What can you write about The Apu Trilogy that hasn't already been written? Or discussed, in detail, in many a place from drawing rooms to decked-up film festivals? Probably nothing. But we will still go back to Apu today because even though we had to say farewell to Apu, Soumitra Chatterjee, yesterday, his work lives on.
Satyajit Ray's everyman hero, Soumitra was the man more about intellect than whimsical passion. Chatterjee was calm, yet it was the calmness that the surface of an ocean holds. Soumitra Chatterjee made generations fall in love with his acting, his words, his very persona over the sixty-odd years that he worked in films. He was Satyajit Ray's favourite actor (no one will argue on that); the man Ray fell back on.
For most of the world beyond Bengal and Bengalis, Soumitra was synonymous with Apu, the role he played in Apu'r Sansar (The World of Apu), the Satyajit Ray masterpiece. The three films comprising the trilogy were Panther Panchali, Aparajito, Apu'r Sansar. When Ray wanted to cast Soumitra as Apu, Soumitra was a little too old for the role. So both of them waited till Apu'r Sansar. And gave the world some brilliant piece of cinema.
In Apu'r Sansar, Soumitra — Apu — is grown up. He is now trying to publish a novel, and get to a life of writing. But what is life in the Satyajit Ray universe if not without rude shocks? A twist of fate and family pressure later, Apu marries Aparna (an inimitable Sharmila Tagore). They set aside the pains of their past to start a new life. All goes well. Then Satyajit Ray strikes again.
Aparna dies at childbirth and Apu cannot come to terms with the death. A manifestation of the tragedy, as it were, Apu holds his newborn child, his son Kajal, responsible for Aparna's death.
The death makes Apu leave the hearth and go in search of peace outside. His child, meanwhile, grows up wild and uncared for, and there's one last call from home for Apu.
Apu'r Sansar, along with the other two films in the trilogy, are based on two of Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay's books Panther Panchali and Aparajito. In between 1955 and 1959, Ray adapted the two novels into his three films that went on to be listed among the greatest films of Indian cinema on every list, give or take a few. And not just in the country.
Cinema's ‘purest Bildungsroman’, as Terrence Rafferty once said, The Apu Trilogy is essential watching for anyone who loves cinema. Otherwise too.
Today, as Soumitra leaves the world to join Manik Babu (Satyajit Ray) somewhere above the clouds, sit back with The Apu Trilogy to celebrate a life like no other. It is an experience like no other.
Panther Panchali and Aparajito are available for streaming online on ErosNow, JioCinema, HoiChoi and AirtelXStream.