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How I Made It: Avijatrik (The Wanderlust of Apu) (2020)

Avijatrik (The Wanderlust of Apu), scripted and directed by Subhrajit Mitra is the sequel to the classic “Apu Trilogy”, directed by the legendary Satyajit Ray. The plot takes off from where “The Apu Trilogy” had ended in 1959 with “Apur Sansar”. The film focuses on Apu’s overwhelming desire to explore the world outside, instead of his inner journey and self-growth – as portrayed in the earlier trilogy. Avijatrik is essentially the story of a journey depicting Apu’s ardor to be a globetrotter, to experience the outside world, and immerse himself in myriad layers of life.

The story revolves around a sublime bond between a father (Apu) and his 6-year-old son (Kajol) – wherein both are dependent on each other – heaping lavish affection and love for each other. The film has explored a beautiful tapestry of pure interpersonal relationships to recreate magic of Apu– sharing adventures with his beloved son, Kajol.

This film is about the rich cultural history of India in every aspect. The glorious heritage of our unity in diversity, be it in religion, philosophy, way of living life, art, music, and history. This film is about India. This film is about the journey outside, as well as a journey within.

136mins | Bengali | Drama, Classic Literature | 2020 | India

In its persistent mission and zeal to promote good cinema, Diorama brings you the experience of the Directors of the film - Subhrajit Mitra

Why this subject matter for your film?

I have read the classic novel "Aparajito” by the master author Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay many a time when I was young. As a film enthusiast, I have watched “ The Apu trilogy” by the master Satyajit Roy as well, during my formative years, I guess I have lost the count. Those were like grammar in film language. But as an ardent fan of classic literature, it has always intrigued me what happened next after Apu became ‘friend’ to his little son Kajol. It is written vividly in the book itself but not picturized in the film, maybe a fourth part of Apu’s journey with his son. “Apur Sansar (The world of Apu)", the last part of the trilogy was released in 1959.

Satyajit Ray did not want to continue filming further with Apu’s life as he said many times in his interviews at that point of time, but no other director also came forward and completed the journey as per the novel, in these six decades. Maybe because of the huge huge legacy, this story and the films carry with it. But I love challenges and being a dreamer I have always explored beyond my comfort zone, much like “Apu”, not getting intimidated by anything and I wanted to tell this story on the big screen and complete the journey of Apu. So I took my own time and prepared and grew myself as a filmmaker accordingly over the years (I have made several big international and national documentary projects and 6 feature films in between though) so that I can justify myself on my choice of embarking on this journey and prove myself worthy of the legacy. This sequel will be my homage to the everlasting legacy of the masters and the rich cultural heritage of my motherland.

What were the major challenges you faced during the preparation of the film and how did you overcome those challenges?

The first and foremost challenge was to write a script that interprets the literature (the concluding portion of the novel) to the big screen keeping the original essence of both the novel and the film trilogy intact so that it will look and feel like the continuation and sequel. But this film should stand its ground on its own also, so that if an audience who is not familiar with the novel or the trilogy should not feel left out and enjoy the experience of the movie as well. I knew every single aspect of this movie will be heavily scrutinized by the audience, by the critics. So I gave utmost importance to my research and understanding of the finer nuances of the novel and the trilogy on every single little detail before writing the screenplay.

Rest, it is a very intuitive process. It comes with the experience and maturity, exposure to the world of classic art forms, be it literature, music, painting, photography, dance, cinema, both eastern and western. I am immensely grateful to the critics and the audience, who have seen the film so far in the different international festivals, that they absolutely loved my work, it means I was on the right track intuitively.

Another big challenge was to recreate the period look and feel of 1940s for the film. After 8 decades everything has changed. We had to recreate every single little detail for the film. I wanted an absolute authentic look. Be it sets, props, costumes, as well as actor’s body language and choice of words, dialogue delivery patterns. Actors were asked to follow the written dialogues (the way I had written them) without any improvisation so that no unwilling infiltration of the modern choice of words occur, and I had to cancel and retake the shots. I was fortunate to assemble the best of the passionate actors who prepared themselves accordingly during the workshops on the dialogues and body languages of that bygone era and perfectly portrayed that on the screen. They have given much more than what I have wanted with their own insight and understanding of the characters.

Now comes the production design challenges, Sets, props, VFX and costumes. During my research, I have accumulated more than 4-5 thousand reference pictures of every aspect of the look for each and every scene. What is there in the frames, every single detail has a visual period reference. Me and my two research assistants and Dr. Debanjana Das (Climatologist at George Mason University, US) had literally nightmarish time and on the toes throughout to crosscheck about the period details of every prop, costume, and set references. My costume AD team had to work for months with the Costume Department to strive for perfection.

What were your reasons for selecting B/W and wide frame for your film?

When I had visualized the film, I had seen it in Black and White. The documentaries and footage of the 1930s and 1940s, what is available right now, are all in B/W. The majority of the feature films of that era are in B/W worldwide. Colour films were at very nascent stage. Some major blockbusters such as "Gone with the wind" was a color feature film. In our subconscious mind, as an audience, we can instantly relate to that bygone era with B/W visuals. Also, I wanted Avijatrik (the wanderlust of Apu) should look a visual continuation of the Apu Trilogy which were shot in B/W magnificently by the master cinematographer Subrata Mitra. So my cinematographer Supratim and I were determined from the very beginning that Avijatrik will be in B/W. I had an offer earlier from a production house to produce this film, but in colour, as they were skeptical about the acceptance of the B/W visuals with today’s audience. I refused them the project. Interestingly Mr. Madhur Bhandarkar (presenter), Mr. Gaurang Jalan (producer) and

Dr. Sumit Agarwal (associate producer), all loved my vision of making this film in B/W and backed all my creative decisions throughout. As the saying goes “ Black and white capture your soul “, I wanted to capture the soul of Apu’s journey, his wanderlust. Apu trilogy was shot in the academy gate frame. Avijatrik was shot in cinemascope. The visual grandeur and large visual landscapes of Avijatrik intuitively dictated me to go for the cinemascope frame and Supratim (cinematographer) was also on the same page with me.

Trivia: The film has garnered 23 laurels so far from the major International Film Festivals, and counting.

How did the Cinematographer, Editor, Music Director, and Production Designer contribute in realizing your dream?

A Director is as good as his generals, all his HODs. One can visualize something immense and breathtaking, but to practically execute that you need to have a skilled set of technicians and heads of departments.

Cinematographer: Supratim Bhol helmed this position for Avijatrik. As I have mentioned multiple times, his work in this film will be considered among one of the best ever in the history of Bengali cinema. This is his second film with me.

Music Director: Pt. Bickram Ghosh was my first and only choice for this position. He has created music that will remain as a reference point for future generations. I am fortunate to work with him for the first time, though we know each other since ages as he’s my distant cousin brother.

Editor: Sujay Datta Ray has done a superlative job to maintain the different pace of the film in each different segments, dictated from the perspective of Apu’s psychology, as written in the screenplay. This is my second film with him , though we know each other for decades.

Sound Designer: Tirthankar Majumdar , my decade long associate has created the perfect audioscape of the 1940s with his vast experience.

Production Designer: I did the period research, made a reference library for every scene consisting of 4-5 thousand stills and video footage, with the help of my AD team, and sourced rare vintage artifacts on my own from different auction websites worldwide. Gautam Basu was the art director who recreated the 1940s sets with extreme authenticity with his own vast experience. Krishnendu Ghosh, the VFX designer is a magician with his tools. We had almost 62 minutes of VFX designed sequences (combination of shot footages, art department ecreation and VFX addition or alterations), to recreate that era. He did it single-handedly. The work has started from the pre-production stage itself.

How has the making of this film enriched you as an artist?

Making a near-flawless film, that too an authentic period piece is pretty rare to achieve. We have achieved that with our sheer willpower and love for good cinema. The entire journey is very fulfilling for me in my higher creative pursuits. But as a creative person, I am not satisfied. The hunger is still there, even greater than earlier, to tell another classic story of this magnitude and more.

Any interesting information you would love to add?

Anoushka Shankar has recreated two pieces in sitar, based on the improvisation on Pather Panchali theme by her father Pt. Ravi Shankar. She has played sitar for the first time for any Indian film. The film has garnered many accolades in different international film festivals worldwide and still counting. We are expecting to release the film theatrically once the covid pandemic situation gets under control.

How to Reach the Director

Subhrajit Mitra




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