“The Apu Trilogy” offers a beautiful and timeless expression of humanity

What started out as a way to kill time became a new way to connect with my sister

Good things come in threes and these films are no exception. Image courtesy of The Indian Express

By: Subaig Bindra, SFU Student

Satyajit Ray’s The Apu Trilogy is often considered one of the greatest film trilogies ever made. They comprise three Bengali films that are part of an alternative cinema movement that started in the 1950s. During this time of remote get-togethers, my sister and I decided to watch the trilogy together. Viewing these movies allowed the two of us to revisit our childhood and tackle the weight of the world. 

Since the days when content began being downloaded faster than could be consumed, a bootleg HD copy of The Apu Trilogy had rested in my hard drive. I had always thought of those movies as important, even though ordinary life had stopped me from taking the time to watch the trilogy until now. 

The films portray the story of protagonist Apu, born and raised in rural Bengal. In the first film, Pather Panchali (or Song of the Little Road as it’s known in English), he and his sister, Durga, try to make the most of life as their family struggles to get by. My first impression of the 1955 film was that I had never seen anything like it. The cinematography expressed serenity with close-up shots of the characters casting a spell that seemed like poetry in motion. Ravi Shankar’s sitar compositions were incredibly endearing, evoking what now feel like distant memories of early-life innocence. The soundtrack only magnified what was already transcendent. I could keep talking about the music, but we have two more films to cover. 

In the second film, Aparajito/The Unvanquished (1956), Apu is in his teenage years, striving to get a formal education, when he finds a teacher to help broaden his intellect. Something particularly striking in the film was the bittersweet portrayal of his relationship with his mother, especially during Apu’s college years. I was surprised at being able to relate personally. Decades had passed, yet I was able to connect with the story. It goes to show that art remains timeless if one can appreciate it.

The third and final film Apur Sansar/The World of Apu (1959), follows Apu in adulthood. He is an aspiring writer who stumbles upon an arrangement that changes his life in drastic and unimaginable ways. The trilogy ends with Apu accepting the truths of his life, embracing reality as it is. 

My sister and I watched all three movies over a week or so. We live in different time zones, so it was quite the endeavour trying to find empty pockets of opportunity. However, it paid off and I found the experience of watching The Apu Trilogy with my sister incredibly satisfying and profound, as it allowed us to re-connect both with each other and with our culture. 

The films were exquisite and meticulously framed with brilliant performances by the characters. That said, they require attention, so they may not be for everyone. If you’re willing to appreciate undiscovered art that makes you feel new things, you are in for a life-affirming experience — or at least, a cinematic treat. 

I believe art has the sole purpose of acting as reminders for humanity. Satyajit Ray may not be around anymore, but, like many great works of art, his films remain immortal. 

Even language isn’t much of a barrier to express emotion as I barely know any Bengali. Sometimes the sound of incomprehensible words strikes a different chord, like a very intricate idea — and there are always subtitles, you know!

In the last moments, before it ended, I wished to stay with the discovery a little longer, and after it ended — as all good things do —  I wanted to bask in the afterglow.