The later part of the novel, where Apu and his parents leave their village and settle in Benaras , formed the basis of Aparajito The Unvanquished, , the second film of the Apu trilogy. Gupta told Ray that the abridged version would make a great film. Panchali is a type of narrative folk song that used to be performed in Bengal and was the forerunner of another type of folk performance, the jatra. The scene of Apu and Durga running to catch a glimpse of the train is not in the novel, in which neither child sees the train, although they try. Andrew Robinson describes as the "loitering impression" it creates. Uma Dasgupta, who successfully auditioned for the part of Durga, also had prior theatre experience.
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The events take place in two time periods. Present-day action is shot in color, whereas past events are in black and white. The film opens with film school student Arka Gaurav Chakrabarty coming to deliver a letter—an invitation to attend a prestigious award ceremony in Germany—to the older Subir Banerjee Ardhendu Banerjee.
Subir recounts his days working on Pather Panchali to Arka. They visit an old tumbledown house where the film was shot. Arka collects a brick from the house as a souvenir. Later, as they prepare for their journey to Germany, Subir narrates his life story to Arka. On the advice of his friend, Subir married Ashima Parno Mittra , the daughter of a wealthy villager in Burdwan, after his father died.
Two years into their marriage, Ashima became pregnant. In the present, Subir and Arka open up to each other. Arka talks about his late father, whom he deeply admired.
Subir reveals that due to jaundice, Ashima gave premature birth and the baby died soon after. Ashima went into depression and died too. Subir became heart-broken and isolated himself. As Arka and Subir board the plane to Germany, Arka thanks Subir, for this is his first business-class trip; to which Subir replies, that he ought to thank "Apu", as it is his first time on a plane.
Her grandmother asks him to bathe in the local pond and stay for lunch. Subir goes to the pond and as he prepares to bathe, a young boy asks him if his name is Apu, to which Subir weepingly nods which actually means that the young boy is none other than Arka!
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