This tenderly expressive, often heart-wrenching film, which won three top prizes at the Venice Film Festival, including the Golden Lion, not only extends but also spiritually deepens the tale of Apu. By the time Apur Sansar was released, Satyajit Ray had directed not only the first two Apu films but also the masterpiece The Music Room, and was well on his way to becoming a legend. Apu is now in his early twenties, out of college, and hoping to live as a writer. Alongside his professional ambitions, the film charts his romantic awakening, which occurs as the result of a most unlikely turn of events, and his eventual, fraught fatherhood.
Edition introduction to The Apu Trilogy. He had seen Pather Panchali and loved it. With tears in his eyes he informed Ray that if he had known about the film in advance, he would have agreed to postpone his own opening. Soon, the film opened again at another cinema, where it ran for a further seven weeks. Indeed, he spent some time in mid searching for a totally different story for his second film. The success of Pather Panchali was what finally prompted him to undertake Aparajito, and at the same time to resign from his advertising job so as to become a full-time film-maker.
Ray began work on the new script in October In addition, its narrative flows more like a Hollywood film of its time than the rambling Pather Panchali. I never really went back to that [saga] form any more. Two new actors were required to play the growing Apu: Pinaki Sen Gupta for the Benares and early village scenes, Smaran Ghosal for the adolescent Apu in the village and in Calcutta. You get a shock, and then you accept it after a certain point. Every word, every look, every small movement, the deep attachment towards the alienated son, they all developed within me, as leaves grow outwards on the branch of a tree.
Sounds poetic? But believe me, that is exactly how I felt whenever I had a chance to work with Manik [Ray]. Not a single turn of the character that I portrayed was forced, illogical, artificial. Ray was determined to capture this multitude of sensations through the experiences of Apu, as the opening entry of his diary reveals: 1 March — Set out at 5 a.
Half an hour to sunrise, yet more light than one would have thought, and more activity. The earliest bathers come about 4 a. The pigeons not active yet, but the wrestlers are. One just wants to go on absorbing it, being chastened and invigorated by it. The thought of having to work — planning, picking sites and extras, setting up camera and microphone, staging action — is worrying. But here, if anywhere, is a truly inspiring setting.
It is not enough to say that the ghats are wonderful or exciting or unique. One must get down to analysing the reasons for their uniqueness, their impact. Clusters of immobile widows make white patches on the greyish ochre of the broad steps. The bustle of ablution is absent. The ghats face east. In the morning they get the full frontal light of the sun, and the feeling of movement is heightened by the play of cast shadows. Morning scenes in the ghat must be shot in the morning and afternoon scenes in the afternoon. Instead of direct lighting, with its attendant swarms of moving shadows, shadowless lighting from above was simulated by stretching a sheet of cloth over the set and bouncing studio lights back from it.
This matched the actual source of light from the sky in the open courtyards of houses in Benares, particularly those in the area of the city favoured by Bengalis such as Harihar Ray. It is like someone refusing to shoot in the mist or not caring for the poetry present in a cloudy day.
Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy Restored | The Hudson Review
The third film introduced two actors who were to become regulars for Ray. Sharmila Tagore, who plays Aparna, was only fourteen and still at school. She is related to the painters Abanindranath and Gaganendranath Tagore, the more orthodox branch of the Tagore family. She had no acting experience, but she was already a dancer. Ray met Sharmila for the first time — after failing to find Aparna through a newspaper advertisement that attracted over 1, replies — when her parents brought her to him and his wife in a frock.
The sights and sounds of railway trains — first heard, then seen, in Pather Panchali — are the woof of the Trilogy, drawing it together into an epic work. But all that came later. The grand village house of the Apu—Aparna wedding was, by contrast, a real building. Ray and Chandragupta looked at many such decaying zamindari houses in the country before settling on one with a perfect riverine location. It would make the journey from Calcutta to the village more interesting. With the seconds ticking away, Sailen suddenly sprang up, threw himself forward and managed to fend off the other boat with both hands — but at the cost of his foothold.
He was flung into the water along with the notebook he had been using to keep continuity. And at the same time a compelling reminder of the unpredictable course of both art and life, epitomised by the Apu Trilogy and its epic making. In , while trying to raise interest in his adaptation of the novel Pather Panchali, Ray made a series of striking sketches for a documentary film about Shankar: a sort of story-board covering 31 pages of a drawing book, like the one he created in for Pather Panchali. Although the documentary was never made, the sketches were published in in my book Satyajit Ray: A Vision of Cinema.
Shankar is seen with his sitar playing raga Todi, a morning raga, at first slowly in the introductory phase known as alap, then gradually speeding up; he is still playing as the film ends. These dwell on nature — drifting clouds, falling leaves, rippling water, lotus flowers flapping, later on trees shaking in a storm — but also include a Rajput miniature painting of the female raga ragini Tori such paintings often depict the Indian musical modes , showing a lady with deer near a lotus pond, as well as decorative details from Indian relief sculpture. Clearly, Ray intended that his filmed tribute to Shankar should suggest some essential unity behind the different Indian art forms.
One can hear two melody lines intermingled in this piece. The first is the variation on the theme music which I composed about 40 years ago for his first film — the immortal Pather Panchali, the second melody is based on raga Ahir Bhairav. While recording I had flashbacks of some of the wonderful time we spent together and I poured my heart out through my music bidding farewell to my dear friend — Satyajit Ray. Despite an underlying tension and a degree of rivalry between these two powerful but very different creative personalities, and serious differences over the composition of film music, they did indeed remain friendly for decades.
Here was a director who would never compromise nor allow me to go overboard. He was confident and rigid about exactly what he required from me or any of his composers. Ray himself was an outstanding composer and music sessions with him are still unforgettable. For the Apu Trilogy, he extracted the true essence of rural Bengal from me musically. We became quite friendly. That was about all, until he approached me regarding his first film, Pather Panchali.
Pather Panchali was still in production when Ray wrote to Ravi Shankar in Delhi and requested him to compose the music for the film. Shankar immediately agreed. But by the time Ray needed him in very early , the sitarist was in the midst of a concert tour. In the event, Shankar managed to combine a very short recording session in Calcutta with a concert.
As soon as he arrived in the city, Ray rushed him to the projection room, where he watched half of the film in a roughly edited version; that same afternoon, he composed and recorded the music in a single session ending in the early hours of the following morning. In addition to the sitar, he used three other string instruments: the dilruba tarshehnai , the bhimraj elder brother of the esraj and the sarod — plus the pakhwaj for percussion.
It went on to become the main theme of Pather Panchali. Since I felt that in the short time that I had it would be too constricting for Ravi Shankar to have to compose to precise, predetermined footages, the method we used was to decide on the mood and instrumental combination for a particular scene, and then provide music well beyond the required length.
In addition, we recorded about half-a-dozen three-minute pieces on the sitar in various ragas and tempos. This is by no means an ideal method, but it has its advantages. In Aparajito, the same five instruments were used, either solo or in various combinations. Five Indian instruments were obviously inadequate to cope with all this, so Ravi Shankar decided to add violins and cellos even a piano for one particular piece.
Also, the usual hectic one-day session was abandoned, and the music was composed and recorded over three days. On the LP release, the music is divided into the following tracks. The music here, scored for flute and strings, has the noble simplicity of a Vedic hymn. One memorable piece in Pather Panchali that was not composed by Shankar, for lack of time, involved the comic twanging of the single-stringed ektara, a folk instrument, that accompanied the wobbling sweet-seller, the children and the dog.
They contained passages of oppressive silence, Ray felt, where music would have helped relieve the slowness. Regrettably, Shankar himself never discussed in any detail his music for the Apu Trilogy, perhaps partly because much of it had been inspired by Ray. He did not say, for instance, what may have influenced his creation of the main theme of Pather Panchali before he had even seen the rough cut. This is despite the fact that he thought his music for the trilogy was the best film music he had ever composed. I never had time to stay for editing, mixing or improving it.
Yet I do believe that whatever came first was always the best, and when I tried to redo a score it was not as good. After the Apu Trilogy, Shankar did not compose again for Ray, who decided in that he would prefer to compose his own music rather than wrestling with virtuoso players, such as Shankar, Vilayat Khan The Music Room and, most difficult of all, Ali Akbar Khan The Goddess , as film composers. He knows exactly what he wants.
He has experience in western music, specially the piano. If Satyajit thought he was suitable to do the music for his own films — and people did like it — then he must have been. The director is the boss — and especially when he has the stature Satyajit had earned worldwide. Such western elements were crucial for his later, more urban films, as compared to the village-inspired Apu Trilogy. To reflect that musically you have to blend — to do all kinds of experiments.
Mix the sitar with the alto and the trumpet and so on People are born, live out their lives, and then accept their deaths. How does he achieve this? There is nothing irrelevant or haphazard in his cinematographic technique. In that lies the secret of its excellence. Effortlessness is a hallmark of all his best work. Even to describe the plot or story of Pather Panchali is a challenge, with or without the aid of the published screenplay.
There are some turning points, of course, such as the birth of Apu, his first day at school, the death of Indir, the arrival of the monsoon, the death of Durga, the return of Harihar, the departure from the village. But the essence of the film lies in the ebb and flow of its human relationships and in its everyday details and cannot be reduced to a tale of events. For how can one narrate the entire experience of childhood — the main subject of Pather Panchali? Moreover, childhood that is seen not only from the point of view of Apu, but also from those of his sister and his two parents.
Pather Panchali, Aparajito and The World of Apu are very different in their dominant moods and in the rewards they offer the viewer. They reflect the consciousness of Apu as it evolves from innocence, and this gives them a coherence that it is tempting to call musical. Secondly, the more complex jor, which is still a solo exposition but which introduces a rhythmic pulse and has a gradually increasing tempo.
Finally, the jhala, when the strings of the instrumentalist are joined by the beat of the tabla in a fixed rhythmic cycle that nevertheless allows for ample improvisation, and the tempo increases to a climax at the end. Pather Panchali may be compared to the alap, Aparajito to the jor, and The World of Apu to the jhala phases of a raga.
At the beginning of Pather Panchali, Apu does not, of course, exist: for some considerable time into the film, the family consists of Harihar, Sarbajaya, little Durga and Indir. We first see Apu as a baby, rocked by the ancient Indir Thakrun, but we first meet him as an eye. He is by then about six. He is a skinny, shy little boy with a ravenous curiosity, and frequently a hunger for food too — but his mother can seldom provide what she would like to give him. One day, feeling annoyed with each other, they run across the fields around the village and out of their familiar world.
There, in the unknown, among the feathery white kash grasses, they become friends again and have their first tingling encounter with a railway train belching black smoke. On their way back home through the forest, leading the family cow and giggling and tickling each other, they meet something even more incomprehensible — Death. Sometime later, in the monsoon, Durga too dies from a fever brought on by the rain, during a savage overnight thunderstorm. Without being told, Apu begins to understand death for himself. Harihar is away at the time, trying every possible avenue to make some money; on his return he is compelled to confront his full failure as a husband and as a man.
He decides to take Sarbajaya and Apu to Benares, where he will earn a living by reading aloud the scriptures.
The last image in the film is of the three of them trundling slowly away from Nishchindipur in an ox cart. Banerji, the writer of Pather Panchali, devoted about ten pages of his novel to the school of the grocer—schoolmaster, for whom caning is a frequent substitute for teaching. Although little happens in this school scene, there is a lot to look at and listen to. In a short span we see the school from multiple perspectives: those of the tubby, pop-eyed grocer—schoolmaster and the pupil Apu, but also those of a girl customer, a leathery-faced village elder come to sponge off the grocer, and the rest of the boys in the class who are of various ages and levels of mischief.
All the while that the multi-tasking schoolmaster is giving the boys a sonorous dictation of poetic phrases from a text retelling the story of the epic Ramayana, he is also measuring out goods and selling them to his customers, gossiping with his visitor, rebuking and chastising his pupils, scratching his back with the cane and loudly yawning. The innocent Apu — new to this quotidian, slapstick spectacle — at first grins spontaneously, abruptly becomes serious after a scolding, and is finally afraid for his own skin after being forced to watch the caning of an older boy caught playing noughts and crosses on his slate.
All this is teaching of a kind — but an education more in the ways of the world than in the pursuit of knowledge though the schoolmaster is clearly not a total philistine; he has some feeling for the grand language he is dictating from memory. When Apu next goes to school, in Aparajito, and proves to be an earnest pupil, we know that he is aware of the ignominious fate he has escaped at the hands of the grocer—schoolmaster. Deep in the heart of Janasthan! What are up to now? How many more times must you moisten your duster?
Sit down! Girl customer: One paisa worth of puffed rice. Schoolmaster: Puffed rice? A paisa worth? Hand over the money then. Its godlike summit The schoolmaster yawns. Village elder: How are you, Prasanna? Everything alright with you? How many pupils now? Schoolmaster: smiles The new boy makes nine.
Village elder: Good heavens! The nine gems! Why are you grinning? Schoolmaster: addressing Apu — Is this a playhouse?
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He scratches his back with his cane. Schoolmaster: smiling at his visitor Well, well. What were you saying, Mr Majumdar? Village elder: Tell me, have you seen a good jatra lately? When Apu returns home with his father from his first day at school, Sarbajaya is cooking. Durga is out of sight but she calls Apu. Conspiratorially she tells him to fetch her secret stock of mustard oil from the top of some shelves inside the house. Meanwhile, Indir Thakrun, by showing off her tattered shawl to Harihar, induces him to promise her a new one.
His offer is overheard by a resentful Sarbajaya. Apu can no doubt hear all this, but he is intent on reaching the high shelf. As Sarbajaya carries on, we see Apu approach the shelf and then, in an interesting shot from behind the shelf, pick up the coconut shell of oil. Crouched in their corner, the children share the tamarind paste Durga has made.
He lets slip the sound of a grimace. Mother will hear you. But suddenly Durga is on to something new; her alert hearing has caught the faint tinkle of bells. The sweet-seller has arrived! Obviously she knows him from past visits. Tamarind paste and parents forgotten, the two children jump up and go to a gap in the wall of their house. Outside, the jovial sweet-seller pauses enquiringly. Durga sends Apu running off to beg money from their father who is an easier touch than their mother.
But Sarbajaya, still in the kitchen, detects what is going on and calls out to the indulgent Harihar not to give any coins. A village dog trots out after them, sensing food. As the small procession passes along, it is reflected upside down in the waters of a village pond lightly ruffled by a breeze. The plonking, rustic sound of the one-stringed ektara, accompanied by sitar, imparts a perfect rhythm to the odd little group: the wobbling sweet-seller yoked to his swaying, bobbing pots, hungrily pursued by the children and their canine companion.
Simultaneously, we come to feel how each parent sees Apu and Durga, how each child sees their mother and father and each other, and how Ray sees them all. Pather Panchali is a film about unsophisticated people shot through with sophistication, and without a trace of condescension or inflated sentiment. Later in the film, there is an especially rich sequence of contrasting incidents of a variety that gives Pather Panchali its universal reputation for vivacity and charm.
To the eyes of the viewer, or at least the western viewer who does not follow the language and the mythological story of the villainous Serpent King, his daughter and her noble husband, the pantomime histrionics of the theatre troupe are delightfully incongruous, if a shade too lengthy. In the film, Apu, alone, makes himself a tinsel crown and a stage moustache which he fails to attach to his upper lip. With Durga, however, in the scenes that follow, Apu is still very much the callow younger brother to her knowledgeable elder sister.
All dressed up like a prince! She can run faster than him through the fields. She knows how to chew sugarcane properly. Her alert ears and eyes spot the monstrous steam train, puffing black smoke, before his do. And it is Apu, not Durga, who races the train, climbs the railway embankment, and is seen — now without his crown — by the camera from the other side of the tracks, through gaps in the passing train wheels, excitedly watching the train disappear into the distance.
Again, it is a hint of his coming career as a regular train traveller and future student of science. Durga, who on her sickbed will later wistfully mention the train to Apu and look forward to seeing another train with him, is destined never again to set eyes on one. Appropriately, it is Durga too who first spots their dying auntie squatting in the bamboo grove. As Apu looks on in anticipation, an affectionate Durga tries to wake up the old woman by shaking her — as once we saw her wake up her young brother on the morning of his first day at school by opening his sleeping eye with her fingers.
Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy Restored
But instead of the old aunt awaking, her body crashes to the ground. No description in words could capture the mingling of beauty, horror and mystery in this scene. We have seen this pot many times before, when its owner was alive; now she will never again have need of it or the life-giving water she so recently begged from a reluctant Sarbajaya. It begins with Apu silently cleaning his teeth near the pond, an unfamiliar faraway look in his eyes.
Sarbajaya, her hair dishevelled and her sari crumpled, draws water from the village well. Apu goes into the monsoon-devastated house, roughly combs his hair and wraps his shawl around him — actions that a doting sister and mother used to perform. The verandah where the long-deceased Indir used to cook, has somehow escaped the storm. Sarbajaya finds herself cooking there. She is dead to the world, and when a neighbour comes bringing food, she does not even notice her presence.
It takes the voice of her husband calling for his children to make her stir. We know that Harihar has returned, oblivious of the disaster to his family. As Sarbajaya mutely fetches him a seat, towel and water from inside and turns to go, Harihar stops her. He wants to show her the presents he has managed to bring. The third item, a sari for Durga which he presses her to admire, is too much for Sarbajaya. Another director might have chosen to end the agonising scene there. Ray, instead, returns us to Apu, a sad little figure standing behind the house holding the bottle of oil, which is now full.
By the time we reach the very end, the hitherto passive Apu is ready to take his first major decision in life. Then the film moves on to its inexorable conclusion. Because obviously he knows that his sister had actually stolen it. But then Essentially cinematic. If one thinks of Pather Panchali, this dictum is true. When a scene could have been played out conventionally through dialogue, Ray preferred to find a telling countenance, gesture, movement or sound to express the emotions more dramatically.
What makes Pather Panchali a great film is, finally, that it speaks to us — whether we are Indians, Europeans, Americans, Japanese or whoever — not primarily through its plot, dialogue or ideas, but through its apparently inevitable current of ineffable images. When it was first released in Calcutta the year before this award, it was a box-office failure, unlike Pather Panchali and The World of Apu.
If the remaining two-thirds of Aparajito is sometimes a less rich experience, notably in its Calcutta scenes, the viewer is compensated by the finest performance of any actor in the Apu Trilogy — not excluding Chunibala Devi as Indir in Pather Panchali or Soumitra Chatterji as Apu in The World of Apu: that of Karuna Banerji as Sarbajaya.
Certainly, Aparajito is neither as lyrical as Pather Panchali, nor as moving as The World of Apu, but its characterisation is the deepest in the three films, by virtue of Sarbajaya and her relationship with her son. Although one may have little sympathy with her comparatively narrow and passive outlook on life, one cannot avoid becoming emotionally entangled in the poignancy of her predicament. For Apu to be free to grow and realise his talents, Sarbajaya must be abandoned and die: this profound truth is what gripped Satyajit Ray in the novel Aparajito, as we know.
To quote the published screenplay: A train rumbles across a bridge. Year Bengali calendar . Dawn over the city of Varanasi. There are pigeons everywhere, on the carved temple walls, on the thatch covering of sunshades on the ghat steps, over the water at the edge of the river. There are people everywhere too. An old widow sits praying under a torn sunshade.
Men, women and children bathe in the river. The kathak thakurs recite holy verses, surrounded by devotees. The temple bells ring in the morning air. In the river, boats lie moored in the shallows. Fishing nets rest against the walls of the ghat. Harihar carries the holy water of the river in a little brass pot, up the steps of the ghat. He enters one of the narrow meandering lanes of the city, sprinkling holy water on the deities placed on either side of the lane. He turns into a narrower lane and enters a door on the right.
It is an old-fashioned brick house. The rooms, in two storeys, are built around a small courtyard. Sarbajaya is washing the courtyard, sweeping the water away with a broom. Harihar hangs his shawl on the clothes-line. Behind the corner of another wall decorated with a rabbit, another boy is hiding.
Apu and a group of friends are chasing each other through the lanes, nooks and corners in the area around his house. Often there is so little space to move that the boys have to squeeze past obstacles — first one boy, then another, is seen ducking under the stomach of a ruminating cow. First, he gazes at his father seated on some steps surrounded by women, mainly widows in white, as Harihar serenely interprets religious texts from the Sanskrit into Bengali in front of a collection plate with some coins in it.
Meanwhile, Apu, still clutching his windmill, has climbed onto the deck of an empty moored boat. From there he spots something interesting further along the ghat and runs towards it. A muscular man is exercising with a heavy club.
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In a friendly way he offers Apu a go, but the small boy shyly refuses. First, we see Sarbajaya and Apu visiting the chief shrine of the temple-ridden city, the Viswanath Temple, where they experience the arati, the cacophonous evening ritual of chanting and bell-ringing through a haze of incense. The spectacle mesmerises Sarbajaya, but not her son. Back in their groundfloor rooms, she decorates them with a hundred little points of light, the burning wicks that a pious Hindu lights to celebrate the autumn festival of Dusserah Durga Puja in Bengal. Into this luminous setting comes Harihar carrying some shopping, and obviously in a weak condition.
He has to lie down. Outside the window next to him, a series of fireworks explode in a burst of light and noise that is slightly menacing. Then Apu bursts in holding a large sparkler, eager to show it to his mother. His face falls. Sarbajaya tells him to sit with his father. Probably to please his father, Apu says they are not. But what he really wants is to get back to his friends outside. His father gently releases him. Instead, he discusses with Sarbajaya a better dwelling that he may have found for them. Outside, as the night is filled with sparks and bangs, Apu is humming his own version of the tune he has picked up earlier from their upstairs neighbour, the somewhat sleazy bachelor Nanda Babu, a tabla player.
Nothing is spelt out here, but in this ditty lingers the faint suggestion that we have not heard the last of Nanda Babu. After bathing in the river, he begins to climb the steps, just as he did at the beginning of the film.
Ray more or less repeats the shots. But this time Harihar forgets to collect his glasses and has to be reminded by his fellow kathak seated by the river, who calls out to him and holds out the glasses. Hearing the call, Harihar looks momentarily confused and puts his right hand up to feel if he is wearing his glasses. No one who wears glasses constantly can be unaware of their absence, unless he is fatigued, ill or mentally preoccupied. The steep climb up the steps now proves to be too much for Harihar; near the top he collapses dramatically and has to be helped home.
Immediately after this sombre composition we see Apu absorbed in watching a bulging leather water bag as it is drawn from a well by bullocks. Pressure forces the water to come spurting out through numerous small ruptures. We see Harihar lying motionless. That is all. Again Nanda Babu appears behind the barred window, but this time no one is there, except for the prone motionless figure of Harihar. She is in the kitchen where outsiders do not normally go and where contact with others while cooking is taboo.
As she hears the sound of the pumps approaching she draws her sari over her head in a timeless gesture of Indian womanhood. His face unseen, Nanda Babu slips off his pumps, crosses the threshold, and takes a few steps, his fingers splayed out and trembling with sexual excitement. From here on, the sequence is unrelievedly bleak. It will be heard again when Sarbajaya herself begins to die, and in The World of Apu when Apu is mentally dead. The pigeons are not in the novel, as mentioned earlier. This brief transitional period is handled with a cinematic finesse hard to do justice to in words.
In one sequence, Apu is seen plucking the grey hairs of the head of the household while the man reclines dozing in the heat. In the final shot, the thought process in her decision to leave Benares is equally eloquent. They draw attention to themselves. I like strong modulations from one thing to another. You see, I am always hopefully concerned to get the feeling of the movement of life itself. There are no neat transitions in life. Things make the transition for me. A travelling train, for example.
Again, there is no moment of evident transition, say, from childhood to boyhood, or on to youth. Some of them feel a little too neat. With Ray, formal education tends to be pictured as either monotonous or comic. The cow, however, gets her revenge, by reappearing at the very moment the honoured inspector reaches the school entrance.
But then comedy gives way to seriousness. Perhaps he was thinking of a Ray family story. Picking up the book he saw an excellent sketch of himself. When you grow up you should follow this line. The most poignant sequence in their relationship occurs when he returns to the village for the first time since starting college in Calcutta. Sarbajaya is sitting listlessly sewing beneath a tree.
As the train from Calcutta comes beetling across the near horizon, she busies herself to receive Apu. A solo sarangi, the most piercing of the Indian string instruments, expresses her loneliness with heart-wrenching pathos. She is still drawing water from the well when Apu arrives.
Instead of pulling the bucket up, she simply lets the rope snap back in her joy; no embrace could have been more eloquent, especially given the calm way in which we have seen her draw water in Pather Panchali. Apu is genuinely pleased to see his mother, but the gap between them is evident from the moment he arrives. He has barely exchanged a few sentences with her before he is off for a dip in the village pond. They grope for common ground. Apu reassures her that he still prefers her cooking. Later, he reads, she sews.
With some asperity she tells him to put his book away and talk to her about what he has seen. This makes his mother pensive. Will Apu look after her? Of course, he will, Apu says, without thinking. Will you arrange for my treatment with the money you earn? Will you, Apu? Immediately, we remember another such scene, in Pather Panchali, when Harihar drifted off to sleep while Sarbajaya delivered herself of her worries.
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Ray adopted this hint and transformed it for the cinema. In the twilight of evening, the dying Sarbajaya hears the whistle of a train passing, and then the voice of the adolescent Apu calling her. She rises heavily to her feet, looks out of the door in hope — but there is no one there, only the glimmering pond, the empty path along which Apu has so often walked from the station, and sparkling fireflies. Sarbajaya sinks down on the threshold in despair. The screen goes black, except for the fireflies. As the points of light dart around, darkness covers the trees, the pond and the path, like a shroud.
Ray is too oblique an artist for this. Apu will perform the rituals in the city, he informs his uncle, not remain in the village as a priest. Aparna was played by 14 year old Sharmila Tagore, still at school. A dancer, although not yet an actress, she required a lot of coaching to get her through her role. She married a famous cricketer, who happens also to be royalty, the Nawab of Pautudi, and their oldest son, Saif Ali Khan is himself a big Hindi film star. The films did have a successful run in Bengal at the time of their release, filling theaters and creating a cultural conversation in and around Calcutta, attracting the attention of the Bengali film industry.
But, its depiction of rural poverty was disturbing to many Indian officials and although the West Bengal government produced the films, they hesitated to promote them internationally. There were outspoken critics of the exploitation of poverty, and lack of the appearance of a modern India, by prominent voices such as the Bollywood heroine Nargis, who later became a member of the Indian Parliament. And, the films were not universally acclaimed by Western critics, in spite of their successes at Cannes and Venice. Pather Panchali was not subtitled when first shown at MoMA, and there was not even an introduction to explain what audiences were about to see.