The emotional experience of watching through the Apu Trilogy is difficult to describe. On the one hand there are such sad moments as when Apu’s sister Durga, his father Harihar, or his mother Sarbojaya, dies. But there are also wonderful moments such as when Durga takes her little brother to see a train for the first time. Overall the trilogy manages a very careful balance between misery and joy, which makes it all the more rich and satisfying to watch. The final film in the trilogy, Apur Sanar (“The World of Apu”), is no different in regards to this delicate balance. I’m somewhat fresh from having watched the film, but I have no hesitance in saying it is one of the most emotionally devastating films I have ever seen, and yet I remember some wonderful moments of joy as well.
This is the artistry of Ray, and it is something which must not be missed. Ray’s films can feel very bleak, and yet he is very careful to maintain the balance of the film’s tone. That balance rests upon the edge of a knife, of course, but he never pushes you too far in either direction unless it is needed. I would say that Satyajit Ray is a master of catharsis unlike any other.
In this film we pick up with Apu as an older man (now played by Sumatra Chatterjee). Right at the start of things we see him drop out of college because of a shortage of funds. Then we see him get an apartment and fall so far behind on rent that he might be kicked out. Then enters Pulu, a college friend of Apu’s who has been trying to find him for the last three months since he dropped out of school. Apu has been working on a novel and Pulu wants to know how it is going. Eventually Pulu invites Apu to his cousin’s wedding, and Apu ends up being the groom and getting married.
But this is only what happens. Apur Sansar, much like the two previous films (Pather Panchali and Aparajito), is deceptively simple in terms of narrative. It’s thematic structure is not only complicated and moving, but far too difficult to articulate. For instance, early on in the film Apu, while discussing his book with Pulu, tells a story about a young man who falls in love and gets everything that he wants, but ends up a homeless vagabond living out on the streets. Eventually we see Apu’s own journey mirror the description of his novel.
The beautiful cinematography of the first two films is still at play in this one, as are the beautiful close ups which I am so in love with. Ray really just lets his actors talk with their eyes, which is a rare gift. But everything changes in this film with the introduction of Aparna (Sharmila Tagore), Apu’s wife. She looks so young, and the two of them look as though they are incredibly in love. Finally we have a film were the character of Apu gets to really be something. It’s wonderful, and it doesn’t feel forced (even if the marriage itself does somewhat, the relationship does not) and best of all you are happy because they are happy.
The two of them have a son as well, which is truly the highpoint of not only this film but the entire trilogy as a whole. Seeing a tiny little Apu, named Kajal (Alok Chakrabortty), running around acting just like his father did in Pather Panchali is a marvelous moment for the series, and is well earned. I’ll go no further than to say my wife cried near the end of the film, and I felt myself being moved very much so (not quite to tears). This film and all of its brilliance and dignity is an incredibly devastating and moving experience.
Overall the Apu Trilogy is an incredible treat, and it was a joy to discover.