Satyajit Ray and the Picturesque Varanasi-3

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Apu’s mother wakes him up to bring gangajal for his father. He traverses the early morning deserted gali and stone steps of the ghat and reaches the river to take water. He is shown reaching the waterline from behind a couple of gadas and beyond, on a stone platform projecting on to the river, a riyazi is doing baithakis. Script-wise, neither the gada nor the riyazi have any significance. They are just there, and the scene, like many other scenes, is a slice from life in Varanasi. Or, it was all staged? I don’t know.

Apu’s father dies. His death is shown symbolically, through a sudden flight of pigeons from the same ghats where the story had begun: Rana Mahal and Darbhanga ghats. Apu’s father is not shown being cremated in Kashi, although Apu and some neighbours are shown moving from Chausatti Ghat towards Raja Ghat.

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The absence of cremation scene speaks of the directors sensibility, or that of his times.Cremation/funeral tourism being a rage nowadays, the foreign travellers to the city are sure to capture the same on their camera and flaunt the same as a prize possession once back home: if we go by the number of posts with the cremation ghats, they appear with regularity and predictability in the blogosphere.

Apu’s father dies within half an hour from the beginning of the film and at the forty-first minute his mother leaves the city, carrying him to their village in Bengal (now in Bangladesh). They leave the same way they had come: through Dufferin Bridge. The only difference is that the ghatscape is shown receding frame after frame.

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Ray covers the change in states and the climatic conditions outside the train by showing the world outside through the window of Apu’s compartment. Ray presents the picturesque in Apu’s village, and later in Kolkata, in the same manner as he had done it for Banaras. The picturesque simply happens to be there, serving no director or cameraman, not falling into place “coincidentally” as a convenient backdrop, like they do in many other films.

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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