Sunday, May 14, 2006

Apu trilogy revisited

So I fulfilled a long lasting desire over this weekend. And that is to see the Apu trilogy in one go--Pather Panchali (the song of the road) , Aparajito (The unvanquished) and Apur Sansar (The world of Apu). A billion words have been spent and a trillion books and artciles and novels and novellas and dissertations have been written on the Apu trilogy and I wont even try and impress upon you what these three films mean to Indian cinema in general and world cinema in particular. But there are many of you uninitiated into the wonderful world of Ray movies and Bengali cinema of that era for whom I'll make an effort to give you a glimpse into the trilogy.

The crux of the trilogy as the name suggests deals with a boy called Apu, Aparajito Roy. In Apu's own words, when he sets out to write an autobiographical novel "it is a story of priest's son who yearned for knowledge, for learning, for the thirst to know whatever there is to know. And with this knowedge and knowledge only he set himself free, free from superstitions, free from mediocracy, free from mean mindedness, free from the materialistic poverty he finds himself surrounded by." The trilogy is a beacon of optimism, masterfully written by Bibhutibhushan Bandhopadhay and equally masterfully transformed onto celluloid by Ray.

For me the trilogy is a battle between hope and despair, which anyday is a more important battle than that between good and evil. Apu's life is interlaced with loss and tragedy. He loses his elder sister at 7, his father at the age of 10 and his mother at the age of 17, and as a last straw he even loses his beloved wife. But never in the face of such calamity does hope die. In the last part of the trilogy, Apur Sansar, once his wife dies during childbirth you almost feel that this is it for Apu. He abandons his son whom he squarely blames for his wife's death, loses his thirst for knowledge and even tears up that novel he had been writing for so long.

You get a feeling this is a hole out of which Apu cant climb out. No way. But he does. In a moment of pure celluloid magic Ray re-creates the final blow that hope deals to depair and buries it for good. Rejected by his 5 year old son, Apu leaves the village, heading out to the city, when a voice calls out to him "Do you know my Dad who lives in Calcutta?". Apu turns around "Yes I do, do you want me to take you to him". "Will you? Why will you? Who are you after all?". Apu, brilliantly played by a very young Soumitra Chatterjee, starts to say I'm your dad, but the word that come out are "I am your friend, Arent friends supposed to help each other, isnt that what friends are for?".

I have been heavily influenced by my mother and so for me the most powerful character in the triology is Apu's mother Sarbojaya. A powerhouse character, this illiterate widow nurtures her beloved son as he makes the transition from childhood to adoloscence, and then sees her small, ill-lit, ill-equipped village house become too constricted for her growing son who is now immersed into the world of the Keats and the Shelleys, the Faradays and the Galileos. It is a moment of immense pride and pleasure and at the same time a moment of paralyzing pain for her. To let him grow, to let him be what he wants to be, to let Apu fulfill his destiny, she must set him free, free from the bindings that she and her small village house impose on Apu. But still she shouldnt have died.

10 comments:

sim said...

How about Durga Apu's sister. I found durga as powerful and endearing as Sarbojoya. I think apu was immensely influenced by all the women in his life, his sister, his mother and his wife. Apu's sensibilities in many ways are a more urbane refined version of the women in his life.

Anonymous said...

how come no mention of the cinematography and camerawork at all?

WishfulThinker said...

'For me the trilogy is a battle between hope and despair, which anyday is a more important battle than that between good and evil.' Amen. Your post has just inspired me to go watch parts two and three.

Anonymous said...

whats going on man??? this isnt u - this cant be - fukk, must i see all my heroes die :-((

that girl in pink said...

hey! i remember watching these movies loooong back...when they showed them on doorsarshan and i was too young to understand anything!
been planning to re-watch them for a long time. think i'll definitely do it this weekend.

peeya said...

I agree with pink and wishful, i saw these movies reely long ago. Need to see them again

oink!! said...

one more thing about these movies and ray's movies in general is the absolute spot on casting of the child actors and the way he brings out the best in them. Right from the child Apu inpather panchali to Kajal Apu's son in the last part. They were perfect

chimes said...

i agree w/ sim. the sari. :(

kee said...

Aparajito I think is the best of the three. And even though pother pachali is more highly rated, I am convinced that aparajito takes the cherry on the cake.

sudoku said...

Ray always had a way with the females in his films, whether it is sarbojoya or charulata or shramila in devi.
And his eye for the camera is as legendary as it can possibly be, remember the train scene in both aparajito and then later in sonar kella. Absolute magical camera work.