Saturday, July 05, 2008

Apu Trilogy

Have only seen the first two parts so far. In Pather Panchali, the scene of Durga, Apu and the dog running behind the mithaiwala, all four figures reflected in the stream, has got to be one of the most excrutiatingly perfect cinematic moments ever, one that would simply not have looked half as good in colour. The pivotal scene in Aparajito is one in which Apu decides he wants to go to school. Having impressed a burly mustachioed schools inspector with his vocabulary and ability to read, he is soon taken under the wing of the headmaster, who encourages his voracious appetite for learning. In a spiel that is reminiscent of Tagore (although the films are based on novels by Bibhutibhushan Bandhopadhyay), he says

I have many books here. If you don't read such books, you cannot broaden your mind. We may live in a remote corner of Bengal...but that does not mean that our outlook should be narrow. This book is about the North Pole. From this book anyone can learn about the aurora borealis or the Eskimos. This is about Livingstone's travels. You can learn about Africa. This is the story of inventions. Here are biographies of scientists: Galileo, Archimedes, Newton, Faraday...

In the next scene, Apu is eagerly explaining to his long-suffering mother that the moon goes around the earth and the earth around the sun, and shortly thereafter he startles her by running around the courtyard yelling 'Africa! Africa!', in face paint and a grass skirt and carrying a makeshift spear and shield (this is Africa in the eyes of Bengal, via Livingstone). But exposure to the world also means rebellion at home. By the end of his secondary school career, Apu wants to go to college in Calcutta, much against the wishes of his mother, and their confrontation over this issue concludes with the camera panning towards a lamp left on the verandah of their hut and the globe that Apu's headmaster has given him, standing in the circle cast by its light - both symbols of Enlightenment that tear Apu, tragically, away from his responsibilities at home.

there is a great book by ray (in bengali) where he talks about the shooting of pather panchali and how durga is actually carrying a sandesh in her hand to tempt the dog to walk behind them!
hmmm...its going to be a while before i can read that! but if there's anything interesting in english let me know. i actually really enjoyed reading the wikipedia entry, which is full of funny and poignant nuggets - budget travails, the west bengal govt helping out on a slight misunderstanding, allocating funds under the heading of 'road improvement'!
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