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Great Indian Movies - Aparajito
Jan 30, 2007 04:54 AM 8952 Views
(Updated Jan 30, 2007 05:09 AM)





*This is a second of three-part review of Satyajit Ray’s widely acclaimed and universally applicable Apu Trilogy based on Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay’s classic Bengali novel - Pather Panchali, Aparajito, and Apur Sansar. Apu Trilogy demonstrates that regardless of ups and downs of the life, life will always go on. Every tragedy brings new hope and in same breath, every joy doesn’t last forever.

They say birds are born to fly. A mother lays eggs, works hard to bring some food for their kids only to see them growing and flying away to enjoy their life without thinking of their parents, who are getting old and needs to be taken care of. Unfortunately same lifestyle is paralyzing modern human societies be it Asia, America, Africa, or Europe. Satyajit Ray’s Aparajito(1956) is complex study of same lifestyle and considered as one of his most celebrated movies.


*In 1920, after tragic death of Durga in the Pather Panchali, Harihar(Kanu Bannerjee) moves his family from rural Bengal village to the temple city of Banaras for better opportunities. Apu’s father Harihar tries to earn income as priest on the Ganga Ghats reciting religious scriptures. Apu’s mother Sarbojaya(Karuna Bannerjee) continues to run the household on meager income. Instead of wandering on rural outskirts of village, curious Apu(now around 10 year old played by Pinki Sen Gupta) spends most of his time playing with friends, wandering on winding streets, and exploring the Ganga Ghats.

Even though they moved to the city, Harihar’s family seems like still surviving instead of prospering. As it seems like slowly and slowly everything is falling in place for Harihar family, tragedy strikes, Harihar falls sick and later passes away leaving Sarbojaya and Apu to survive without means of any support.

Later Sarbojaya takes Apu backs to one of her relative’s village so; Apu can begin his training as priest. Apu starts reciting religious scriptures for villagers at young age. Seeing other kids going to school, curious Apu convinces Sarbojaya to attend the school. As Apu grows up, he becomes one of the brighter students of the school. Because of his thrust for knowledge, Apu(now played by Smaran Ghosal) impresses all teachers in the school and later tops the school.

After finishing his final grade at the school, school’s principal advices him to go the Culcutta for further studies. Despite Sarbojaya’s reluctance, ambitious Apu goes to Culcutta for the further studies via a scholarship. As Apu gets busy in his studies, working in press during nights, and struggling in his new life, he becomes isolated from his personal life, and skips visiting his hometown even in holidays.

In the mean time, Sarbojaya feels loneliness in Apu’s absence and upon learning of his mother's failing health, Apu returns to the village only to get news of his mother’s death. Finally, since he already knew what he wanted to do in future, Apu rejects his relative’s attempts to persuade him to stay in the village and returns to Calcutta.


Aparajito is the middle part of three-part trilogy of Apu’s life and most poignant yet satisfying experience of the trilogy. Although everyone feels special when it comes to mother-child relationships, Ray’s bitter truth about life’s ever rotating wheel of kids disappearing in adulthood making new relationships by taking parent’s relationships as granted is brilliantly executed by Ray.

Aparajito is kind of divided into three chapters – first part is Apu’s childhood in Banaras where Apu wanders into Banaras Ghats until his father’s death, middle part is Apu’s growth in village, and third part is Apu’s further studies in Culcutta and how his first freedom of life affects his personal life. Although not many Ray fans will agree with me, Aparajito seems to bog down in the middle. As a middle chapter of the book, scenes consisting Apu’s growing days in village and how he becomes young scholar seems little bit stretched out in the film and it takes nearly half an hour to move into third installment of the movie.  At the same time, in positive note, same scenes gives viewers feeling of continuity from Apu’s childhood days of Banaras to Apu’s adolescence days of Calcutta.

While Pather Panchali was lyrical study of simple rural life’s pros and cons, Aparajito is more realistic and poignant depicting life’s universal truth. The real beauty of Apu Trilogy is its celebration of life over death without being over-melodramatic or sentimental. It portrays that every death brings new beginning. Life is about change and will never stands still. In Pather Panchali, it was Apu’s sister’s death that forces family to migrate to the bigger city for better opportunity. In Aparajito, it was Apu’s father’s death forces family back to the village where Apu learns being adult at tender young age.

Although Aparajito clearly sympathies mother, I think real greatness of the film is its not taking either mother or child’s side. You as a viewer never feel that Apu is selfish or doesn’t want to go back to his mother. He just seems excited about his future and wants to know what’s out there. Ever since kid, he had been exploring either village or Banaras ghats, or modern city life. It’s interesting to see that mothers(Sarbojaya) are always realistic and children(Apu) are always dreamy and philosophical in their thoughts.

As far as acting, Aparajito belongs to none other than Karuna Bannerjee. Karuna as Apu’s mother holds film’s narration like spine holds human body from top to bottom. Her expressions showing worry, anxiousness regarding family’s financial situations in the first half and grief, sorrow, heartbreak, and longing for Apu’s sight in the later half of the film are the real heartbeats of the film. Both Pinki Sen Gupta as young Apu and Smaran Ghosal as teenager Apu are memorable portraying idealistic and ambitious Apu.

Subrata Mitra’s brilliant B&W cinematography is unsung cog of Apu Trilogy wheel. An unforgettable photography of never ending steps of Banaras Ghats from Ganga River, religious ceremonies on Ghats, tiny streets of sacred city of Banaras, steamers in Calcutta’s harbor, smoke-filled metropolitan Calcutta’s sky, and quite village school occasionally visited by domesticated cows are as authentic as we can imagine in early 20th century India.


*Aparajito depicts one of the most universal domestic problems of human societies. As kids are growing and try to establish themselves in society away from families and get busy shaping up their future, they sometimes ignore their parent’s needs to be loved and to be taken cared of. It’s a stark reality, may be more visible in western societies but slowly and slowly poisoning Asian societies as well. It’s amazing that Ray’s Aparajito even though released in 1950s, its more relevant in modern 21st century India. It was way ahead of its times and truly a great gem of Indian cinema. A must see film.

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