City Sequel: Apu Trilogy

Rating: ★★★★1/2

Verdict: Art in sanctity that took multiple forms.

More than average number of shots in the Apu trilogy can be framed as stills to highlight the mundane wall. The shot of Apu pacing through the paddy field is just one instance that can inspire the fading colors of an artiste’s palette. The background score by Ravi Shankar is pertinent for every thinkable mood. And Bansi Chandragupta’s minimal use of art to create the barely materialistic World of Apu is a metaphor in its own right. Famously coined as Apu Trilogy, Satyajit Ray’s three film series is more than a trilogy. It is art in sanctity and that taking multiple forms.

Apu, the herculean sobriquet from the pages of Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhayay’s Pather Panchali and Aparajito gave the world the bildungsroman of Apurba Kumar Roy. It was only after a screen adaptation that the story of the central character shaped lives and remains to be remembered and passed on for decades to come. Satyajit Ray’s debut as a director saw the making of Pather Panchali (Song of the Little Road). Soon to follow was the second installment, Aparajito (The Unvanquished). And after a tricky episode at Venice, the maker in Ray decided to film a final chapter, Apur Sansar (The World of Apu).

Enough said about the films being helmed as entrants to countless lists of ‘films to be watched’. What has seldom been discussed is a comparative observation of the three films. The benchmark set after the creation of Pather Panchali and Aparajito seem to be a demarcation, which was tough to cross. To pulp yet another addition to the growing ages of Apu though at the onset is perfect marinade, but there is a void experienced at the end of this three course meal.

Soumitra Chatterjee and Sharmila Tagore are convincing as the married couple, but the flow in narrative is with a few pauses. To most viewers around the globe, Pather Panchali and Aparajito weren’t two different films. The successive story more likely evolved from its prequel, staying connected to its characters and plot. Overlook the microscopic inaccuracy, and Satyajit Ray’s therapeutic treatment to the characters of his inexperienced cast spelled excellence.

Apu, born to a poor family in rural Bengal is looked after by mother Sarbajaya, father Harihar Roy and a loving elder sibling Durga. Harihar’s meager income as a priest deprives Apu and Durga the basic pleasures of childhood. Pather Panchali shows montages of Apurba’s childhood where his journey begins as Apu. The unforgiving rains and bleak winds of Nishchindipur claim the daughter of the Roy household. After the family suffers loss, they decide to leave for a new life in Benares.

Subir Banerjee who played the child actor in Pather Panchali shone with a natural flair for performance. Satyajit Ray, fondly known as Manik Da, had an expertise at extracting deliverables from non-actors. With most of the cast of his first film being first-timers, the film left an everlasting impression of undiluted expressions.

Moving to Benares changes the fate of Harihar Roy by a few degrees. Sarbajaya and Apu, both part of the good fortune are seen adapting to changes in the vicinity, dialect and culture. But just when the clouds seem to vanish and the sky appears clear, tougher times recoil. Harihar’s demise pulls the mother and son into a vortex of choices. The two return to a village in Bengal and start afresh.

Aparajito is significant in terms of a storyline, since it is a leap from Apu’s childhood to teenage. When he receives a scholarship to study in Calcutta, a reluctant mother is seen let go of her pain and sorrow to allow her child fulfill his ambitions.

A special mention here for Samaran Ghosal (adolescent Apu). His earnest effort at maintaining a balance between his naiveté, and at the same time developing a desire in exploring life is visible. An adolescent’s disconnect, his complexes and a changing list of priorities are the highlights of the second episode in the life of Apu. A growing negligence though isn’t underlined, but can be carefully noted from Apurba’s mannerisms. He returns to his mother, but a little too late. Ray’s protagonist, whose life is one with losses is seen breaking down in the last frame of Aparajito. Apu is now by himself.

The final and concluding part in the trilogy is Apur Sansar where the writer within Apu is waiting to be recognized. He accidentally meets Aparna and gets married to the beautiful girl from a village. But like the author establishes the fact, Apu’s life is one with tragedies and grievances. Apur Sansar marks the death of Aparna during childbirth. After losing his sister, parents and wife, he decides never to look back and abandons his child.

The trilogy, best known to be a milestone in the history of cinema is so because of a staggering ensemble and a crew well-versed with the technical aspects behind the making of the film. The last part of the story shows Apu return years later to his child and shoulder responsibilities that were his.

One of the best-known human dramas in 100 years of Indian films has had an upper hand at festivals, critic circles and film libraries. In the changing times, the trilogy may or may not be retained in every repository, but for witnesses of this stupefying art, there is no bigger archive than the memories of Apu trilogy in his heart.


Why should you watch the series?

If you have found your way to this review, it is not for no reason. This is why Apu Trilogy deserves your time, attention and money.

By Soham Bhattacharyya

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