Aparajito, 1956

The people make their daily pilgrimage to the Ganges River: bathing in its holy waters, filling their ceremonial vessels, attending a reading of the scriptures by the entrance steps. The Ray family has left their ancestral home (in Pather Panchali) and has settled into a ground floor apartment in the city of Banaras. Hari (Kanu Banerjee) is one of many priests performing the daily ceremonies at the Holy Ganges, and times have proven to be equally difficult away from home. There are no schools in the area, and Apu (Pinaki Sen Gupta) spends his days roaming the streets, watching his father perform religious services, observing a weight lifter perform his exercises. During the evening of the town festival, Hari falls ill, perhaps from contact with a feverish guest from the previous evening. Trusting his healing powers over modern medicine, he self-prescribes medicinal herbs. When he awakens in better health on the following day, he immediately returns to the Ganges against the advice of Sarbajaya (Karuna Bannerjee), and suffers a relapse. Weakened by illness and physical exhaustion, Hari passes away. Left alone in Banaras, Sarbajaya takes a job as a cook for a wealthy family, but decides to move to a great-uncle’s house in the country in order for Apu to continue his religious training. But soon, Apu is drawn to a local “western” school, and pleads with his mother to enroll him. Exposed to a brave new world of western literature and science, Apu excels in his studies and is offered a scholarship. But in order to accept the award, he must make an agonizing decision to leave home and move to Calcutta.

Satyajit Ray creates a sublime and deeply affecting portrait of the struggle between tradition and progress in Aparajito, the second film of the monumental Apu Trilogy. Embodied through the maturation of Apu at the turn of the century, Ray creates an insightful social commentary on a profoundly changing culture, reflected through Apu’s dilemma between traditional and modern education; his decision to leave home in order to further his studies; his part-time job at a printing press. In abandoning his ancestral path, Apu must carve out his own uncertain destiny in Calcutta. In the end, we see Apu walking away from his great-uncle’s house, down a small road, alone. Apu has embarked on another journey.

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