A review by Damian Cannon.
Copyright © Movie Reviews UK 1998
Continuing Satyajit Ray's honest and sensitive portrayal of one Bengali boy's
life, Aparajito leads Apu into adulthood and further heartbreak. After the
crushing blow that brought Pather Panchali to a close, Apu's father Harihar (Kanu
Banerji) has relocated the family to Benares. Here he can earn a living working as a
Brahmin priest, conducting Hindu rituals by the Ganges; this is the heart of the city,
where many come to bathe, beg and peddle on the ghats. To bolster this meagre income, he
also dispenses herbal medicine to those too poor, or too wary, to see a real doctor. In
this way he keeps the three of them together; himself, his wife Sarbojaya (Karuna Banerji)
and Apu (Pinaki Sengupta).
Unfortunately they are far from wealthy, forcing them to rent rooms in a dingy,
frequently monkey-infested, apartment block. In the central square there is a single tap,
shared by the tenants, beside which Sarbojaya spends most of her time. Every day she seems
fearful of harassment, particularly by new arrivals such as Nanda Babu (Charu Ghosh). This
is the legacy of leaving their birthplace for the city. Ironically Sarbojaya is as
isolated here as she was in the country, trapped by the family's situation. Only Apu seems
truly content, roaming the alleys with other boys and amusing himself. The family has no
money to pay for school fees, so Apu gains his education on the streets.
In creating Aparajito, Ray has fashioned a study of truth, about how
things are rather than how we would like them to be. Apu's family is far down the social
hierarchy and in grave danger of slipping further, seemingly beset by tragedy at the worst
possible moment. This is a time of inner and outer turmoil for Apu, torn from his old
friends by external forces and disorientated by the hormonal urges of his growing body.
Ray latches onto this emotional conflict, revealing its nuances. Aparajito
doesn't just evoke fear, it contains the fear of losing (someone else), the fear of
driving (someone else) away and the fear of being forgotten (by someone else). For the
empty spaces, Ray encourages you to substitute both Apu and Sarbojaya; each suffers when
Apu departs for a university education in Calcutta.
Much like Pather Panchali, this episode is dominated by Sarbojaya. For
all of her subservience, her desire to keep to the shadows, Sarbojaya is the central axis
of Aparajito. Once Apu's father has departed, as in the earlier film, it is just
her and Apu; the emotional ties are simple, even if the ramifications are not. Yet because
Karuna Banerji is relegated mostly to the sidelines, it's difficult to judge her
performance; apart from brief instants where a look speaks of pain, hope, despair and
love, Sarbojaya spends her life waiting. Karuna reacts when someone or something disturbs
her equilibrium, otherwise she remains in stasis -- paralysed by the fear that change can
only make her life worse, as it has done so often before. It's a subtle role to play and
Karuna does an excellent job of conjuring up the maternal bond.
It is, however, Smaran Ghosal, as the adolescent Apu, who really stokes the
fire of Aparajito. With the first frame of his arrival, the movie jumps into
life; you suddenly realise that while the first half was interesting, it wasn't exactly
compelling or cohesive. What Ghosal embodies is the fundamental dislocation of youth. He
can, must, wants and needs to enter a new world, yet this means tearing himself from the
old, leaving a part of his soul behind in the process. This is a transition brilliantly
distilled by Ray into a scene of classical resolution. Apu doesn't want to return to
Mansapata, because that means leaving Calcutta, yet he loves Sarbojaya. The result: guilt.
So Apu convinces himself that he can't study at home (exams loom), then sends a proxy (a
small sum of money) as a familiar compromise. Ray doesn't dwell on this decision or its
significance but Ghosal makes it embarrassingly vivid.
The problem is that relative to this later emotional complexity, the beginning
of Aparajito is both slow and often unfathomable. Ray lets the story hop around
with little explanation, sketching the bustle of Benares without placing the family as
a family in this context. There are plenty of scenes with Apu, Harihar and Sarbojaya
by themselves but few of them together; Ray assumes that you've seen Pather Panchali,
giving a background perspective. Still Ray's feel for the coupled themes of independence
and abandonment is superb, informed by an ability to capture fleeting emotion on film.
Occasionally his framing is superb, particularly when the camera is looking through a
doorway; a metaphor for transition, separation and closure, Ray uses these apertures to
full effect. Mix in Ravi Shankar's complementary traditional score and you have Aparajito,
an imperfect but affecting journey.
Maps & Globes
Bulletin Board Maps
Hand Painted Furniture
Old World Globe Bars