That is, if you like great things and these films by master filmmaker Satyajit Ray, are great. The first film, Pather Panchali, (Song of the Little Road) created in in 1955, relates the beginning of Apu’s history in 1920 West Bengal as an enchanting, mischievous child. Their harried mother nags Apu and his sister, Durga(movies.ndtv.com), while their often absent but affectionate father spoils them. The second film, Aparajito (Unvanquished), created in 1957, watches Apu growing from a wily 10-year old to a scholarly 17-year old(rogerebert.com). The third film, The World of Apu, created in 1960, follows Apu into manhood and marriage(laweekly.com).
Apu’s father is a Brahmin, although we may not understand that until we learn that he is a Hindu priest and scholar(silverscreen.in). Apu’s parents sacrifice so that he may follow his father’s profession while his sister, Didi, hopes for a good marriage. Despite their high caste, the family is grindingly poor; their idea of plenty is to have two meals a day and a house that doesn’t fall down in the rains. Still, Ray depicts their poverty in loving detail, showing us their comings and goings in silhouette against the sky, painting endless vistas (blu-ray.com) and revealing their lengthily-prepared meals as family feasts. He was criticized for “exporting poverty” and “distorting India’s image abroad,” (Wikipedia) but filmmakers worldwide hailed him as a master.
During the 1947 partition of Bengal, West Bengal, largely Hindu, became part of India, while East Bengal, largely Muslim, now Bangladesh, became part of Pakistan. Given the violent history of the factions in this part of the world, we might have expected to see a reflection of this in the films, but,they are not political. Nor is there any mention or sight of the English, surprising– as this was the time of the British Raj. These films document the lives of Apu, his mother, father, sister, wife, and friend, and that is all, but in so much depth, that we don’t need any more.
The music for all three films is by then-unknown master, then national treasure, Ravi Shankar, and is so integrally woven into the story as to be seamless. Poetry, songs, sitar, flute and drums pervade the film underlying both emotion and action. (indiatvnews.com) The print, now miraculously restored by some completely incomprehensible process as the originals had been lost, is as clear as yesterday. These are obviously not Bollywood musicals, but Ray does slyly show us the over-acted dramas of this time, adored by the local populace and, of course, by Apu.
We love Apu as child, young man, and adult, going through his joys, tragedies and renewal each time. His is a hot country and we live it with him, reveling in the frequent rainstorms and inviting puddles. We learn that he prefers science to the arts, but loves the readings of his faith and earns a spare living as a Brahmin priest. Reluctantly he enters marriage only to find love at last and a child, though both come to him with hardship and pain. (filmhaha.com) Apu is writing a book about a young man who perseveres through poverty and tragedy because he loves life; his friend asks if it is an autobiography and we, of course, know that it is. These films are often joyous, sometimes sad, but ultimately triumphant.
There are a few more showings of these films this week, held over at the Film Forum. Don’t miss them but do bring your lunch, literally, if you see several at a time.
#The World of Apu