It’s no secret that I hold a soft spot for Bollywood cinema. I’m not like a huuuuge fan, it just holds a special place in my heart after studying it at University. I watched Lagaan (2001) for last year’s April Blind Spot, and this year I wanted to watch an Indian film but also steer away from the obvious. The Apu Trilogy is widely renowned in world cinema. The films are set in Bengal and are extremely authentic films that seem to accurately portray life in Bengal at the time.
Yes, my October Blind Spot is coming as late as my September Blind Spot Ashes and Diamonds (1958) did. Though you gotta cut me some slack as I did watch three whole films!
The Apu Trilogy
Pather Panchali (1955)
4:3 screen ratio, on-screen noise and spikes in sound. The quality of the film attempts to take away from the quality of the story with no such luck. Pather Panchali was such a beautiful film, despite so little happening over the two hours running time.
The film is set in the 1910s. When India was still ruled by England. We follow the Roy family: Father, Mother and two children Durga and Apu. The father earns an extremely modest living as a Priest. So, in order to earn more money for his family, he decides to head out into the city. Being away for months on end means he therefore leaves his family fending for themselves. The mother finds it difficult to cope looking after her daughter who is prone to stealing and makes her the talk of the neighbourhood. She also resents looking after her husband’s elderly cousin, and falls into a deep depression. She doesn’t know how they will get through monsoon season with her husband away and the kitchen in need of repair. Druga is also in need of a husband and she has yet to find one.
The authenticity of this film is completely mesmerizing. The daily rituals of the Bengali people, and the sensibilities that mean you help others even when you have nothing yourself. And, you keep on going even when tragedy strikes, because you have got through worse than this before.
This is the beginning of where the narrative really starts to focus on Apu as his Mother has taken the spotlight thus far. The trio have moved to a different part of Bengal where they are still trying to make ends meet. Tragedy strikes yet again when Apu’s father dies of a fever early on in the movie, and him and his mother are alone. They follow her employer to a different part of Bengal, and Apu persuades his mother to let him attend and pay for school so long as he still works in the morning. The film then follows Apu as he goes to College in Calcutta, much to his mother’s reluctance.
The narrative set off a strong sense of Deja Vu for me as I have only recently watched Queen of Katwe (2016) at the cinema. Both films are about family set in the developing world. Struggling and poor but not screaming ‘why me?!’ at their situation. Both films feature a mother and child where the child has the strong potential to do well, at the cost of their ‘duty’ and familial ties. Affluence always comes at such a high price. Again, such a truly remarkable film.
Apur Sansar (1959)
The final in the Apu trilogy, and Apu is all grown up and didn’t manage to finish college because, without his mother’s help, he couldn’t afford it. He finds himself trying to make ends meet and, on a trip to visit an old college friend, unexpectedly gets married. It’s a welcome happy ending for Apu. He has watched his sister, father and mother die. She is pregnant with his son. But of course, that’s not the ending…
Apur Sansar is slightly different tonally than the other two films, but just as fantastic. Oh man, are these great films. You can see the toil the bad luck has taken on adult Apu. An educated man without an education. A family man without a family. Apur Sansar teaches us many lessons, but there is one I’ll take away. Life can throw us some awful situations. Apu lost his entire family and his education before he turned 21. He then continued to lose. And he did, in fact, almost give up. But there IS at least one saving grace in your life. Always a reason to be happy, always a reason for your life to have meaning. And that alone is worth it.
In today’s culture of sequels, trilogies, quadrilogies, etc. it’s important to not lose sight of how many superb film series there are out there. I thoroughly enjoyed the Trois Couleurs trilogy for my July Blind Spot last year, and the Before trilogy are some of my all time favourite films. After all, if there’s something more impressive making one good film and being able to get it distributed, it’s making three and getting them out there for the world to watch against all the odds.
Have you ever seen The Apu Trilogy? Did it, I dunno, change your life forever??