Aparajito (The Unvanquished)

Movie Information

In Brief: At once poetic and grittily realistic, sophisticated and crude, Aparajito (1957) marks the second film in Satyajit Ray's Apu trilogy. It is similar to the first film in that it feels less like a movie than like spending time in another life and another world. However, Ray learned much in the two years since making the earlier Pather Panchali. The pacing is much improved, though this may be due to the fact that there's more plot (in a strict sense) here. And though little that happens can be called surprising, it's a film in which you're sufficiently invested in the characters that you're compelled to keep watching. It takes up where the first film leaves off (it is not, however, essential to have seen Pather Panchali), with Apu (Pinaki Sengupta) and his parents moving from their isolated village to Benares. The change in locale also signals a change in the film's thematic concerns. More than the basic plot, the film is driven by Apu's attraction to education — specifically, a more Western education that has little to do with the traditional India he has been brought up in, and even less to do with the religious training that had fallen to him. The film has as much to do with the changing Indian culture as with Apu's story — yet it's his story that serves as the basis for that examination. A rich and worthwhile film.
Genre: Drama
Director: Satyajit Ray
Starring: Karuna Banerjee, Kanu Banerjee, Pinaki Sengupta, Smaron Ghosal
Rated: NR



The main thing to bear in mind when undertaking Aparajito is that it is not a slickly produced film — even by the standards of 1957 Indian cinema. It looks older than it is, which may actually enhance the sense that this is another world and another time. I mentioned that it was crude, and by this I mean that aspects of it are almost amateurish. The dissolves linking some scenes together are very clumsy and their obvious poetic intent can be blunted by this by drawing your attention to the rudimentary post-production technique instead of the images themselves. (It’s no wonder that Ray himself was shocked when the film won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.) At the same time, there are moments of such delicacy — Apu’s father’s death announced with a cut to pigeons flying away — and beauty — the train on the horizon in the distance — that these “shortcomings” fade into inconsequential trivialities once you get into the flow of the film. Ostensibly adapated from a novel, the film is peppered with incidents from Ray’s own life, making it at least partially autobiographical (though that can be said of most personal films). The film has the sense of being open-ended — stopping at a point where the grown Apu (Smaron Ghosal) makes a decision about his life — but it seems Ray wasn’t at that point planning to make a third film.

Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present Aparajito Friday, July 10 at 8 p.m. at Phil Mechanic Studios, 109 Roberts St., River Arts District (upstairs in the Railroad Library).  Info: 273-3332, www.ashevillecourtyard.com

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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