Aparajito (Ray, 1956)

The opening image of Satyajit Ray’s Aparajito is a P.O.V. long shot of a vast river, forest, and sky, all seen from inside a moving train crossing a long bridge. As we’ve seen in the beginning installment of Ray’s Apu Trilogy Pather Panchali, the train serves as the key motif and parallel for Apu’s progression from the fantasy and whimsey of childhood to the complex shades of adulthood. But Ray’s opening immediately separates Aparajito from it’s predecessor, namely in it’s position of camera placement. In Pather, Apu and his sister Durga only see the train from the outside. It’s a mythic and iconic image, one seen coming from an unknown beginning and toward a mysterious destination. In Aparajito, the POV is positioned inside the train, a stunning shift in point of view for Apu as a character. We later know that this association is valid when Apu begins taking the train back and forth between his countryside home where his mother resides and Calcutta, where he’s studying in college. It’s these long trips by train that Ravi Shankar’s score really becomes the cornerstone of Ray’s film. Shankar’s haunting sitar seems to be Apu’s conscious, driving him one way then another. While the traumatic experiences of Pather Panchali seem to affect his parents more than Apu directly, the tragedies hit him square in the face throughout Aparajito. During Ray’s middle film, Apu becomes responsible, irresponsible, worldly, arrogant, unselfish, and insecure. Apu’s experiencing many feelings, like any other young adult, and his decisions will lay the foundation for what kind of person he will become. Aparajito is the ultimate teenager/parent film, showing how each reacts to the changing nature of the family dynamic. Along with the visual image of the train, a complimentary theme is sacrifice, both what Apu’s mother Sarbojaya gives up for his betterment and what Apu himself loses in the process. But Ray’s most masterful touch his obsession with momentum, that unseen force that propels both Apu and his family’s life forward. Aparajito shows another pertinent segment in this fascinating tale of growth, but with a harrowing attention to the darker realms of sacrifice and loss so often sugarcoated in standard Hollywood fare.

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