wife offers to give. He also recommends wet-cloth application on the forehead if fever goes up. “There is nothing to worry about,” he says. “Don’t let her catch a chill. Come on Nilmoni, let’s go.”

As the grown-ups leave, Apu draws to his sister. “Listen,” Durga tells him. “When I am well, we’ll go and look at the train again, alright?” “Yes,” Apu smiles.

But just another day, the sweet-seller’s bells are heard as he passes on the other side of the pond. Strangely Durga has no interest in him.

Night. The children are asleep and Sarbojaya is changing the wet cloth on Durga’s forehead. The earthen lamp is lit with a steady flame.

Sarbojaya is about to doze off when the wind is heard building up into a stronger gale, sending the door creaking and the gunny sheet covering the window bulging. Changing the wet cloth, Sarbojaya almost waits for them both to give way. The first to fall off is a corner of the gunny curtain, letting the rainwater in. And even while Sarbojaya is tying it up comes off the wooden cross-latch of the creaking door, which she returns to block with a tin trunk. But there’s hardly anything she can do to stop the growing flicker of the flame. Or the sway of Ganesh idol.

She is bending over adjusting the quilt when Durga suddenly throws her hands up for her. Leaving everything, Sarbojaya holds the child in a tight cheek-to-cheek embrace.

The final round of thunder and lightening flashes repeatedly on the shaking idol.

Chapter 10

A grey morning. Little Apu stands knocking on Nilmoni’s door. Didi is not well, he tells Nilmoni’s wife, so mother has asked him to fetch her.

They both come wading through puddles in the courtyard. The hardest hit by the storm has been Sarbojaya’s kitchen which lies all damaged and exposed. The cattle-shed by the courtyard door was always a temporary structure but a part of the main veranda is now roofless.

Inside Sarbojaya sits with Durga’s head on her lap, motionless. Nilmoni’s wife sends Apu away to call her husband and moves closer feeling Durga’s pulse. She then sits down facing Sarbojaya on the bed and gently takes her head on her shoulder.

Follows a montage showing little Apu cleaning his teeth all pensive at the pond. Sarbojaya draws water at Sejo-bou’s well, her bindi smudged. Apu is getting ready—bath, combing hair, everything—now without help. Somewhat wiser, he even returns from the courtyard back into the room to re-emerge with a man-size umbrella, before setting out on the familiar road to school. Pishi’s veranda is now the kitchen where Sarbojaya sits lost in front of a boiling pot. She doesn’t even respond to Nilmoni’s daughter who has brought some vegetable. The girl leaves them on the floor and backs away.

But then Harihar calls and Sarbojaya wakes up with a start. He’s calling the children as he approaches past the pond and discovers the beating his house has taken. A tree has fallen on the outer wall damaging it in a big way. The fragile door, oddly, is still there through which Harihar enters and again calls the children. Instead Sarbojaya appears from behind and vaguely receives him, getting him the jug to wash his feet. Somewhat relieved, he sits down on the veranda floor itself and eagerly begins to show her various things he has brought one by one. A rolling pin and a board, a framed picture of goddess Laxmi and, finally, a sari for Durga—.

That’s when Sarbojaya’s floodgates open. As Harihar presses the sari to her hands, all her pent up grief wells out in one continuous gush and she slumps down weeping bitterly, uncontrollably and with complete abandon. Harihar is first bewildered, but when the full impact of the tragedy strikes him he starts to rise in confusion, then sinks collapsing over Sarbojaya’s sprawling body. Finally he gives out a full-throated long-drawn wail.

Apu, already a little man with an umbrella and an oil bottle, listens to his father’s agonized cry reaching him outside in front of the pond.

Night. The family is in bed; their worries transferred, Sarbojaya and Apu are sleeping while Harihar lies wide awake. The night train is again heard passing and a decision made.

Morning. Glasses on the nose, Harihar sits dusting and sorting the ant-eaten sheaves of paper in the roofless veranda. Apu keeps running up and down bringing out household things. They are winding up.

Elsewhere in the house, Nilmoni’s wife helps Sarbojaya with sorting and packing other household goods. Sarbojaya has lost all attachment with the ancestral home in the last one year and thanking the good neighbor for all her help, blames it on their fate. Nilmoni’s wife wishes them well in their new home.

Comes calling Sejo-bou with a basket of mangoes. Says they fell in the storm the other day and that she’s brought them for their journey. No, she’s not angry with Sarbojaya for not telling her they are leaving. Rather she’s pleased, very pleased. “Staying years after years at one place makes a person mean,” she says confessing. “It’s happened to me—.”

The village elders come to meet Harihar. They have heard that he’s leaving for Benares. One of them reminds Harihar that his three generations have lived in that house which they are now leaving and asks him to think again if that is the right thing to do. But Harihar is sure, says he can’t forever be living on debts. All his hopes for making a living as a writer, of educating the boy have come to nothing. He hasn’t even been able to repair the house. And as for the girl, he says shaking his head, she gave them the slip. “So it’s right for us to leave,” he concludes. “There are times when you have to give up even your ancestral home.”

Inside, Apu tries to reach the high shelf for a coconut shell. It trips and falls—spilling a spider and Durga’s stolen necklace!

Stunned, Apu picks up the find and stares at it silently. Then on a flash, he jumps out of the window, climbs over the damaged wall and comes to the pond.

One long throw and it lands in the water. Apu remains staring as the floating carpet of green closes in where the necklace fell and disappeared. It’s all but closed.

The deserted courtyard, with the clothesline fallen loose on the ground.

Between the broken bricks of the veranda a snake slithers slowly, sinuously. It goes crossing the floor towards the room, finally disappearing into it.

But Harihar, Sarbojaya and Apu are safe. The family sits under the matted arched roofing of a bullock cart, moving. Harihar takes a deep sigh. As the dawn prepares to break, sad to leave, but on the move.

_________