The Apu Trilogy, a Classic of World Cinema, Is a Must-See Event

Satyajit Ray's films show us India through the eyes of a boy, a teenager and a man.


Soumitra Chatterjee as Apu, Sharmila Tagore as Aparna (Apu's wife) in Apur Sansara. - COURTESY JANUS FILMS
  • courtesy Janus Films
  • Soumitra Chatterjee as Apu, Sharmila Tagore as Aparna (Apu's wife) in Apur Sansara.

It has been suggested that the rise of the digital image — in production, projection and consumption — has created a lack of interest in visual art as a source for what was once its most significant calling card: the reproduction of the natural world. If it's still not quite clear what we've gained from this turn of events (Pixels, anyone?), you need only turn to the newly-restored version of Satyajit Ray's Apu Trilogy (1955 to 1959) to see what so much current cinema is missing.

The multi-talented Ray was a graphic artist with no cinematic experience when he decided to make this series, but his natural affinity for inspired imagery and editing resulted in a film which was named Best Human Document at the 1956 Cannes festival. Based on a pair of novels written by Bibhutibhusan Banerjee (but also, I suspect, deeply autobiographical for Ray), the film shows the life of one man, Apu, from his birth in a deteriorating village to his eventual maturity.

But to simply praise the trilogy for its realism is misleading. Although each film is complete on its own (Pather Panchali is a story of rustic poverty; Aparajito is about coming of age; the third installment, Apur Sansar, about grief and fate), seen in sequence, they form a rich, inter-related human epic, aspiring to nothing less than a complete picture of twentieth-century India, from the most rural regions to the industrialized cities, from the ancient religious traditions to the rise of modernity.

The Webster Film Series screens the full Apu Trilogy in order for nine nights (October 17 through 25) at Webster University's Moore Auditorium (470 East Lockwood Avenue; 314-968-7487 or Tickets are $4 to $6.

Pather Panchali (Song of the Little Road), 7:30 p.m.  October 17, 20, 23.
Aparajito (The Unvanquished),7:30 p.m.  October 18, 21, 24.
Apur Sansar (The World of Apu), 7:30 p.m. October 19, 22, 25.

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