Aparajito (1956): Satyajit Ray’s Second Panel in Apu Trilogy

“Aparajito,” The second film in Satyajit Ray’s acclaimed masterpiece, “Apu Trilogy,” put the director on the international map after winning the Golden Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival.

As a central panel in the trilogy, “Aparajito” inevitably has a transitional structure, drawing on the first chapter while pointing to the third and last one.  As such, it’s less dramatic than the first or last panels, “Father Panchali” and “The World of Apu,” respectively.

Even so, the narrative, which is adapted by Ray from a novel by B.B. Bandapaddhay, is engaging, offering new insights about the members of the broken family and their socio-economic conditions.

In this segment, the 10-year-old Apu and his parents move to the sacred city of Benares, hoping to build a new life. In Benares, Apu’s father Harihar makes a living as a priest reciting religious scripture.

Though his family is poor and his mother burdened with cares, Apu runs freely. One day, Harihar returns from work faint and feverish, and shortly thereafter, he dies. Widowed, Sarbajaya realizes that she must find a job. As a cook for a wealthy Bengali family, she makes a decent living, but she leaves that position to live with her uncle in his village of Bengal.

Once in Bengal, Apu excels in school and wins a scholarship to study at a college in Calcutta. Sarbajaya is pleased with her son’s academic record, but due to her declining health she needs him at home, resulting in tension and clash of wills between the proud woman and her headstrong son.

Though grounded in its particular time and locale, the film suggests the importance of education and ho art can be created and survive the most dire and tough conditions.  The lyrical scene in which Apu recites a poem in his classroom is both emotionally touching and politically relevant in its universal message.

Made in 1956 (and released in many countries a year later), “Aparajito” indicates India’s processes of modernization and industrialization and their inevitable impact on both individual and culture.  Nonetheless, in his upbeat outlook, Ray suggests that individuals can rise to the occasion and might not be compromised by the corruption that characterizes the society at large.

Stylistically, the film (and the whole trilogy) is influenced by Italian neo-realism, which Ray credited for inspiring his entire work.  The moody music by the famous Ravi Shankar suitably accompanies Subrata Mitra’s stunning black-and-white cinematography.

The entire “Apu Trilogy” is defined by authenticity, sincerity, beauty, and humanism, which never lets overt politics or doctrinary ideology interfere with the characters’ stories and lives.

Running time: 113 minutes.