GRADE: A / 80%
Pinaki Sen Gupta – Apurba “Apu” Roy (boy)
Smaran Ghosal – Apu (adolescent)
Kanu Banerjee – Harihar Roy, Apu’s father
Karuna Banerjee – Sarbajaya Roy, Apu’s mother
Ramani Ranjan Sen – Bhabataran, old uncle
The sun wakes up in the land of Benaras. An aged temple priest scatters seeds for the pigeons. Men take their morning dip in the holy river bordering a ghat (series of steps). Women wash their clothes in the same waters. A couple of pehelwans (wrestlers) exercise with gadas (heavy Indian club) close to the river banks. Priests sit close by sermonizing to their loyal devotees. Ships can be heard at a distance. It is morning.
Have we never seen a morning like this? We probably have, at least most who live or have lived in India. Yet why do we watch this morning with a quaint fascination? This is because Satyajit Ray doesn’t regard his morning sequence as an establishment shot as most directors would – his camera gazes with wonderment at how life begins in the land of Benaras, and that gives his morning a wholly distinctive identity.
We find young Apu walking beside the ghat one morning, passing by the chanting priests and their devotees and stopping where a pehelwan is exercising. He fixedly gazes at the gada which the hefty pehelwan is swinging around his body, and then leaves. After his father’s untimely demise, he reluctantly becomes a priest at the insistence of a male relative.
But he seems to have little interest in this, as evident in a scene where he watches, in his priest’s attire, a couple of young boys his age tumbling and gamboling happily at a distance and then follows them after ditching his dhoti. He watches as they enter a school and then at night asks his mother whether he can join the same school. Once he gets admission, he’s found to be a bright student who can recite lok-geet (folk music) fluently, and we realize maybe his short stint as a priest did pay off well.
Apu’s world is simple, yet his life is profound. There isn’t explicit symbolism anywhere yet but we know how symbolic each event in his journey is, as evident from the paragraph above. Moving to a big city like Benares from a tiny village like Nischindipur, living the city life shortly till the death of his father, moving to another village called Dewanpur, attending a school nearby and earning a scholarship, moving to Calcutta for further studies with little enthusiasm to return to the dismal village life are covered in Aparajito.
Apu’s thinking, values and priorities blossom as his life passes these phases; take a scene in the film where Apu, in his teens, watches a couple of street children performing but finds their act uninteresting and leaves. Had this been young Apu, he’d be very enthused by their performance and watched it till the end. Aparajito is Apu All Grown Up.
His self-sacrificing mother Sarbajaya gives him all her hard-earned money so he can move to Calcutta, and she surrenders herself to a life of loneliness. Apu’s priorities shift towards college studies and printing press work, and he only visits her once in every few months. Satyajit Ray uses still shots to capture her emotions and actress Karuna Banerjee’s eyes speak volumes; her memorable ‘Opu!’ for calling Apu (Bengalis usually pronounce many of their words with an ‘O’ intonation) stayed with me long after the film ended.
Apu’s college life was probably the only sequence that impressed me less, only because I’ve already seen similar scenes in many other recent movies. But what matters at last is our strong attachment to Apu’s world; we laugh with, weep for and find joy in watching his world. Part of the credit has to go to Ravi Shankar’s enchanting score, dominated by sitar, flute and dholak, for creating the right mood for each scene.
Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali and Aparajito give the pleasure of experiencing the same world through his eyes. And we are swept over completely.
- Reviewing ‘Pather Panchali’ Legendary Indian Director Satyajit Ray’s Masterpiece (sashankkini.wordpress.com)
- 100 Years of Indian Cinema : Does Regional Cinema work better Internationally than Bollywood? (madaboutmoviez.com)
- Google honours Satyajit Ray with a ‘Pather Panchali’ doodle (ibnlive.in.com)
- Satyajit Ray’s birthday celebrated (copalartnews.wordpress.com)