Both Shabdo and Apur Panchali have interesting origins. Director Koushik Ganguli elaborates.
Though he has made 10 feature films on varied subjects and directed television serials, besides scripting path-breaking films, Koushik Ganguli stepped into the limelight after his Apur Panchali (Apu’s Song) and Shabdo (Sound) featured in international film festivals. Both the films were screened in the sixth edition of Bangalore International Film Festival. Apur Panchali tells the story of child actor Subir Banerjee who played Apu in Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali.
Shabdo deals with a Foley artiste who is so immersed in creating ambience sound in films that human voices stop making an impact on him.
Koushik has been involved with acting from childhood. His father Sunil Ganguly is an well known musician. Describing the reasons for shifting to direction, Koushik says: “I consider myself a non-good looking person. When I thought of taking up acting as a career, there was a demand for very good looking actors. So I thought of using my acting skills directing others.”
Talking about his journey of discovering Subir, Koushik says: “Ray’s Apu is the most cherished child character in our celluloid history, but the boy who played the character is forgotten. “I was intrigued when I learnt that Subir now 69 years old and has nothing to do with cinema. My cinematographer, Shishiro Roy, used to give math tuitions. He met a student’s uncle. The student knew of Roy’s interest in cinema told him ‘Sir, he is Apu.’ Roy instantly realised that the person had the same eyes. He immediately called me and said ‘Koushik, I met Apu’ and that is the beginning of my film. “When I called Subir, he refused to acknowledge that he was Apu. He even refused to speak. “Don’t bother me. I don’t have anything to do with cinema or Ray,’ he said. He was reluctant to meet anyone. He wanted to live a quiet life. He became a clerk in one of the central government offices and took VRS. However I did not accept the defeat. I went and met him a few times. Knowing that Subir likes music, I carried a music album produced by father. Slowly he started opening up. It seemed he felt Apu was a burden he carried. He took me to his room and to my surprise, it looked like Apu’s room with the Metro rail passing by. When Subir started telling his story, it was almost like the script of the Apu trilogy. He agreed to cooperate in the project after I assured him that in the domestic market, we will say the film is work of fiction and inspired by him.” Recreating the period was a problem. “When our art director, Mridul, did a floor drawing of Apu’s room, it resembled Ray’s sketches. We shot the entire thing in a 9 x 9 feet room. Shishiro did wonderful work. Another problem we faced was getting a negative of the Apu trilogy without subtitles. We got the damaged one and restored that for the film.”The kernel of the idea for Shabdo was born out of Koushik’s experience. “I was playing a blind writer in Laptop. My sound engineer decided to enhance the ambience sound in the blind man’s room because they listen more keenly. By doing that we created a new world in the studio and I started listening to Foley sound more carefully.
“Foley artistes are the real brave hearts. Despite their service, they are being poorly paid. The world outside doesn’t know much about them. In Shabdo the protagonist is an LIC agent who moonlights as a Foley artist. The film is my contribution to unsung heroes of cinema on the occasion of 100 years of Indian cinema.”