[Films Review] The Apu Trilogy (1955, 1956, 1959)

Pather Panchali poster.jpg

Title: Pather Panchali
Year: 1955
Country: India
Language: Bengali
Genre: Drama
Director/Writer: Satyajit Ray
based on the novel by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay
Music: Ravi Shankar
Cinematography: Subrata Mitra
Cast:
Subir Banerjee
Uma Das Gupta
Karuna Bannerjee
Kanu Bannerjee
Chunibala Devi
Runki Banerjee
Aparna Devi
Reba Devi
Rating: 8.2/10

Aparajito poster.jpg

Title: Aparajito
Year: 1956
Country: India
Language: Bengali, English
Genre: Drama
Director/Writer: Satyajit Ray
based on the novel by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay
Music: Ravi Shankar
Cinematography: Subrata Mitra
Cast:
Karuna Bannerjee
Smaran Ghosal
Kanu Bannerjee
Pinaki Sengupta
Subodh Ganguli
Sudipata Roy
Kalicharan Roy
Rating: 8.0/10

The World of Apu poster.jpg

Title: The World of Apu
Original Title: Apur Sansar
Year: 1959
Country: India
Language: Bengali, English
Genre: Drama
Director/Writer: Satyajit Ray
based on the original story by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay
Music: Ravi Shankar
Cinematography: Subrata Mitra
Cast:
Soumitra Chatterjee
Sharmila Tagore
Alok Chakravarty
Swapan Mukherjee
Dhiren Ghosh
Dhiresh Majumdar
Sefalika Devi
Rating: 8.1/10

 

The sacrosanct milestone not just confined in Indian cinema, Satyajit Ray’s THE APU TRILOGY encompasses a thorough-going coming-of-age trajectory of our protagonist, Apurba Roy, born in an impecunious Brahman family in the 1910s, father Harihar Roy (Kanu Banerjee), is an airy-fairy priest whose ambition is to become an original playwright, and mother Sarbajaya (Karuna Banerjee) is a devoted housewife, ekes out their hand-to-mouth livelihoods with an intense air of asperity.

In the first chapter PATHER PANCHALI (“Song of the Little Road”), the Roys are living in Harihar’s home village in Nischindipur, Bengal, a scamp-like Apu (Subir Banerjee) has an elder sister Durga (Uma Das Gupta) and a long-in-the-tooth great-aunt Indir Thakrun (Chunibala Devi), Ray unflinchingly levels our attention to their domestic plight, especially through Sarbajaya’s conflicts with Indir, for being a bad influence on Durga’s scrumping habit (an octogenarian Devi’s weather-beaten visage and doddering physiognomy alone become an immense fount of one’s sympathy, which Ray intelligently canalizes from a shrill Sarbajaya to Indir, why doesn’t the harpy leave this poor old woman alone?), which will escalate into a bead necklace theft accusation, whose truth will not be disclosed until the very end, casting a gushing catharsis in the unfortunate aftermath, also brilliantly encapsulates Sarbajaya’s desperate defense of retaining their vestigial dignity of a higher caste when poverty insidiously erodes their family to a detrimental state.

Two-fold bereavement thrashes the household in very different ways, it is surprising how Indir’s impending demise arrives much later than we might guesstimate (perhaps Ray just cannot miss the opportunity of leveraging Devi’s staggering presence for its raw and emotive impact), but right after Apu and Durga’s witnessing of a streaking train for the very first time, any symbolic presumption can not be obviated. What hits harder and more unexpected is the loss of Durga in the wake of catching the cold in a downpour, her last night is visualized with sheer tempestuous force solely inside their dim-lighted hovel, much obliged to Subrata Mitra’s trailblazing bouncing lighting innovation, follows by a poignantly elicited, silenced wail swamped in Ravi Shankar’s sitar sound of pathos, whereupon the family of three has no option but to up sticks, marks the end of PATHER PANCHALI.

Pather Panchali 1955

 

APARAJITO (“The Unvanquished”, a Golden Lion winner in Venice) resumes their lives in Varanasi near the Ganges river, but living inside a co-shared building does little good for the family, Sarbajaya has to be leery about a lecherous neighbor living upstairs, and Harihar’s sanguine spirit reaches an abrupt halt when he also kicks up the bucket due to acute illness. In choosing staying with the household where Sarbajaya works as a maid or relocating to the village Mansapota with her uncle, she opts for the latter, a decision shows up her partiality for family and tradition, which along the line will dominate the contradiction between her and Apu (first played by Pinaki Sengupta as a boy, then Smaran Ghosal as an adolescent), when the latter excels in school and receives a scholarship for further education in Calcutta. Albeit her gripe over Apu’s relinquishment of priesthood in favor of scientific study, Sarbajaya is sensible enough to support Apu’s advancement in knowledge and widening his horizon, but as a lonesome widow, she languishes in the pining for her only son’s infrequent visit, a torment can connect anyone who is enmeshed with maternal and filial correlation, when death also catches up with her, unlike Harihar’s eyes-bulging judder in extremis, her passing is portended but never shown, Abu is cruelly deprived of a last chance to say goodbye to his mother (a similar fate awaits him in store in the next chapter), now Apu is officially an orphan in a vast world.

Aparajito 1956

Then comes THE WORLD OF APU, an adult Apu (Soumitra Chatterjee) is struggling for work after giving up university for want of money, subsists as a private tutor in Calcutta but harboring a passion of writing a novel based on his own story, something he will again, forfeit when kismet heartlessly takes away the sole delight of his life, a serendipitous matrimony with Aparna (a 14-year-old Tagore, a mind-boggling knockout presents a demure composure that is well beyond her tender age), whose actualization is totally owing to the wisdom of arranged marriage and dye-in-the-wool superstition (his mother-in-law eulogizes him as a divine incarnation prima facie), yet the amazing Aparna embodies all the merits a man can dream of as a wife, only that romanticized bliss is painfully, ephemeral, a train station farewell turns out to be their last goodbye (it is totally lost on this reviewer that Aparna is going back home for childbirth), only his bloodline survives, but it takes an appreciable amount of time before Apu can come to terms with his own flesh and his woeful fate. Moksha takes time, which a wandering Apu has aplenty.

The World of Apu 1959.jpg

The trilogy is collectively a resounding threnody carved out of Ray’s distinct sense of humanity and cinematic acumen, and borrowing the word Apu learns in the university, a “synecdoche” of the Bengali society at large, stripped of much extrinsic frippery, what stands out is an eloquent survey of displacement and suffering, but also a celebration of myriad quotidian wonders (sibling bond, parental understanding, marital sparks etc.) that signposts a healthy rite of passage for a boy to becomes a man. Each film is robustly fashioned by interlacing between realism and lyricism (those breathtaking, exotic shots with animals, rituals, landscape and rural topography), with outstanding performances proffered by its adult cast, notably Karuna Bannerjee’s expressive dominance and Kanu Bannerjee’s mild-mannered tic as Apu’s parents, plus Soumitra Chatterjee tenderly touches a chord to give strength in Apu’s final reconciliation. A time-honored triumvirate definitely makes six hours worth your while.

referential entries: Ray’s THE BIG CITY (1963, 8.7/10), CHARULATA (1964, 7.7/10)

Oscar 1955 - Pather Panchali.jpg

Oscar 1956 - Aparajito.jpg

Oscar 1959 - The World of Apu.jpg

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