The World of Apu (Apur Sansar)
(India, 1959)

I was privileged to see Satyajit Ray's entire "Apu Trilogy" during a limited re-release tour during 1996. Without this opportunity, I probably would not yet have seen these three groundbreaking Indian films, since they have not been released on laserdisc or DVD. (They were available for a limited time on VHS during 1997. I purchased copies then and am glad that I did, since they're very difficult to find today.) The "Apu Trilogy" is comprised of three films chronicling different periods in the life of the title character: Pather Panchali, Aparajito, and The World of Apu. All three are motion pictures of amazing clarity and depth, but, in my opinion, the third film is the crown jewel. The movies can be seen individually, but, as is always the case with films that feature the development of a character, viewing all of them makes for a more rewarding experience. (I briefly considered combining all three films into one entry, but, since the movies were produced as unique entities over a four-year period, I considered that to be "cheating.") If there is a weakness to Pather Panchali and Aparajito, it's that there are times when the leisurely pace threatens to halt proceedings. Ray is as much a visual poet as a filmmaker. However, The World of Apu moves a little more briskly without compromising the director's style, and it is by far the most emotionally demanding entry into the trilogy. The World of Apu is powerful, absorbing, and unforgettable. Watching this movie will give anyone unfamiliar with Satyajit Ray an understanding of why he is considered one of the world's premiere filmmakers.

Plot Summary (Spoilers Possible):
The World of Apu is carefully divided into three acts. In the first, we are introduced to the adult Apu (Soumitra Chatterjee), a struggling writer living in a Calcutta apartment during the 1930s. Apu is alone in the world, having already lost his sister (Pather Panchali) and father and mother (Aparajito). He's three months behind in his rent, so, to meet his landlord's demands, he is forced to sell some of his precious books. Jobs are scarce, and Apu can't find one that suits him. One day, his old school friend, Pulu (Swapan Mukherjee), arrives to invite him to a wedding in the village of Khulna. Apu, who doesn't have anything else to do, agrees to come. On the day of the marriage, however, the groom develops unexpected mental problems, and the bride, Aparna (Sharmila Tagore), is left alone and unmarried. Her superstitious family believes that if a wedding does not take place at the appointed hour, she will be cursed forever. To save her, Apu is recruited as a "substitute bridegroom." The second act, which has an almost-playful tone, details Apu and Aparna's married life -- how they initially come together as strangers then grow to love and understand one another. In slightly more than thirty minutes, Ray brings to life an unforced, deeply moving romance. Apu and Aparna's gentle relationship is punctuated by bursts of pathos and comedy, but their union is so effectively crafted that it's easy for the viewer to lose him- or herself in the simple beauty of Ray's world. Alas, the happiness doesn't last forever. The third, defining act of the film hinges on tragedy and its aftermath. Aparna dies giving birth to a son, and a devastated Apu abandons his baby for a nomadic lifestyle filled with hopelessness and self-recrimination. Only in the final scenes is the protagonist offered an opportunity at redemption, and we aren't sure until the last shot whether or not he will accept it.

The World of Apu (Apur Sansar) concludes one of the greatest film series of all time, Satyajit Ray's "Apu Trilogy," which chronicles the life of one Bengali boy as he traverses the road from childhood through adolescence to maturity. Ray, a masterfully accomplished director, is at the height of his powers with this film. Following 1955's Pather Panchali and 1956's Aparajito, this 1959 feature provides the perfect culmination to an unforgettable saga. The "tragic love story" is a timeless motion picture staple, but few, if any, express emotional truth with the simple, heartbreaking eloquence of The World of Apu. The greatness of the "Apu Trilogy" lies not only in its intimate understanding of the intricacies of human nature, but the artistry with which it expresses those truths. Each of the films is filled with wondrous images, and watching Apu's life unfold is like gazing through a window into a rare and unique world. And, even though the trilogy includes much tragedy, Ray gives birth to hope from each despair, and a measure of joy from every sadness. After all, life is like that, and the "Apu Trilogy" reflects the universality of the human experience.

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