Satyajit Ray’s landmark trilogy about a boy named Apu who grows up to be a man across the span of three films, have been rightly called some of the greatest humanist films in all of cinema. They are referred to as The Apu Trilogy. Made in
Bengal, Ray began the trilogy with his first film Pather Panchali (1955), followed by Aparajito (1956) and the last being The World of Apu (1959). At the time they were rightly recognized as the universally truthful films that they were and have held steady over the decades as incredibly important works both within the Indian film movement and across all of cinema as well. Ray is also, clearly, ’s greatest filmmaker and went on to great international acclaim following these films. India
Pather Panchali is the story of a family. We meet a mother, a father, a sister, and a great aunt. Then comes Apu. He is born into a world of near poverty as his father and mother scrape by on little means. He and his sister find fun and adventure in whatever ways they can and they learn through the careful teaching of their parents how they should live and treat each other. This film contains such wonderful acting from all the main players. A standout is Karuna Banerjee as the mother, who does incredible acting with her eyes, conveying all the sorrow and regret of a woman who feels she has made some mistakes in life and is not able to correct them. A terrible tragedy strikes the family toward the end of the film, forcing them to move from their ramshackle home in the country to the city, as the father is forced to find better work. This might be my favorite film of the trilogy and is even more remarkable considering it was Ray’s first film. His triumph in this film is that of conveying an intense passion for the rhythm of life. What we are introduced to additionally, is the naturalness of the acting, the quiet and observant point of view and the pulse of everyday situations. So much natural beauty is found by Ray’s technique that much of the film feels documentary–like. This naturalness adds to the universality of the themes and family relationships.
In Aparajito, Apu is living with his family in the city, finding a different rhythm to life where everything is bigger and busier. His father takes ill and dies very early in the film. Apu moves with his mother back to the country and yearns to attend school as he gets older. Teachers find that Apu has a remarkable ability to learn and Apu scoops up every bit of knowledge he can gain. His perseverance and hard work allow him to graduate and Apu begins to step into manhood. This film again shows Ray’s uncanny ability to find actors who can convey incredible emotion without saying a word at times, but just by keeping the camera fixed on the eyes. It’s debatable, but this film might be the saddest and darkest of the three, with major tragedy striking Apu twice here. Apu though continues on with his schooling and is determined to persevere through all circumstances. It’s an inspiring film that in the face of such odds, Apu is able to achieve his goals.
Ray’s final film in the trilogy is The World of Apu. Apu is now graduated from college and is seeking employment and searching for love. He has a difficult time finding both but in a fortuitous turn of events, winds up getting married on the spot to a complete stranger, in a marriage ceremony planned for someone else who backed out. This plot twist yields one of the greatest stretches of the entire trilogy as Apu and his wife get to know one another in a common struggle of bending their wills and their desires to meet each other’s. Ray's trilogy is completed following intense amounts of pathos and heartbreaking emotion as the story goes places that are incredibly inspiring. It’s at this point that I must bring up the brilliant and moving score composed by Ravi Shankar that weaves through each film.
Ravi became internationally famous later on in his career as a mentor and sitar teacher to George Harrison of The Beatles. I would call his pulsing sitar scores in these three films to be some of the best composed soundtracks of all time. Furthermore, this trilogy might be the best trilogy of all time when you consider the quality and consistency of vision in all three films, without so much as a letdown from one film to the next. Ray’s greatly humanist portraits of Apu and his world are life affirming in the best way possible.