Director: Satyajit Ray; Writer: Satyajit Ray, Bibhutibhushan Bannerjee; Cinematographer: Subrata Mitra; Editor: Dulal Dutta; Cast: Kanu Bannerjee, Karuna Bannerjee, Chunibala Devi, Uma Dasgupta, Subir Bannerjee, Tulsi Chakraborty, Runki Bannerjee, Aparna Devi, Binoy Mukherjee, Haren Bannerjee, Harimohan Nag, Nibhanani Devi, Ksirodh Roy, Ruma Ganguly
Duration: 01:59:38; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Lightness: 0.259; Volume: 0.152; Cuts per Minute: 7.756; Words per Minute: 22.031
Summary: Story: Bibhutibhushan Bannerjee’s novel (1929)
Ray’s classic, internationally successful debut initiated the Apu trilogy (Aparajito, 1956; Apur Sansar, 1959) featuring young Apu (S. Bannerjee) and his impoverished family in the Bengali village of Nischintpur in the early 20th C. The Brahmin priest Harihar Rai (Kanu Bannerjee) goes to the city in search of employment, leaving behind his two children Apu and Durga (Uma Dasgupta), his wife (Karuna Bannerjee) and an ancient aunt, Indira Thakurain (Chunibala Devi). At the end of the film, Durga dies and the family leaves the village, moving to Benares. Ray used this meagre plot to elaborate a strikingly innovative narrative, evoking the classic symbols of a newly independent nation, the aftermath of the war and the shift towards Nehruite industrialism. The major scenes in the film, including the children’s romp in the fields where they first encounter a telegraph pole and a train belching clouds of smoke, and the death of the old aunt followed by that of Durga after her rain dance, were spectacularly filmed by the debuting Mitra. The final scene of the family leaving in a cart shows the three faces of father, mother and son, virtually summing up the film’s achievement: the father’s contorted self-pity evokes a long tradition of the pitiable protagonist in Bengali melodrama, while the mother’s expression signals ‘fortitude’, hiding a tragedy too grim for words. Apu, in sharp contrast, cut off at the neck by the frameline in the lower left-hand corner, stares without expression into the distance, suggesting curiosity as well as apprehension at what the future may bring. Ray claimed the influence of Italian neo-realism in what was, despite the presence of several well-known names from Bengali theatre and film, a revolutionary use of performance, and in his shooting style. Within India, the film signals one of the artistic pinnacles of a specifically modernist art enterprise inaugurated by post-war Nehruite nationalism. In the context of later historical developments and the work of the Subaltern Studies group, the film’s deployment of a secular, Enlightenment liberalism institutionalised by Nehru combined with a fantasy of pre-industrial village innocence inaugurated a trend in Indian cinema which has been increasingly critiqued. A 115’ version was prepared for circulation outside Bengal.