-Directed by: Satyajit Ray
-Screenplay by: Satyajit Ray, based on the novel “Aparajita” by Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay
-Cast: Soumitra Chatterjee, Sharmila Tagore, Alok Chakravarty, Swapan Mukherjee
-Run Time: 1 Hour and 46 Minutes
-Availability: Not Streaming and Not Available for Digital Download Or Rental. DVD is Out-of-Print and fairly pricey However the whole movie is available on Youtube.
Indian cinema is usually associated with the extravagance of Bollywood productions. However the films of one of its most well-known, and possibly greatest filmmaker, Satyajit Ray could not be further from that of the Bollywood set. His low-budget, small scale, humanist films are a stark contrast from mainstream Indian cinema and this is perfectly illustrated in this weeks film “The World of Apu,” the final entry in Ray’s “Apu Trilogy.” This stark, poetic and beautifully told drama remains a prime example of non-Bollywood cinema as well as the Parallel Cinema movement of the late ’40s.
Apu (Soumitra Chatterjee), who we previously saw as a little boy in 1955’s “Pather Panchali” and as a teenager in 1956’s “Aparajito” has now grown into a young twenty-something year old. Fresh out of college and struggling to find work and pay his rent, Apu has ambitions of becoming a great writer. Things change when Apu is invited to the wedding of his friend Pulu’s (Swapan Mukherjee) cousin. After the groom goes insane, Apu takes his place in order to save the honor of his friends family. While the marriage is forced, Apu and his new wife Aparna (Sharmila Tagore) try to make it work, but things change again when she dies in childbirth. Haunted by his wife’s death, Apu abandons his son for five-years, only to later return and accept his new responsibility as a father.
At first glance “The World of Apu” appears to be a very simplistic film, mainly from a technical stand-point. There are no fancy editing or camera tricks to speak of. However, there is a reason for the simplicity and some context is needed here. In the late 1940’s there began a movement in India known as Parallel Cinema. The movement was meant to be a rebellion against mainstream Indian cinema. Typical Bollywood films, also known as Masala films, have musical numbers, are very melodramatic and are a mix of romance, comedy, action and other genres. Parallel Cinema films on the other hand emphasize realism and naturalism, often employing low budgets, non-actors and inexperienced crews. By no means is this meant to be an attack on Bollywood cinema, like any good artform Bollywood cinema is not without its merits, it is mean to show how against the norm “The World of Apu” is.
This simplistic style is most effective for the film because it creates a sense of authenticity. I would say there is almost a documentary like quality to the film in that it captures real life and real emotions. By not having to worry about music, throwing in other genres or adding typical Bollywood elements, Ray is able to focus solely on crafting an emotional character-driven story. He is a fantastic storyteller and he provides us with a perfectly formed and developed story. The pacing is perfect as every plot point is given enough development. A very tight and well put-together script. I should also mention that you don’t need to be familiar with the other films in the trilogy to appreciate this one. In addition Ray has found the perfect Apu in Soumitra Chatterjee. He perfectly captures the arc and emotions required for the sequences. His transformation from cocky college grad to heartbroken widow is a performance of pure brilliance. He makes the character likeable and you understand why he does what he does. Even when he does something as heinous as leaving his son with his grandparents, you can understand why.
Apu is a character I think we can all relate to in some shape or form. Our lives may not mirror his exactly but certain elements, depending on our life experiences, will certainly feel relatable. At this point in my life I can relate to being a young, college graduate struggling for work while trying to make my dream as a writer come true. Perhaps for some it is not writing, but rather sports or music. Either way, we can all relate to having a dream and wanting it to come true, yet life happening and preventing it. We may not relate to being forced into a marriage, but I know many out there have gotten married too young or married the wrong person. Lastly the responsibility of becoming a father and accepting those responsibilities happens to many at some point. While the cultural barriers exist, Apu’s story mirrors that of many young people in their twenties.
Master storytelling from a fantastic filmmaker, “The World of Apu” comes highly recommended. Poetic, beautiful and as Alan Morrison said in his review in Empire Magazine “humanist storytelling at its best.” Confession: While in college I took a class on World Cinema and one of the films I had to watch was “Pather Panchali.” At the time I didn’t care for the film. Yet, the story of the little boy growing up in India managed to stay with me. After watching “The World of Apu,” I am excited to go back and revisit “Pather Panchli.”
PS: Here is a fun fact for all of you Beatles fans. The music for all three films was composed by well-known Indian musician Ravi Shankar, who was a huge influence on George Harrison.