Following on from Pather Panchali (1955), Apu (Pinaki Sen Gupta/Smaran Ghoshal) comes of age. His father, the Brahmin Harihar Rai (Kanu Bannerjee), dies in the family’s new home near Benares and his mother, Sarbajaya (Karuna Bannerjee), is forced to accept the charity of a rich uncle (R. Sengupta) in another village in order to educate her son. Apu’s insistence on going to school rather than taking up his family’s priestly vocation sows the seeds of further tragedy. His departure for a Calcutta college is followed, inevitably, by the death of his mother. The film is more extensively plotted than its predecessor and more melodramatic, e.g. making Apu’s refusal to stay with his mother a personal rather than a historical conflict. His life in Calcutta, studying by day and working in a printing press by night, is juxtaposed with his mother’s wasting illness. Ray also uses with greater freedom a directly romantic brand of symbolism, such as the mother festooning the house with lights for the Diwali festival shortly before her husband dies, the latter being accompanied by a shot of rising pigeons at dawn. Ray noted that several problems prevented a full realisation of the script, including a defective Arriflex, the need to rush through the editing and difficulties with composer Ravi Shankar which created ‘blank moments, [s]lowing down the film’. However, his contemporary Ghatak admired precisely this musical sparseness: ‘Sarbajaya and Apu are returning to the village from Benares; the train leaves the village behind; soon through the windows one can see the landscape of Bengal. [J]ust then on the soundtrack you hear that [Pather Panchali] theme tune. Just once for the whole length of the film, but once is enough. A [c]orrelative between the past and present floods your mind with memories of Nischintpur and Durga and the white cotton fields’ (‘Sound In Film’, in Ghatak, 1987). With the help of Ray’s regular art director Bansi Chandragupta, Mitra pioneered the use of bounce lighting to suggest the ambience of Benares houses on studio sets. The film flopped but was re- evaluated after its critical success in Europe.
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Rated as one of the best 100 films of all time by the Time Magazine in 2005. Read More