Aparajito (1956)

“The Land of Bengal. Where is the greenest land of all – where the tender grass your feet must fall? Where the grain sways on sunny afternoons and the blushing lotus blooms? It is our very own Bengal, the greenest land of all. Where do thrush and robin sing? Where do fork-tailed drongos swing and where do elegant swans swim? Where do weaverbirds nest again and the swallows cry for rain? In our very own Bengal, the greenest land of all. In what land do they speak a tongue that fills your soul with yearning? Where do you hear the clear tones of a baul whose heart is singing?”

‘Aparajito’, directed by Satyajit Ray in 1956, is the second film in the Apu Trilogy that started with ‘Pather Panchali’ in 1955 and ended with ‘The World of Apu’ in 1959. It continues the story of Apu as he enters adolescence. At the end of the first film Apu and his parents leave their village for a new life in the city. The second film opens in Varanasi, and the story follows Apu as he slowly loses his family but gains his independence. It’s a melancholic film both in the way Apu’s parents lose their lives but also in the way the child becomes more selfish as he becomes more educated. The way parents are ignored by their growing children seems to be a common theme of the period and is central to films such as ‘Tokyo Story’ and ‘Ikiru’. In this film the reaction of the parent, for example Apu’s mother, is one of stoicism. It’s also a visually dramatic film, particularly the scenes set in Varanasi. One notable sequence is the illness and death of Apu’s father: he collapses at the top of one of the ghats, the camera vertiginously looking down on him. The movie is full of these inventive visual effects but it also clearly draws on European neorealist movies. More than the first film, I saw aspects of Vittorio De Sica’s 1948 movie ‘Bicycle Thieves’ in the shots of Aou and his father traveling the streets of the city. The overall effect of this is a complete film, one that focuses equally on the romance and texture of the city and on the trials of the individual lives within it.

Would I recommend it? Yes. Given the richness of the story and the way Ray presents it, you could pair this film with no end of others. For a selection, I would suggest ‘Bicycle Thieves’ or ‘Tokyo Story’, but obviously a triple bill with the other Apu movies would be the obvious choice.

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