The World of Apu (Apur sansar)

The World of Apu

How much further wilt thou lead me, O Fair One?

Hollywood, to say the least, has gone a little trilogy crazy over the past few years. It’s worth noting, though, that even thought they are making trilogies like mad, the qualities of the individual films in the trilogy often suffer as a result. There’s the opening film, which is almost always stand-alone, since there’s no indication yet of whether it will be successful enough to warrant two more. When that’s confirmed, the second outing is almost always a “middle film”, a ‘Two Towers’, a ‘Dead Man’s Chest’; a less-than-stand-alone that’s mostly there to set up and make sure the audience goes to see the third one, which is the conclusion of the story. This formula, which admittedly is wildly successful at milking box office (and thus is likely why is it the go-to trilogy formula these days), doesn’t take into account each film as its own entity, and thus there is rarely a moviegoer who will view the trilogy as a whole as perfection, or maybe even a success. Hollywood would do well to revisit trilogies of the past like the Apu Trilogy, where each film is its own beast. While Aparajito may still suffer a little bit from middle-child syndrome, the concluding film, Apur Sansar, is just what the doctor ordered, and Satyajit Ray proves how effective he is as India’s foremost storyteller of the time.

The plot continues after Aparajito; Apu is now a young adult, and is unfortunately living month to month giving private lessons, instead of heading off to graduate school where he would like to go. The film is, from there, a chronicle of his life, from the unusual circumstances to which he gets married, to the eventual tragedy that always seem to haunt his life, to the resolution of both his own circumstances and the troubles of his life in general. This film, at the start, surprised me by having it open in the film itself, before the opening titles began; an unusual occurrence for a film of a bygone era. From there, though, I was surprised at how accessible the film was compared to Aparajito. Unlike the previous film, which just seemed to be a somewhat aimless firing of tragedy after tragedy Apu’s way, this one actually has a narrative, a story arc both for the trilogy as a whole and for the film as its own tale; indeed, this should be what a concluding film in a trilogy should be like. The technicals, while still appearing the same as the first two films, have taken a slight leap, almost as if Ray had acquired some better equipment; or perhaps it was simply experience. But still, it helped jump the quality of the film up that much more, which along with the rise in the story, meant for a wholly greater experience than Aparajito was.

This was by far my favorite of the three films. Where the first two, in Apu’s childhood and adolescence, were mostly vehicles for Apu to just be a child or an adolescent, this had a real story to tell, and characterization to complete. Not to mention the acting was probably the finest in the series, and this was the first film for both the actors playing Apu and Apu’s wife; they both would go on to become major stars of Indian cinema, and rightly so. Pather Panchali and Aparajito are both fine films in their own right, but they best exist as a lead-up to this one; watch the first two so you will be able to fully experience the third. Again, that’s not to discount the first two, since each film has its own selling points as a stand-alone feature, but I can definitely see why they are grouped together as ‘The Apu Trilogy’ on many a ‘Greatest Films of All Time’ list. It might be unfair to do so, but this is a trilogy through and through.

Arbitrary Rating: 9/10

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