Aparajito (1957)
Directed by Satyajit Ray

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * *

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Apu, the son of a Bengali Brahmin living in Varanasi, leaves that city with his mother to live in a small town when his father dies. There, he attends school and, eventually, wins a scholarship, which enables him to study at a university in Calcutta.

Aparajito, Satyajit Ray's sequel to Pather Panchali, is an often touching film that, while not quite as appealing as is its predecessor, is still able to fascinate and engage the viewer.


Throughout the movie, Ray poignantly brings Apu's life to the screen and allows the moviegoer to immerse himself in the character's various struggles, thrills, and sorrows. The viewer is thus made to participate in Apu's love for his mother, his exhilaration when he discovers the wider world through a number of books given him by the headmaster at his school, and his regret after he is upbraided for falling asleep in a class at his university. Moreover, Apu's mother is as effectively delineated as he is. By allowing the viewer to see both her selfishness and her concern for her son, by making him aware of how she holds Apu back and how she realizes that she is doing so, Ray successfully evokes her emotions and, thereby, gives her a real capacity to affect the moviegoer.

Despite the director's frequent insights into the human heart, he has not supplemented such elements with a remarkable sensitivity to extrinsic forms. Nevertheless, even though the film is, for the most part, visually pedestrian, there are times when it is infused with a real beauty, when Ray is able to catch the innate loveliness of some object or of some particular moment. While they are relatively rare, such details are sure to move and intrigue the viewer.


Perhaps the film's greatest fault is the director's propensity for overstressing emotionally charged incidents. Rather than allowing the viewer to savor the sadness arising from some tragedy, such as the death of a family member, Ray burdens these occurrences with exaggerated histrionics and overlays them with wailing music so that, instead of feeling sorrow, the viewer may actually be made to laugh.

Moreover, like most films that are meant to trick the viewer into believing that he is looking at the doings of real persons, Aparajito's emotivity is somewhat diminished whenever the viewer, having become too involved in the movie, inevitably reminds himself that the persons he is watching are merely fictional creations. Fortunately, Ray has demonstrated such consistent skill in telling his protagonist's tale that such moments are relatively few and do not ruin his film. Most of Aparajito is, in fact, well crafted and is able to engage the viewer with Apu and his world.


What is more, the director's subtle, sensitive depictions of his characters are able to bring to the viewer's awareness the simple beauties of human existence. The intensity of the pleasures and the miseries of daily life is poignantly expressed. Over and over again, Ray, when conjuring up such emotions, gives them the same profundity as those of any great hero or any participant in world changing events. The viewer is thus touched by the wide-eyed excitement the young Apu experiences as he wanders through the narrow streets of Varanasi, by his mother's abiding attachment to her son, and by the boy's troubles as he tries to survive in Calcutta.

Lastly, I should briefly mention that the quality of the acting is consistently impressive. Smaran Ghosal, who portrays Apu as a teenager, acquits himself well, and Kanu Bannerjee is likeable as the boy's father. Karuna Bannerjee, however, who plays Apu's mother, deserves especial recognition. She really is a joy to watch.


Even though Aparajito falls short of greatness, it is a captivating, involving movie that is sure to make an impression on the viewer.

Review by Keith Allen

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