Sunday, 30 March 2008

Aparajito (1956, India, Satyajit Ray)

The second part of Ray's celebrated trilogy follows the life of Apu from the death of his sister until his arrival at university. 'Pather Panchali' ended with the family facing an uncertain future as they left their village in search of a better life. Now living in Benares, a city situated on the River Ganges, the family seem to be just as impoverished and disadvantaged in the more prosperous urban regions as they were in the comparatively backward countryside. The family live in a crowded apartment area with shared amenities and Harihar, Apu's father struggles to make ends meet with his occupation as a priest. What's interesting here is how religion was of little importance in 'Pather Panchali'. Although we knew that Harihar was a priest, we saw very little demonstration of this. Benares is a noted holy city of Hinduism in Northern India attracting millions of pilgrims each year and the Ganges itself is worshipped. Ray shows us the elaborate celebrations that occur during religious festivals. It's an intriguing contrast and it's possible that the family moved here because of Harihar's vocation, in that it would be easier to find work, but maybe Ray is suggesting something about the urban/rural divide in terms of religion.

The fortunes of the family change when Harihar falls ill. Though he claims to be better and returns to work, he fatally collapsing ascending the steps from the river as Shankar's score becomes more rapid and dissonant, informing us of what is about to take place, and Ray films this through a narrow archway from distance. His death is also symbolically represented by flocked birds suddenly flying away with coincides with the first time we saw Harihar preaching with birds flying in the sky amongst him. Even though Apu's mother, Sarbojaya finds work as a maid and cook for a wealthy family, staying in Benares is no longer an option; relatives want her to return to her village, whilst her employers wish for her to join them when they move. This typifies the intense burden that has been placed on her after a series of tragedies which saw her not ony lose her daughter and become a widow, but also the sole parent to a young boy. Ray uses both close up and then zooming out to illustrate the significance of her dilemma, and how the decision she makes will affect both her and Apu's life forever.

Returning home, Apu decides he wants to attend school. As a promising student he is offered a scholarship to study in Calcutta. In his adolescence, Apu is shown as somewhat ungrateful and unappreciative of the sacrifices his mother has made for him and the fact she is the sole parent having to bring up a child without a second thought for her own needs. Sarbojaya has no-one to support her, she is now alone, so naturally has misgivings about allowing Apu to study in Calcutta, despite her intenses pride in his achievements. Her ultimate sacrifice is not only agreeing to him leaving but also giving him her savings to encourage him to make the best of himself. Not that Apu strictly rewards her gratitude. He seldom comes home, admits he feels out of place there. One scene in which Sarbojaya reads a letter is truly heartbreaking as you can see just how distraught she is by news that he won't be coming home. She feels more alone than ever. No doubt this contributes to her illness which she conceals from Apu, fearing the effect it would have on his studies. When he eventually finds out and rushes home to see her, she has already died and in a moment of self-recognition, he realises his mistake.

'Aparajito' is a seamless transition from its predecessor. The success of 'Pather Panchali' allowed Ray to make this film with greater scope and ambition and was rewarded as such with the Golden Lion at the 1957 Venice Film Festival, confirming Ray's staggering promise as a film maker. As before, there is much significance of the use of trains, as the bridge between two words; that of the countryside and the city. Where Harihar and Sarbojaya's generation and those before were content to remain in the countryside, Apu's generation want more and are aware of the opportunities in the city, which Apu chases to the detriment of his mother. This is also demonstrated by the request upon him to perform the last rites of his mother in the village though he declines, explaining he can do this in Calcutta, confirming that this is no longer a place for him. Apu is caught up between his ambitions and his responsibilities and this perhaps is the overwhelming theme of the trilogy overall. 5/5

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