Aparajito (1956)

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Aparajito (1956)
Aparajito (1956)

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Aparajito (The Unvanquished): From SatyajitRay.org


1956, India. 113 min, B/W, In Bengali with subtitles.


Producer: Epic Films (Satyajit Ray)

Screenplay & Direction: Satyajit Ray; based on the novel "Aparajita" by Bibhutibhushan Banerjee.

Cinematography: Subrata Mitra

Editing: Dulal Dutta

Art Direction: Bansi Chandragupta

Sound: Durgadas Mitra

Music: Pandit Ravi Shankar

U.S. Distributor: Merchant-Ivory/Sony Pictures Classics


Character: Performer

Harihar, the Father: Kanu Banerjee

Sarbajaya, the Mother: Karuna Banerjee

Boy Apu: Pinaki Sen Gupta

Adolescent Apu: Smaran Ghosal

Bhabataran, old uncle: Ramani Sen Gupta

Nanda Babu: Charaprakash Ghosh

Headmaster: Subodh Ganguly


1920. Harihar, Sarbajaya and their ten-year-old son Apu, live in the Temple City of Banaras (Varanasi) on the banks of the holy river Ganga (Ganges). Harihar earns a meager living by reciting religious scriptures. The film opens with Apu wandering and exploring the city. He also encounters their neighbor Nanda Babu, who would soon make a pass at Sarbajaya.

Harihar falls ill with fever and collapses at the riverbank. In the early hours of the next morning, Sarbajaya wakes Apu to fetch holy water from the river to put in his father's mouth as he is dying. Harihar's death leaves mother and son to fend for themselves.

The mother decides to return with Apu to live in a village where an old uncle works as a priest. Apu's mother works to support the family. Apu is initiated into priesthood and takes over the old man's work. He is unhappy because he wants to go to school. Apu persuades his mother to send him to school. She makes sacrifices so that he might pursue his studies.

Apu, now sixteen, wins a scholarship and departs for Calcutta, leaving her alone. It breaks Sarbajaya's heart, but she relents. Her health is failing, and the loneliness in the village takes its toll.

Engulfed in city life - studying during the day and working in a printing press at night to pay for his expenses - Apu grows away from his mother. His visits get shorter as the time passes. This emotional distance unnoticed by the growing Apu, hurts Sarbajaya deeply. She waits silently for her son's visit as her illness accelerates and falls into a depression.

On a night sparkling with dancing fireflies, Sarbajaya dies. Apu comes back to an empty house. He grieves for his mother, but soon finds strength to leaves the village for the last time, to carry on with his new life in the city ...


Aparajito is the second film in "The Apu Trilogy", preceded by Pather Panchali and followed by Apur Sansar. The film is basically about Apu growing up and growing away from his mother. The highlight of the film is the mother-son relationship and conflict. The characterization of Apu and mother are a treat. Karuna Banerjee gives a brilliant performance as Sarbajaya.

As usual, the film is devoid of excesses both in form and content. The two deaths, of Harihar and Sarbajaya, are handled with great elegance.

At dawn Harihar lies ill with Sarbajaya sitting beside him though the night. He mumbles, "Ganga". He is asking for a sip of holy water from the river 'Ganga'. Sarbajaya wakes Apu to fetch water from the holy river. Apu brings the water. Sarbajaya lifts Harihar's head and pours the water in his mouth. Harihar's head drops back on the pillow. Cut to a shot of a flock of pigeons taking off and whirling in the sky. Harihar has been freed of his misery.

In the sequence of Sarbajaya's death - Evening, Sarbajaya is sitting leaning against a tree outside her house, awaiting Apu's return. A train passes but she does not react, as she knows Apu is not on this train. Next, we see her sitting in the verandah of the house, expressionless. Suddenly, she hears Apu calling her. She is hallucinating. Hoping that Apu has returned, she drags herself out. As she stands looking for Apu, she sees a group of fireflies swirling by the pond.

Filming of this scene posed a technical challenge, as even the fastest available film stock could not capture the light emitted by the fireflies. Ray and his crew overcame the problem with an indigenous solution. Ray recounts in his 'My Years with Apu', "... We chose the toughest members of our crew, had them dressed up in black shirt and trousers and let each of them carry a flashlight bulb and a length of wire and a battery. The bulbs were held aloft in their right hands while they illustrated the swirling movements of fireflies in a dance, alternately connecting and disconnecting the wire to the bulbs ..."


Golden Lion of St. Mark, Venice, 1957

Cinema Nuovo Award, Venice, 1957

Critics Award, Venice, 1957

FIPRESCI Award, London, 1957

Best Film and Best Direction, San Francisco, 1958

International Critic' Award, San Francisco, 1958

Golden Laurel for Best Foreign Film of 1958-59, USA

Selznik Golden Laurel, Berlin, 1960

Bodil Award: Best Non-European Film of the Year, Denmark, 1967

Damian Cannon on Aparajito (1956)

(aka The Unvanquished)

A review by Damian Cannon.

Copyright © Movie Reviews UK 1998


Continuing Satyajit Ray's honest and sensitive portrayal of one Bengali boy's life, Aparajito leads Apu into adulthood and further heartbreak. After the crushing blow that brought Pather Panchali to a close, Apu's father Harihar (Kanu Banerji) has relocated the family to Benares. Here he can earn a living working as a Brahmin priest, conducting Hindu rituals by the Ganges; this is the heart of the city, where many come to bathe, beg and peddle on the ghats. To bolster this meagre income, he also dispenses herbal medicine to those too poor, or too wary, to see a real doctor. In this way he keeps the three of them together; himself, his wife Sarbojaya (Karuna Banerji) and Apu (Pinaki Sengupta).

Unfortunately they are far from wealthy, forcing them to rent rooms in a dingy, frequently monkey-infested, apartment block. In the central square there is a single tap, shared by the tenants, beside which Sarbojaya spends most of her time. Every day she seems fearful of harassment, particularly by new arrivals such as Nanda Babu (Charu Ghosh). This is the legacy of leaving their birthplace for the city. Ironically Sarbojaya is as isolated here as she was in the country, trapped by the family's situation. Only Apu seems truly content, roaming the alleys with other boys and amusing himself. The family has no money to pay for school fees, so Apu gains his education on the streets.

In creating Aparajito, Ray has fashioned a study of truth, about how things are rather than how we would like them to be. Apu's family is far down the social hierarchy and in grave danger of slipping further, seemingly beset by tragedy at the worst possible moment. This is a time of inner and outer turmoil for Apu, torn from his old friends by external forces and disorientated by the hormonal urges of his growing body. Ray latches onto this emotional conflict, revealing its nuances. Aparajito doesn't just evoke fear, it contains the fear of losing (someone else), the fear of driving (someone else) away and the fear of being forgotten (by someone else). For the empty spaces, Ray encourages you to substitute both Apu and Sarbojaya; each suffers when Apu departs for a university education in Calcutta.

Much like Pather Panchali, this episode is dominated by Sarbojaya. For all of her subservience, her desire to keep to the shadows, Sarbojaya is the central axis of Aparajito. Once Apu's father has departed, as in the earlier film, it is just her and Apu; the emotional ties are simple, even if the ramifications are not. Yet because Karuna Banerji is relegated mostly to the sidelines, it's difficult to judge her performance; apart from brief instants where a look speaks of pain, hope, despair and love, Sarbojaya spends her life waiting. Karuna reacts when someone or something disturbs her equilibrium, otherwise she remains in stasis -- paralysed by the fear that change can only make her life worse, as it has done so often before. It's a subtle role to play and Karuna does an excellent job of conjuring up the maternal bond.

It is, however, Smaran Ghosal, as the adolescent Apu, who really stokes the fire of Aparajito. With the first frame of his arrival, the movie jumps into life; you suddenly realise that while the first half was interesting, it wasn't exactly compelling or cohesive. What Ghosal embodies is the fundamental dislocation of youth. He can, must, wants and needs to enter a new world, yet this means tearing himself from the old, leaving a part of his soul behind in the process. This is a transition brilliantly distilled by Ray into a scene of classical resolution. Apu doesn't want to return to Mansapata, because that means leaving Calcutta, yet he loves Sarbojaya. The result: guilt. So Apu convinces himself that he can't study at home (exams loom), then sends a proxy (a small sum of money) as a familiar compromise. Ray doesn't dwell on this decision or its significance but Ghosal makes it embarrassingly vivid.

The problem is that relative to this later emotional complexity, the beginning of Aparajito is both slow and often unfathomable. Ray lets the story hop around with little explanation, sketching the bustle of Benares without placing the family as a family in this context. There are plenty of scenes with Apu, Harihar and Sarbojaya by themselves but few of them together; Ray assumes that you've seen Pather Panchali, giving a background perspective. Still Ray's feel for the coupled themes of independence and abandonment is superb, informed by an ability to capture fleeting emotion on film. Occasionally his framing is superb, particularly when the camera is looking through a doorway; a metaphor for transition, separation and closure, Ray uses these apertures to full effect. Mix in Ravi Shankar's complementary traditional score and you have Aparajito, an imperfect but affecting journey.

Aparajito (1956): From GetheMoviez

GetheMoviez Genre: Drama

Release Date: 1956 (India)

Runtime: 110 min

Filming Location: Calcutta, West Bengal, India

Gross: $170,215 (USA)

Director: Satyajit Ray

Stars: Kamala Adhikari, Lalchand Banerjee, Kali Bannerjee | See full cast and crew

Original Music By: Ravi Shankar

Sound Mix: Mono

Plot Keyword: Benares | School | Family Relationships | 1920s | India

Writing Credits By:

(in alphabetical order)

Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay novel "Aparajito"

Kanailal Basu assistant screenplay writer

Satyajit Ray screenplay

Known Trivia

Rated as one of the best 100 films of all time by the Time Magazine in 2005.

Much of Apu’s story here is actually autobiographical regarding Satyajit Ray’s own personal experiences. When Apu goes to Calcutta where he finds work and lodging with a printer, this is Ray directly reliving his youth, when he lived above his grandfather’s printing press.

Although the Apu films exist as a cohesive trilogy, Satyajit Ray never set out to make a series of three films. In fact, even after completing “Aparajito”, he was unsure whether there was sufficient material to warrant a third film.

This adaptation of Bibhutibhushan Bannerjee’s work uses the last section from his novel “Pather Panchali” and the first section of its sequel, “Aparajito”.

The first Indian film to win the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. Ray, who was attending the festival, was utterly flabbergasted as he felt that the film contained some serious flaws.


A boy leaves home to study in Calcutta, while his mother must face a life alone.


After living awhile in Benares, 10 year old Apu and his mother move in with her uncle in a small Bengali village. Apu enters a local school, where he does well. By the time he graduates, he has a scholarship to study at a college in Calcutta. So off he goes. His mother is torn by his leaving, and by his growing independence. She loves her son very much and wants him to succeed, but she does not want to be left alone. Written by John Oswalt <jao@jao.com>

Full Cast & Crew

Produced By:

Satyajit Ray known as producer


Kamala Adhikari known as Mokshada

Lalchand Banerjee known as Lahiri (as Lalchand Bandyopadhyay)

Kali Bannerjee known as Kathak (as Kalipada Bandyopadhyay)

Kanu Bannerjee known as Harihar Ray (as Kanu Bandyopadhyay)

Karuna Bannerjee known as Sarbojaya Ray (as Karuna Bandyopadhyay)

Aparajito (1959)

Panchanan Bhattacharya

Debabrata Chakraborty

Harendrakumar Chakravarti known as Doctor

Hemanta Chatterjee known as Professor (as Hemanta Chattopadhyay)

Meenakshi Devi known as Pandey's wife

Subodh Ganguli known as Headmaster

Smaran Ghosal known as Apu – adolescent (as Smarankumar Ghoshal)

Charuprakash Ghosh known as Nanda

Santi Gupta known as Ginnima

Ajay Mitra known as Anil

Anil Mukherjee known as Abinash (as Anil Mukhopadhyay)

Shibnarayan Nag

Bhaganu Palwan known as Palwan

K.S. Pandey known as Pandey

Saraswati Pandey

Ranibala known as Teliginni

Kalicharan Roy known as Akhil, press owner (as Kali Roy)

Sudipta Roy known as Nirupama

Keya Sengupta

Pinaki Sengupta known as Apu (young)

Ramani Sengupta known as Bhabataran (as Ramaniranjan Sengupta)

Mani Srimani known as Inspector

Udayshankar Tiwari

Filmography links and data courtesy of The Internet Movie Database

Steven Wren comments

Steven Wren is from Los Angeles, CA/ 03 May 2013 Each of the three films of the Apu Trilogy exhibit the extraordinary quality of a documentary film on the conditions of life in India at the time they are set. I think this is what I like best in them through numerous viewings.The films are shot in locations that appear untouched by any art department- remote countryside in Bengal, the great cities – Benares and Calcutta.

The characters eke out an adequate life in their sufficient poverty – a life sustained by their faith and simple devotion to one another. At the same time there are moments that are pure cinema. There is an exquisite swish pan cut from Kurana (the mother) leaning against a tree, full of emptiness asApu has just left for Calcutta, to the swift dynamo of the train crossing a bridge with the trestles a blur. At the moment Kanu (the father) gives uphis soul a flock of birds alights over the Ganges. Later as Kurana isgradually sinking into the depths of loneliness – a sickness unto death -she has a vision of fireflies swirling around in the falling darkness.

These films traverse the drama of life and death touching gently on all of the salient points along the path. They put us face to face with the challenge of living in a world, which constantly gives us disappointment. At the same time there is a celebration of that ineffable quality which gives life meaning.

Aparajito (1959)

Edgar Chaput on Aparajito


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Satyajit Ray Marathon: Aparajito

Aparajito (1956, Satyajit Ray)

Aparajito, the middle chapter in the Apu trilogy, sees the Ray family, now minus Durga, settle in the busy town of Benares after their country home was destroyed at the end of Pathar Panchali. Harihar is now a preist at the ghat (longing the Ganges river no less). Apu starts school in the afternoon while learning the skills of priesthood in the morning and the mother, Sarbojaya, does her usual house duties, only this time with frequent interference from the upstairs neighbour and stray monkeys.

To put it bluntly, without having seen Apur Sansar yet, Aparajito is thus far the best chapter in the cannon. The sets are far more lively than in Pathar Panchali and additionally, we do see the character of Apu grow this time around, a key element which I always felt was lacking in the previous instalment. Another impression as the movie rolled along was that the scope of the story was bigger this time around. Not only is there a significant time shift but the locations shift as well. At about the 40 minute mark, Sarbojaya is encouraged to move back to the countryside with Apu, but the latter wants to go to school in Benares, which leads to a lot of traveling back and forth in this episode.

Regarding Apu, we see him grow both in terms of character but also literally. He is played by two different actors this time, Pinaki Sengupta being the 10 year old version and Smaran Ghosal interpreting the adolescent version. I simply felt like I knew him more this time around. That may have to do with the fact that I am not that far removed from adolescence myself and thus remember those years clearly or, as I suspect, Apu just wasn’t given enough to do in PP. Regardless, here we see him slowly take over the narrative. There is even some conflict between himself and dear Sarbojaya. The latter sees no problem with him following in his father’s footsteps and earning a living in priesthood (neither does his great uncle apparently, who makes a brief and not terribly memorable appearance) whereas the former envisions a better future by remaining a student and broadening his knowledge (something one of his teachers tells him when still a child). Conflict, if well written, can be an attribute to growth of character and I felt the scene in which Apu and Sarbojaya argue is a particularly strong one. Apu is fascinated by much of what he learns and we see him offer some of that knowledge to his mother as he reads from his books. I liked this Apu, particularly the adolescent one, more than the one in PP. We just see him do more now, the viewer gets to spend a significant amount of time with him and the movie, at least in my humble opinion, benefited from that. At bit like in the first film, there are several scenes which show the flavour of the location, here being Benares, rather than driving home a straightforward narrative, but it’s precisely those little moments that director Ray captures so well. When they’re captured well, that in turn helps enrich the film with hints of what is going on and what the characters are experiencing. The weightlifter scene, the days at school, the trips back to his mother’s place when on holiday, playing hooky with his friend (I don’t think we ever learn his name even though he has about 2 or 3 scenes), all these and more set a compelling mood and tone to the overall experience.

It may be the city boy in me, but I felt the scope and imagery of this film was massive when compared to PP precisely because so much of it occurs in Benares. The cinematography is very, very memorable. I’m not trying to argue that PP was unimpressive from a visual standpoint mind you, but I was blown away by Aparajito. The hustle and tussle of the city, its architecture, the shadows of the narrow streets, the priest’s calling (at least I think that’s what the first scene in the movie was supposed to be). There are many shots of the ghat, which is the term to designate the steps in a city which lead down to the bank of a river or lake, which caught my attention. I’ve never travelled to the region even though it is one that has me rather intrigued, but I must say that the footage here was a fine substitute for the time being. There is a poignant shot somewhere in the middle of the film when Apu returns to the countryside with Sarbojaya. They have just moved into their home and Apu hears a train pass in the distance. He runs to the doorway in glee and watches the locomotive ride on the horizon. The expression on his face suddenly turns rather solemn. The fact that Ray doesn’t make the reason for Apu’s shift in expression explicit was intelligent. The train is too closely associated to a memory that not only remains with Apu, but the viewer as well. I felt a brief moment of sadness as well while watching that train go by. Excellent camera work and editing.

Something I overlooked in my PP review was the music. My general, North American musical knowledge is ridiculously limited, so just imagine what I know about traditional Indian music. Having said that, I think that, as long as it sounds great and feels appropriate for the scenes playing out, then I’m happy. I have no freaking clue what instruments are being played but it sounds marvellous. It’s such harmonious, beautiful music. I think this is the uncultured, unsophisticated North American in me speaking, but it really made the movie sound great.

Random notes: Sarbojaya seems much more mellow here than she did on PP. Ironically, Durga, who caused a lot of havoc for her in the previous instalment, is not a factor anymore. Hint? (I know worm will find some kind of reason to disagree however). The weightlifter scene near the beginning when Apu is waling along the ghat was really impressive. I don’t think the subtitles called them weights at all, but that’s essentially what the man was doing, if in a more dramatic way. I really thought the upstairs neighbour in Benares was going to be more involved than he turned out to be. He looked like a jolly fellow after all.

My only significant complaint would be that Harihar kicks the bucket far, far too early. He was such a great character! Even in his limited screen time, he left a significant impact on me. I was kind of ‘down’ for a minute or two following his passing. I wonder if Apu has a bright future ahead of him. I would hope so at least, as it seems as if since his birth, a lot of people around him whom he cherishes seem to drop like flies. Auntie, Durga, Sarbojaya, Harihar. There’s basically nobody left now. Well, only Apur Sanar can answer that question now

See also

The Apu Trilogy

Pather Panchali 1955

Aparajito (1956)

Apur Sansar (1959)

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