A Bengali film that looks back at Satyajit Ray’s foray into cinema and the journey to his first movie has caught the fancy of the box office.
Aparajito, which opened on May 13 with some 40 shows daily, is now having 120 every day.
The rise of Aparajito is rare in Bengali films in recent years. Devoid of conventional stars and tropes, the Anik Datta film is a detailed behind-the-scenes of Pather Panchali, the 1955 film by Ray that Kolkatans warmed up to long after it won accolades at Cannes.
In the new film, the protagonist is called Aparajito Ray and his first venture is titled Pather Padaboli.
The striking resemblance between the physical appearance of Jeetu Kamal, who plays the protagonist, and that of Ray had created an initial buzz. But that has only grown after the release.
A second week into the opening, the film is running to near-full houses. The occupancy is over 70 per cent on weekdays, said exhibitors.
The film is the topic of discussion in the neighbourhood adda, among office-goers and in cafes.
“Close to 100 per cent occupancy in the second week is something I do not remember a Bengali film registering in the recent past. Even on a Monday, it was nearly full,” said Arijit Dutta, owner of Priya cinema.
“Hall visits have been overwhelming. I did not see this kind of euphoria even during Bhooter Bhobishyat,” said director Datta, referring to his first feature. “Then (watching Bhooter Bhobishyat), people laughed their hearts out. Now, the audience is giving a standing ovation.”
Incidentally, Bhooter Bhobishyat, in 2012, had a similar run at the box office. It had opened in a limited number of halls but the count multiplied soon after.
Like Bhooter Bhobishyat, the new film, too, is without any leading star. “I have never been convinced that big stars ensure great films. Direction, acting, the recreation of that period, everything can be good. But even that is not enough. Over and above, there has to be an X factor,” Datta said.
“There is an innate curiosity about Ray. If that was a driving force, the first look of Jeetu (Kamal) was also a propellant. But at the end of the day, it is a simply told story. I had consciously avoided a too serious approach,” said Datta.
The film has established that there is no substitute to word-of-mouth publicity. It is a rare feat at a time big-budget VFX films from the south, with liberal doses of singing and dancing and dubbed in half-a-dozen languages, are ruling the roost at the box office.
The commercial success that Aparajito has already had is something even Ray would have been proud of. Many of his films were duds when it came to box office.
“The film started with some 30 halls and 40 shows every day in and around Kolkata,” said Satadeep Saha, the film’s distributor.
“Now, the number of screens has crossed 60. There are around 125 shows every day,” said Saha.
Social media has been abuzz about the film. Many Kolkatans said Aparajito was the first film they saw on a big screen after the pandemic.
“Entered a hall after two-and-a-half years. But it was worth it.... Can’t say what else will you watch and what you won’t but please go and watch Aparajito soon,” said a Facebook post by a woman who went to PVR Diamond Plaza with her parents on Tuesday.
Ujjal Biswas, who helms programming at PVR, said the film opened with four shows and the number had risen to 10 across PVR properties in Kolkata and Howrah.
Kunal Sarkar, cardiac surgeon and debater, said: “I think it is one of smartest pieces of filmmaking I have seen in recent times. I consider Ray to be an extension of the Bengali renaissance. The attributes of the man, the mood of the film, all the elements that went into his first production... it was an experience that overwhelmed me.”
The pandemic has forced the permanent closure of many single-screen halls. The Covid curbs and lack of new releases had choked the sector and the livelihood of people. The rise of the over-the-top (OTT) platforms has cast a shadow on the future of the big screen.
“This film shows the worth of good content. We make films for big screens, not for OTT platforms. The biggest satisfaction from the film, a black-and-white picture without song and dance, is that it is drawing the audience back to the big screen,” said Firdausul Hasan, producer of Aparajito.
“The film is running at over 15 places in India. Releases in the UAE, Australia and Europe are lined up in the coming days.”