Director: Satyajit Ray
Screenwriter: Satyajit Ray
Director of Photography:
Running time: 107 minutes
Original title: অপুর সংসার
Transliterated title: Apur sansar
The poetry of youth has disappeared and what is left, though unexpected and not always pretty, has its own dignified arc and undeniable realism. Satyajit Ray’s The World of Apu is the third instalment of the Apu trilogy, which also comprises Pather Panchali and Aparajito (The Unvanquished). Where the first two films showed the young Apu facing all kinds of domestic tragedies, besides his terrible poverty, there was genuine hope at the end of the second film that Apu, thanks to his education and his interest in all kinds of subjects, would be able to rise above his socioeconomic class.
But things don’t always turn out the way we want them to, and in the very first shot of this last film, we find an adult Apu asleep on his bed, wearing a T-shirt with a hole in the back, the ink of an empty ink-well soaking his bed sheets and his shirt. Nature is also crying at Apu’s situation, as a very heavy sheet of rain is covering Calcutta outside his window. As he gets up to rinse out the ink stains, the all too familiar train whistle – the sounds of opportunity, established in Pather Panchali - can be heard on the soundtrack.
Apu has obtained an “Intermediate” in Science, which means that he is teaching private lessons in the subject, but he does not have full-time employment and when the rent is due and he goes out in search of more work, he only finds work that he deems to be beneath him. He has retained some of his father’s optimism that things will eventually work out, but we get a very miserable picture of his present living conditions.
Pulu, one of his school friends, invites him to his cousin’s wedding in the countryside; when he arrives, the bride’s mother is quite taken with him and says that he reminds her of Krishna. The day of the wedding is supposed to be very “auspicious” and despite the fact that the groom-to-be arrives at the wedding half-mad, the father insists that the couple get married. But Pulu asks Apu to consider taking the place of the groom and after he initially dismisses the idea, he finally relents and takes his wife, Aparna back to Calcutta.
Given the lack of means at their disposal, Aparna seems to adapt to life with Apu, whom she doesn’t know from Adam. They have very little money, and the bedroom scenes seem very cold (although this might be a result of their lack of sexual chemistry, or a prudish way of presenting intimacy; it must be said that none of the films contains any real intimacy – not even a hug), but somehow Aparna manages to get pregnant.
It is here that tragedy strikes in Apu’s life once again, and unlike the previous times, this incident hits him very hard and sends his life careening into even greater uncertainty, to such an extent that he even considers suicide, in the film’s only shot that is as visually perceptive as his two previous films. Standing at the railway tracks, his face in close-up, he is expressionless. When a train approaches, the camera zooms towards the sky, giving us a white screen while the train whistles loudly; when the camera zooms back, we are relieved to see Apu, still in the frame, his place having been taken by a stray pig on the tracks.
Another scene is worth noting: Apu has been working on an autobiographical novel meant to sketch the optimism of a young boy despite his terrible surroundings. At one point in the film, he throws away this novel, dropping the pages from a cliff and letting them float through the air into the dense forest, and by implication he lets go of his past, but the moment seems unusually melodramatic for such a naturalistic film, and I was strangely unmoved.
The film proves the point of the father in Ozu’s Tokyo Story - children don’t always live up to expectations – and having seen the development of Apu, one might be disappointed by his decisions in life. Apu is also disappointed and tries to make up for his mistakes, though it is unclear what lies ahead after the end credits roll. This final instalment of the trilogy is also visually much less courageous than the other two films and I was frustrated by the lead actor’s rather awkward performance. The World of Apu remains a work that should be seen as part of the larger story of Apu, but in my opinion it is the weakest film in the series.