Satyajit Ray’s Apu-trilogy is an automatic selection in almost any major survey listing greatest all-time classics. Even when viewed without the past reference of the first part Pather Panchali, this second part of the famed trilogy stands tall as an independent classic. For those who are already familiar with Ray’s celebrated first film, this second installment comes as a worthy successor and confirmation of the man’s film-making genius.
A simple story
Based on Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay’s novel set in the 1920s, this film tells us the story of a poor Bengali family, which has relocated to Varanasi. The father, a Hindu priest, makes his living by performing various religious rituals on the banks of Ganga. The mother looks after the small, rented home and their son Apu. Tragedy strikes when the father succumbs to a sudden illness. The widowed mother first takes up a job with a wealthy family but later decides to move to her ancestral village. She has plans to make Apu a priest like his father but he convinces her to send him to the school instead. He is an intelligent boy, who shines scholastically, even getting a scholarship to study in a Kolkata college. But will his quest for chasing his dreams in life leave his poor, uneducated mother far behind?
The beauty of this film, just like its predecessor, lies in Ray’s subtly nuanced languid story-telling, which relies on evocative visuals rather than verbose dialogue. Despite its leisurely treatment, the film keeps you spellbound with its flowing narrative and striking black-and-white imagery. Apu’s childhood games in Varanasi’s side-lanes, his aimless wide-eyed wandering, the sick father collapsing from the steps of the ghaat, the mother’s look of anguish after watching her son carry the hookah for the master, a monkey playing with the temple bell, teenager Apu going off to sleep as the sick mother tries to share her woes, adolescent Apu leaving behind his ancestral home … there are so many scene frames which remain etched in the memory with Ray’s imaginative filming through Subrata Mitra’s brilliant cinematography.
A classic in a true sense
True to his style, Ray never subscribes to melodrama and yet manages to touch your soul with insightful observations on humanity. His actors make his job easy with superbly natural performances. Pinaki Sengupta and Smaran Ghosal perfectly portray Apu’s carefree childhood and his gawky adolescence. But just like the first film, it is the mother Sarbojoya (played by Karuna Banerjee) who makes the deepest impression. Her fortitude in face of adversity; her standing up for her honour; her tender love for Apu; her quiet acceptance of loneliness.…everything comes across so touchingly.
Aparajito traces the never-ending circle of life and death and portrays the inevitability of separation. Its core ‘Coming of age’ theme is timeless and complemented by a near flawless cinematic execution it translates into a classic in a true sense!