I watched the three movies which make up the Apu Trilogy over the weekend. Initially, I was a little apprehensive if I was ready yet for Ray’s movies. Though I have been watching a lot art cinema over the past year or two (and enjoying most of them), I was not sure if my taste in cinema had reached a level where I would be able to appreciate Ray’s oeuvre.
Thankfully, that was not the case. Pather Panchali took my breath away in the first few scenes itself and Apur Sansar could match any movie for its emotional roller coaster ride. And you cannot help but cheer Apu on in Aparajito as he leaves his drab existence behind to find a new one in the city. My only regret was that I didn’t know Bengali enough to appreciate the nuances in the dialogue more. Subtitles can only do so much. Fortunately, Ray almost always conveys more through his style, music, and motifs than just through the dialogues in his movies. I remember reading in his book ‘Speaking of Films’, which is a collection of essays from the great man that he considered the use of dialogue to convey emotion only as a last resort.
My understanding of art cinema or any good director’s movie has been greatly helped by the resources which are part of the special features contained in the DVD. In this DVD for instance, there are interviews that Ray gave to the BBC on the movies in question. On Apur Sansar there is also a wonderful discussion of the movie between Mamoun Hassan and six students of the Film and Television Institute of UK. It is only when one sees that that one realizes that there are so many nuances in the movie which has escaped one’s eye. For example, what was the need for the pre title scene in Apur Sansar? Why particular scenes are shot the way they are- the wedding night scene, of Apu in his room, of the mad groom in his palanquin? In as much as the tragedy in the movie is supposed to come as a shock to us, does Ray leave hints for the discerning viewer to anticipate what is going to happen?
In some contemporary excellent movies, it is a privilege to hear the director’s scene by scene commentary. One gets an opportunity to look from the director’s point of view and get that additional extra insight into the finer points of the film. I thoroughly enjoyed the commentary in some movies like, ‘The Whale Rider’ by Niki Caro, and Michel Gondry’s ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’. I haven’t yet seen a similar feature in the DVD’s of Hindi movies yet. One movie which I would really like to pick the brains of the director would be ‘Eklavya’, which is easily my favorite Hindi movie of the year yet. There are so many shots in the movie which I would like to know why they were shot the way they were because there is so much which the movie conveys at so many levels.
Bristol has been good for me in a couple of ways. I have been able to expose myself to a whole lot of wonderful World Cinema thanks to the DVD collection at the Central Library and also given myself quite a bit of time to hone my guitar skills. There’s still some way to go yet on either vocation and I might not get enough time when I get back home which I shall, hopefully, in July. But I have never yet worried about reaching the end on anything now, have I?