The Apu Trilogy

Over the last three days, while repainting my bedroom and stocking up on Blu-rays for my new Christmas gift (I have the best parents, have I mentioned that ever?), I've been watching all three films of the Apu Trilogy. These three films (Pather Panchali (Song of the Little Road), Aparajito (The Unvanquished) and Apur Sansar (The World of Apu)) are directed by Satyajit Ray and were made between 1955 and 1959. They follow the life of a young Brahmin boy, Apu, as he grows up, goes to college, and marries. I learned that these films are part of a film movement in India known as "Parallel Cinema", which is sort of like French New Wave. They deal with realism, serious topics, and naturalism, and are the alternative to mainstream Bollywood films. This is really new for me - the only Indian cinema I am familiar with is Bollywood, so it was very interesting to see this totally different style.



These films are pretty famous, it seems. Looking on Wikipedia, the legacy of these films is very impressive - they are on tons and tons of Best 100 Film lists. After watching them, it's very clear to me why so many people love these movies. The sad thing is that these are out of print and very rare - impossible to buy them unless you want to shell out $300 for all three. It's hard to imagine anything being out of print, with how cheap it is to produce DVDs, and it's really tragic that such wonderful films are so difficult to access. There are a lot of people who would love these, and it's sad that they are so difficult to find and rent, not to mention, to own.

Ebert writes, beautifully, of these films, that "Standing above fashion, it creates a world so convincing that it becomes, for a time, another life we might have lived" (The Great Movies, 43) This is so true. This trilogy is a wonderful glimpse into another world, another life, another time. We see Apu grow up, from birth, to when he is an older man with a child of his own. That is such an interesting topic to see in a long trilogy like this - most that I have seen deal with something that is "epic" or more otherworldly than growing up. I adore the simplicity of the plot. To feel like you have lived another life just from watching three films is incredible. When do you get that feeling from anything? It's not common.

Apu is a lovely character, and he is easy to fall in love with during these films. Ebert writes, "The actors who play Apu at various ages from about 6 to 29 have in common a moody, dreamy quality; Apu is not sharp, hard or cynical, but a sincere, naive idealist, motivated more by vague yearnings than concrete plans. He reflects a society that does not place ambition above all, but is philosophical, accepting, optimistic" (The Great Movies, 44). For me, he was a character that I really could empathize with and to some extent, relate to. We have all, at one time in our lives, been naive and idealistic, and it was really wonderful to connect to that part of myself once again. The film was like a vacation, in some ways - a new land, a new culture, a new attitude.

I am so grateful that I was able to experience this. Films are so important in this aspect, as they can take us back in time and to other cultures. Yes, old,  foreign, cinema might at some times be hard to relate to, but there are deep human truths in all of them that we can understand. We understand the highs and lows that Apu goes through over the course of the film. We can relate to his mother, putting aside her goals and comforts so that Apu can have a better life for himself. Grieving after death. Going to college.  First love. Depression. Feeling out of place, wandering. Looking for your role in life. These are universal, with no historical or cultural lines. I think it can be easy to dismiss movies like this - they sound intimidating to watch. How much can any one of us understand about 1920's rural India? Not much, but we can learn, and we can relate to the very real characters. We are not all that different, after all.


Links:
Ebert's Great Movie Essay
Wikipedia page on The Apu Trilogy
Wikipedia page on Parallel Cinema

If you live in the Chicago area, you can rent this trilogy at Facet's, with or without a membership. For everyone else, I found these movies on YouTube in their entirety. It's frustrating and sort of annoying to watch movies on YouTube, but for these films, it's worth giving it a go. Especially because, for the time being, there is not much of an alternative. I hope you give them a chance.
Pather Panchali on YouTube
Aparajito on YouTube
Apur Sansar  on YouTube

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