Director: Satyajit Ray
Writer: Satyajit Ray
Cinematographer: Subrata Mitra
by Jon Cvack
In a rare moment, Netflix was recommending this as a 4.9 and it delivered far beyond my high expectations. I had loved Pather Panchaili (1955) and the way in which Satyajit Ray has been able to universalize cultures that Western Cultures have often been portrayed as “The Other”. The story continues where Pather Panchali left off, with Apu and his family living in Bengal. His father is a priest, blessing himself every morning near the Ganges River before climbing the steep stairs up to the church. But during a fireworks celebration, the father begins feeling ill, with Apu’s mother Sarbajaya Roy (Karuna Banerjee) fulling grasping what it would mean for her and her son should he die. As the father attempts to take the smallest sip of water, with the fireworks exploding outside the window, the film enters into an amazing cut, with a flock of birds bursting off from the ground, soaring above the Ganges. He had died and they’re now forced to move to the rural countryside, where Apu (Pinaki Sen Gupta) enters into training to become a priest. In the behind the scenes, Gupta mentions how the fireworks during the era were often very toxic, with many actually dying from the fumes, and thus the father’s illness was exacerbated by the celebration. The moment was especially poignant as Apu was anxious to get back to his friends and the fireworks rather than hanging with his ailing father, failing to grasp what was about to happen.
Apu is far from happy with the priesthood training, having had to leave all his friends. But it’s much more a blessing in disguise, as after coming across a school, the teachers begin to teach Apu science and math, piquing a passion for the material, driving him to want to go to college in Calcutta order to continue his education and become a scientist. Of course, his mother isn’t happy with the decision, as after having lost her husband and having little to no money, understanding that Apu will probably fail to ever return as he enters into his professional career upon graduation. Apu has to pay for the college, taking up a job in a local printing press, inspired by Ray’s own college experience.
Sarbajaya longs her for son, feeling terrible loneliness in the rural area, constantly craving the his return. When Apu visits home, she begs him to stay a few extra days, even if it means cutting into his classes. Soon, his workload grows overwhelming and his visits become sparser. He explains that visits home will cut into his school work, especially as he tries to maintain a balance between work and keeping his grades up. His mother then grows sick, not wanting to burden Apu, but as the neighbors take notice, one writes to Apu and explains the situation. Apu rushes home, returning too late. Seeing his uncle standing alone, he knows his mother has passed, and in one of the most heartbreaking scenes I’ve seen of late, he collapses into the sand, unsure of where to go. He knows he can’t stay. The priesthood is just not for him. The only thing he can do is return to his studies, knowing he’s now alone, except for his one friend back at school.
Check back for Part 2...
BELOW: Great TCM intro, but who is this guy?
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