The Apu Trilogy - Film (Movie) Plot and Review

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Director: Satyajit Ray


PATHER PANCHALI

(Father Panchali)

India, 1956


Production: Government of West Bengal; black and white, 35mm; running time: 112 minutes. Released 1956. Begun in 1950, though principal filming done in 1952 in a small village in southern India.


Screenplay: Satyajit Ray, from the novel by Bibhuti Bannerji; photography: Subrata Mitra; editor: Dulal Dutta; art director: Bansi Chandragupta; music: Ravi Shankar.


Cast: Kanu Banerji ( The Father ); Karuna Banerji ( The Mother ); Subir Banerji ( Apu ); Uma Das Gupta ( The Daughter ); Chunibali Devi ( Old woman ).


Awards: Best Human Document, Cannes Festival, 1956; Selznick Golden, Berlin Festival, 1957; Kinema Jumpo Award as Best Foreign Film, Tokyo Film Festival, 1966; Bodil Award as Best Non-European Film, Denmark, 1966.


Publications


Scripts:

Ray, Satyajit, Pather Panchali , in L'Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), 1 February 1980.

Ray, Satyajit, The Apu Trilogy (in English), Calcutta, 1985.


Books:

Barnouw, Erik, and S. Krishnaswamy, Indian Film , New York 1963; revised edition, 1980.

Seton, Marie, Portrait of a Director—Satyajit Ray , Bloomington, Indiana, 1971.

Wood, Robin, The Apu Trilogy , New York, 1971.

Satyajit Ray , New Delhi, 1976.

Satyajit Ray: Study Guide , Washington, D.C., 1979.

Rangoonwalla, Firoze, Satyajit Ray's Art , New Delhi, 1980.

Micciollo, Henri, Satyajit Ray , Lausanne, 1980.

Das Gupta, Chidananda, editor, Satyajit Ray: An Anthology , New Delhi, 1981.

Gandhy, Behroze, and Paul Willemen, Indian Cinema , London, 1982.

Ramachandran, T. M., 70 Years of Indian Cinema (1913–1983) , Bombay, 1985.

Nyce, Ben, Satyajit Ray: A Study of His Films , New York, 1988.

Robinson, Andrew, Satyajit Ray: The Inner Eye , Berkeley, 1989.

Tesson, Charles, Satyajit Ray , Paris, 1992.

Cooper, Darius, The Cinema of Satyajit Ray: Between Tradition and Modernity , New York, 1999.

Ganguly, Suranjan, Satyajit Ray: In Search of the Modern , Lanham, Maryland, 2000.


Articles:

Ray, Satyajit, in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1957.

Seton, Marie, "Journey Through India," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1957.

"Personality of the Month," in Films and Filming (London), December 1957.

Dyer, Peter, in Films and Filming (London), February 1958.

Hart, Henry, in Films in Review (New York), February 1958.

Mekas, Jonas, in Village Voice (New York), 12 November 1958.

Croce, Arlene, in Film Culture (New York), no. 19, 1959.

McVay, Douglas, "The Ray Trilogy," in Film (London), March-April 1960.

"Talk with the Director," in Newsweek (New York), 26 September 1960.

Rhode, Eric, "Satyajit Ray: A Study," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1961.

Kael, Pauline, in I Lost It at the Movies , New York, 1966.

Ray, Satyajit, "From Film to Film," in Cahiers du Cinéma in English (New York), February 1966.

Ray, Satyajit, "A Long Time on the Little Road," in Film Makers on Film Making , edited by Harry Geduld, Bloomington, Indiana, 1967.

Blue, James, "Satyajit Ray," in Film Comment (New York), Summer 1968.

Dutta, K., "An Interview with Satyajit Ray's Cinematographers," in Filmmakers' Newsletter (Ward Hill, Massachusetts), January 1975.

Gillett, John, "Satyajit Ray," in Film (London), October-November 1975.

Williams, A., in Movietone News (Seattle), April 1976.

Hughes, John, "A Voyage in India: Satyajit Ray Interviewed," in Film Comment (New York), September-October 1976.

Ray, Satyajit, "Dialogue on Film," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), July-August 1978.

"Pather Panchali Issue" of L'Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), 1 February 1980.

Palekar, S., "So Close to Children," in Cinema in India (Bombay), no. 4, 1992.


APARAJITO

(The Unvanquished)

India, 1957


Production: Epic Films; black and white, 35mm; running time: 108 minutes. Released 1957. Filmed 1956.


Screenplay: Satyajit Ray, from a novel by Bibhuti Bannerji; photography: Subrata Mitra; editor: Dulal Dutta; art director: Bansi Chandragupta; music: Ravi Shankar.

The Apu Trilogy: Apur Sansar
The Apu Trilogy: Apur Sansar

Cast: Kanu Banerji ( The Father ); Karuna Banerji ( The Mother ); Pinaki Sen Gupta ( Apu, as a boy ); Smaran Ghosal ( Apu, as an adolescent ); Ramani Sen Gupta ( 1st Uncle ); Subodh Ganguly ( Headmaster ); Ramani Sen Gupta ( 2nd Uncle ).


Awards: Best Film: Lion of St. Mark, Venice Festival, 1957; Bodil Award as Best Non-European Film, Denmark, 1967.


Publications


Articles:

Hart, Henry, in Films in Review (New York), February 1959.

Mekas, Jonas, in Village Voice (New York), 13 May 1959.

Johnson, Albert, in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Summer 1959.

Sarka, Kobita, "Indian Family," in Films and Filming (London), April 1960.

Sarka, Kobita, "The Great 3-in-1," in Films and Filming (London), December 1964.

Also see list of publications following Pather Panchali credits.


APUR SANSAR

(The World of Apu)

India, 1960


Production: Satyajit Ray Productions; black and white, 35mm; running time: 103 minutes. Released 1959. Filmed 1959.


Screenplay: Satyajit Ray, from a story by Satyajit Ray, based on the novel by Bibhuti Bannerji; photography: Subrata Mitra; editor: Dulal Dutta; art director: Bansi Chandragupta; music: Ravi Shankar.


Cast: Soumitra Chatterjee ( Apu ); Sharmila Tagore ( Wife of Apu ); Alok Chakravarty ( Kajol ); Dhiresh Mazumaer ( Grandfather ).


Awards: Sutherland Award Trophy, London Film Festival, 1960.

Publications


Articles:

Hart, Henry, in Films in Review (New York), March 1960.

Harker, Jonathan, in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Spring 1960.

Croce, Arlene, in Film Culture (New York), Summer 1960.

Mekas, Jonas, in Village Voice (New York), 6 October 1960.

Gillett, John, in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1960–61.

Durgnat, Raymond, in Films and Filming (London), May 1961.

Hanan, D., "Patriarchal Discourse in Some Early Films of Satyajit Ray," Deep Focus (Bangalore, India), vol. 3, no. 1, 1990.

Or, Victor, "A Study of Asian Tradition in Satyajit Ray's The World of Apu ," Asian Cinema (Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania), vol. 8, no. 2, Winter 1996/97.


Also see list of publications following Pather Panchali credits.

* * *

Satyajit Ray's Apu Trilogy , made over a period of eight years and not originally conceived of as a trilogy, had a profound effect on filmmaking within India and an important effect on the attention paid to Indian films outside India. Within India, the unobtrusive style of lighting, dialogue, and action employed in the Trilogy challenged the prevailing operatic style and led to new conventions of realism. Abroad, the Trilogy stirred interest in other Indian cinema, and led to a wider market for Indian films as well as to significant contact between Indian and non-Indian filmmakers.

After returning to India from a business trip to London for Keymer's advertising agency, Ray set about finding a crew and finances for a film based on the famous Bengali novel, Pather Panchali. In his work as a graphic artist, Ray had already illustrated a Bengali abridgement of the novel and he was able to obtain rights for a modest sum (about $1300) on the basis of his active interest. Finances proved more difficult to procure for the film itself: Ray pawned his wife's jewelry and was finally advanced money to complete the film by the government of West Bengal. For its first two weeks in Calcutta, the film played to small audiences. Then the theater filled and the film recovered its costs in Ray's native city within the first thirteen weeks. In Bombay, in 1956, the film was reviewed by Adib in the following terms: "It is banal to compare it with any other Indian picture—for even the best of the pictures produced so far have been cluttered with clichés. Pather Panchali is pure cinema. There is no trace of the theater in it. It does away with plot, with grease and paint, with the slinky charmer and the sultry beauty, with the slapdash hero breaking into song on the slightest provocation or no provocation at all." For many critics, Ray's completion of Aparajito , in 1956, confirmed the novelty of his approach and the strength of his talent. Stanley Kauffmann reported that Ray was forging in the Apu films the uncreated conscience of his race.

All three films of the trilogy are organized by an open form: the progression of events is episodic and interest in the narrative derives from character and location rather than from the dynamics of plot. In Pather Panchali , the poor Brahmin priest and his wife have a son born to them, the father must leave home to make a living, their daughter dies, the son watches the world change around him, the family is forced to leave the village. The viewer's attention is engaged less by what is going to happen than by the way in which things do happen. The editing allows the viewer to soak in the atmosphere of a landscape or an evening. As son and daughter (Apu and Durga) run to the edge of the village to watch a steam train, the camera registers soft white tufts of flax waving in the air. When the train appears, it hurtles not only past the village, but across the viewer's inner rhythms which had been slowed by the waving flax. The episode of the train in Pather Panchali also indicates Ray's classicism, his practice of creating a strong response in the viewer and subsequently disciplining that response. During the course of the Trilogy , the viewer's empathetic experience of an event is frequently punctuated by a distancing perspective. In Pather Panchali , when the father breaks down in grief over his dead daughter, Ray cuts to the young Apu standing apart, watching his sorrowing father. In Apur Sansar , Ray cuts from the climactic reconciliation of Apu and his son Kajal to the dour father-in-law, who will add this episode to the many other curious episodes he has witnessed in his life.

The open form also allows Ray to annotate the feelings of his characters by referring to the natural world. At their simplest, these references function as analogies. When Apu's mother is happy, the water skates and dragonflies dance an insect version of happiness. But at their best, images of the natural world become surcharged with meaning: the monsoon clouds in Pather Panchali gather to themselves the pent-up emotions of the mother and the children; the fireflies in Aparajito signify the beauty and the remoteness of nature; and the river gleaming behind Apu, in Apur Sansar , while Apu debates whether to marry his friend's cousin, signifies both the burden of the moment and the flow of time into which individual moments run indistinguishably.

Although Ray and his cameraman, Subrata Mitra, made remarkable experiments towards recreating the effect of daylight on sets (by bouncing studio lights off of cotton sheeting stretched above the set), the Apu Trilogy did not constitute innovation in cinematic technique. The excellence of the Trilogy derived from its tact. Using long takes, reaction shots and unhurried action, Ray was able to place in suspension before the viewer multiple points of view: that of the aged aunt who must cadge food to survive and that of the young mother Sarbojaya, who will not extend herself indefinitely and who refuses to help the aged aunt pour water from a pitcher. The multiple points of view are validated by an evenness of regard: the camera attends as calmly to the ailing aunt as to the determined mother, to the grief-stricken father as fully as to the observing Apu.

Ray's cinema has developed considerably in complexity and scope since the Apu Trilogy. Nonetheless, his first films retain their capacity to move the viewer. Their power derives from the internal consistency of Ray's style and from the cultural importance of Ray's story. The Apu Trilogy epitomizes the migration of many poor, Third World families from the village to the city. In the Apu Trilogy , Ray leaves the outcome of the migration open: Apu has not yet made his peace with the brisk anonymous ways of the city as, later, the protagonist of Seemabaddha is to embrace the city's modernity. When Ray turns, in his mid-career films, to examine the opportunities the city offers to idealistic young men, the optimism of the early films is lost.

In Bengal the effect of Ray's realism (his scaling of dialogue, action and lighting closer to everyday reality) was felt immediately in the work of Mrinal Sen and Tapan Sinha, but his example took 15 years to reach the principal film production center of Bombay. Only in the late 1960s and early 1970s did new directors begin making Hindi films without melodrama, trusting the subtlety of action, atmosphere and editing to transmit their intentions. The new movement, known as "parallel cinema," did not defeat the operatic style— most Hindi films are still extravaganzas—but they enabled Hindi cinema to begin inquiry into the conditions of ordinary life in India. The way towards this inquiry was first explored by Ray in the Apu Trilogy.


—Satti Khanna



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