Monday, 30 June 2014

THE WORLD OF APU (Apur Sansar) - Review By Greg Klymkiw - #3 of The Apu Trilogy by Satyajit Ray

Aparna (Sharmila Tagore) trades riches for poverty in Calcutta.

Father (Sumitra Chatterjee)
and Son (Alok Chatravarty):
A parent must grow up.
The World of Apu (Apu Sansar) (1959) Dir. Satyajit Ray *****
Starring: Soumitra Chatterjee, Sharmila Tagore, Swapan Mukherjee, Alok Chakravarty

Review By Greg Klymkiw

To hold a child responsible for the death of the mother when she passes after giving birth is as understandable as it is ultimately appalling. Having been completely orphaned by his late teens, one might think Apu (Soumitra Chatterjee) would have had enough experience with losing those closest to him (a beloved sister in early childhood, Dad in his tweens and Mom at age 17), but the fact of the matter is that he's never really grown up, even now in early adulthood. The World of Apu is the final instalment in Satyajit Ray's extraordinary trilogy preceded by Pather Panchali and Aparajito and all three works are based upon the first two novels of the legendary Bengali author Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay. Ray's films comprise an epic coming-of-age tale. Though we see a number of such elements throughout, it's The World of Apu that delivers a final one-two knockout punch to the title character's entrance into manhood. Though the deaths of those he loved dearest always contributed to Apu moving forward, what he needs this time is to discover himself via pure, unconditional love and in some ways, and perhaps because of it, this might be the most emotionally wrenching and satisfying of Ray's trilogy.

The utter simplicity of the story is its greatest strength and as such, this instalment yields perhaps the highest degree of complexity - levels of depth which seem almost unparalleled in other motion picture trilogies and certainly offering one of cinema's greatest and most satisfying family dramas. The World of Apu's deceptively simple three act structure begins with our almost-reluctant protagonist not finishing his studies beyond an intermediate level and setting out upon a life of leisure in his perversely carefree life of poverty and slacking, then marrying the beautiful Aparna (Sharmila Tagore) and discovering a boundless romantic love and finally, upon losing her to childbirth, abandoning his newborn son and launching himself into an aimless odyssey of self-discovery until finally coming to his senses.

These three seemingly straightforward movements all offer vastly different emotional states for our title character which furthermore result in the audience being put through a great deal of genial humour in Act One. Apu is so clearly a layabout here, but he's like a puppy dog who looks at us with his big moist eyes after soiling a rug and though we're momentarily annoyed, we can't find it in our collective hearts to abandon, nor chastise. In fact his slacker qualities seem so delightfully naive that we become as scoldingly bemused as Pulu (Swapan Mukherjee), his old friend from college who tries to encourage him to follow his artistic passion as a writer, but to also please get a job!

It's Pulu who is inadvertently responsible for what might be the best thing to ever happen to Apu. The middle movement of the movie has our title character's pal inviting him to a sumptuous family wedding on a rich estate in the country. The bride Aparna (Sharmila Tagore) not only comes from a filthy rich family, but is also drop-dead-hubba-hubba-salivation-inducing gorgeous. Unfortunately, the worst thing possibly happens when the groom shows up and is stark-raving-major-nervous-breakdown insane and the distraught parents of the bride are on the verge of doing the worst possible thing - cancelling the wedding. In Hindu tradition, if a bride's wedding is cancelled for whatever reason, she becomes cursed to never marry again if a marriage ceremony is not performed within an hour of the appointed time.

Well, guess who's reluctantly enlisted to be of assistance?

Luckily for Apu, he scores bigtime. Even though Aparna is initially horrified by the utter squalor she must live in with her new husband, Cupid's arrow is aimed squarely in their direction. They're a match made in Heaven and soon Aparna is begging Apu to not take an extra tutoring job so he can spend as much time as possible with her. This, frankly, is one hell of a good deal. I have to say, too, that as a director, Ray shines big time in creating several simple, beautiful and wildly romantic set pieces - so much so, that it's pretty safe to proclaim that The World of Apu is easily one of the greatest love stories ever committed to film. (The performances and chemistry between Chatterjee and Tagore are so astounding that both became frequent Ray collaborators and stars in their own right.)

Ah, but as fate will have it, even great love stories can be tempered with tragedy (the best usually are) and the final act of the film is gut wrenching. Without crude melodramatics, the film progresses to a state of melodramatic bliss with the kind of glorious touches at every level that make you realize that melodrama is never a dirty word and nor, frankly, is sentiment. (Like I always say, there's only good melodrama and bad melodrama and when the seams of sentiment aren't frayed, it is a glorious and beautiful thing.) When Apu is finally face-to-face with his long-estranged little boy Kajal (Alok Chakravarty), cinematographer Subrata Mitra and composer Ravi Shankar and their Master filmmaker Mr. Ray work double overtime and offer one breathtaking beat after the next that prove to be truly and genuinely knock-you-on-your-keester moving.

Plenty of tears have flowed throughout this great trilogy, but none will flow more copiously than they do throughout the denouement of The World of Apu. You leave the cinema, the film, this entire epic of humanity soaring higher than you'll ever imagine experiencing.

The Apu Trilogy represents Satyajit Ray's first three films. They are individually and collectively as great as the greatest pictures of all time. If this was all he was able to manage, he'd still be considered up there with the best of the best. Luckily for him, for cinema and for all of humanity, Satyajit Ray made films for 40 years and even his occasional minor works make the major works of most other filmmakers look like cardboard cutout puppet theatre.

The World of Apu is presented with a restored 35mm (yes, real FILM) print at TIFF Bell Lightbox on July 5, 2014 at 6:00pm as part of the TIFF Cinematheque series "The Sun and the Moon: The Films of Satyajit Ray". This might be your only chance to see this masterpiece the way it was meant to be seen, so get your tickets NOW and GO. Visit the TIFF website for further details by clicking HERE.


*BUYERS PLEASE NOTE* (Canadian Amazon) has a relatively cruddy collection of Satyajit Ray product and generally shitty prices. has a huge selection of materials (including music and books) and decent prices. Amazon.UK has a GREAT selection of Satyajit Ray movies from a very cool company called Artificial Eye (second these days only to the Criterion Collection). Any decent Chinatown sells region-free Blu-Ray and DVD players for peanuts. Just get one (or several - they can be that cheap) and don't be afraid of ordering from foreign regions. The fucking film companies should just merge the formats into one acceptable delivery method worldwide. Besides, you can order anything you want from any country anyway.