VOD film review: Aparajito
Katherine McLaughlin | On 14, Jul 2021
Director: Satyajit Ray
Cast: Karuna Banerjee, Santi Gupta, Rani Bala
Where to watch Aparajito online in the UK: Amazon Prime
The second in the Apu Trilogy from director Satyajit Ray begins on the bustling banks of the river Ganges and follows the Bengali boy’s journey from child to enthusiastic teen as he embarks on an educational path. If Pather Panchali announced an exciting new voice in Indian cinema then this film cemented that reputation with the director demonstrating innovative technical skill with an insightful and spirited portrait of adolescent life.
Apu (Pinaki Sengupta as a boy and Smaran Ghosal as a teen), his father Harihar (Kanu Bannerjee) and mother Sarbojaya (Karuna Bannerjee) are in the thick of it living in 1930s Varanasi. But after Harihar suddenly passes away, mother and son must move back to the countryside to make ends meet. While there, Apu shows a keen interest in his education and graduates at the second to top of his class. He’s desperate to head to college in Calcutta and his mother eventually acquiesces, despite her reservations and anxiety about being left alone once again.
Throughout the entire film Sarbojaya is faced with making life-altering decisions, and Ray lets her story play out with a richness that presents her turmoil and complex inner life with nuance. Apu, on the other hand, is still yet to learn difficult life lessons and his naivety rings true as he attempts to have it all. He must study during the day and work at a printing press at night to pay his rent. Meanwhile, he neglects his family duties. It all piles up on top of him and, when he can’t keep up, he buries his head in the sand.
With Aparajitu, Ray indulges in exciting the senses and shining a light on the Hindu faith, spending time with the family as they engage in rituals and ceremonies. The location shooting at the river Ganges offers a cornucopia of buzzing life where people engage in religious customs, and the score by Ravi Shankar further expresses the joy of these moments. The shots of the city are infused with wonder and potential, and packed full of charming detail, such as cute scenes involving the mischievous monkeys who inhabit the Varanasi area.
The latter half of the film guides its focus to the realities of aspirational dreams, and the physical and spiritual strength involved to make them come true. In theory Apu is a smart boy with the world literally at his fingertips through the global knowledge he is amassing, and which he shares with his mum in delightful back and forth. They both profit from education. In practice, attending university while holding down a job and maturing into a young man weighs heavily on Apu, while his mother becomes increasingly introverted and sad.
Ray depicts these unsettling feelings of frustration with such clarity of vision, ably communicating a sense of homesickness for a home to which you cannot return. When Apu visits his mother, he can’t concentrate on work; the pull of the city is what stimulates him. Again, the lure of modernism is ingeniously depicted through the out of reach and distant sound of a train, and this family’s struggle to make sense of it all.
Aparajito is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.