Aparajito (1956)

by Afra Nariman

Aparajito (1956)

Director: Satyajit Ray

Stars: Kanu Bannerjee, Karuna Banerjee, Smaran Ghosal, Pinaki Sengupta


The first half of Aparajito is really great. The second half is masterful though, in its illustration of the coming-of-age period of life which entails the realization that life decisions now fall on your own shoulders, your intellectual curiosities will arise and demand to be explored, and moral choices will now carry immeasurable weight. Continuing Apu’s story that began to be told in Pather Panchali, here life’s wonders evolve into its curiosities. 

The first half of the film is radically different than the trilogy’s first installment, as would be expected in the shift from village to modern city. The overwhelming serenity of nature which defines Pather Panchali is replaced here by the constraints and disruptions of the modern(izing) world; yet Ray still finds instances which highlight nature’s inherent role in our lives within the crevices of the big city. Moreover, here there is a larger presence of art, which Ray’s films consistently thematically highlight as holding just as much wonder to behold as nature does — albeit it is not a replacement. This idea is most clear in Ray’s Charulata, where for Charu it is both nature (represented through the scene in the garden with Amal), and art (literature, music, etc.) which are her escapes from her imprisoned, modern lifestyle.

Notable is the intentional placement and displacement of music and sounds of nature in this film, juxtaposed with the obnoxious noises of city-life, which is representative of the tensions surrounding the shift to modernity. In the city, loud noises often overwhelm intimate moments. The difference becomes most clear during the brief transitionary scene on the train, when Apu and his mother ride out of the city and towards a new village. As they approach the village, the noise of industry and city gradually drown out and are replaced by music once again.

Observation in Aparajito is also presented to us differently than in Pather Panchali. In the latter, Apu was a young boy observing for the purpose of partaking in life’s simple pleasures and natural wonder; while in the former, this film, he observes with the purpose of satisfying his curiosities about life, the different ways of being in the world, and the ways he can (and should) understand it all. 

Here, Ray begins to more explicitly touch upon one of the main themes that he later expands on in later films, such as The Big City, Charulata, and Devi; that is, the experiences of injustice, mistreatment and feelings of imprisonment by women in modern(izing) society. Apu’s mother, particularly in scenes which take place in the city, is presented as feeling trapped and uncomfortable. 

The tragedies of Pather Panchali inform so much of Aparajito as well. The pain beneath the surface of this film and its characters is noticeable. At one point early in the film, a man says to Apu’s father: 

“One can’t be happy without a family of his own, don’t you think?”

In this moment, we are left wondering just how happy Apu’s father (and the entire family) could possibly be after enduring the tragedies that occurred in Pather Panchali. Moreover, after Aparajito is finished, and as we look forward to what awaits Apu in his next film, Apur Sansar, we wonder how he could possibly live a happy life going forward after enduring the events of the two films that told the story of his formative years. 

The pain and sadness is most evidently and consistently felt through the character of Apu’s mother. Her smiles in the film are few and far between, but they come at pivotal moments of the film that signify important emotions and tensions that Ray wishes to communicate. Throughout the film, her pain becomes harder and harder for her to hide, as she continues to feel the loss of her family members — both the permanent losses and the spiritual/emotional one of Apu. 

As per usual, in Aparajito, Ray’s humanity shines brightly. A belief in the worth of the human experience, consisting of both the good and the bad, is at the heart of much of Ray’s work, and is only heightened in the films that depict the life of Apu. Each of these films thus far have heaped upon their characters moments which included tragedy, loss, confusion, and crisis; yet with each film, Ray confirms the vitality of love.


Rating: 5 out of 5.

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