Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
The World of Apu, for the uninitiated is the third film of Indian director Satyajit Ray's Apu Trilogy,
which did for India what
Rashomon did for Japan, namely, win for the
first time a major release
in the United States. The film is a simple drama of life in Calcutta and the countryside, told through
the hero Apu, who has here grown into a sensitive but aimless and impoverished young man. Without major
incidents or a particular historical context, we get a realistic picture of the Indian culture unseen in
travelogues and fairy tale movies.
The story of Apu and his love for Aparna was well received in the West, where it won director Ray
international reknown along with a number of film festival prizes.
Synopsis (possible spoiler):
Lonely Apurba Roy, known as Apu (Soumitra Chatterjee) lives in Calcutta in a tiny room.
Forced to leave his studies before gaining a full degree, he's unable to find a suitable teaching position, and
the only other work open to him is sweatshop labor. His friend Pulu (Swapan Mukherjee) invites him to a
country wedding, but when the bridegroom appears to be insane on the wedding day, custom decrees that
the bride will be
cursed forever. Opening his heart to being some good for somebody, Apu takes the groom's place and
marries her himself. He at first regrets his impulsive decision, but a talk with his new bride Aparna (Sharmila
Tagore) convinces him that he's found a gem and that they might be able to withstand poverty in the city
as a married couple. Together they return to Calcutta and his tiny room, and a clerking position found for
him by Pulu.
Apu sleeps by an open window in a room not much larger than a closet, and wears clothes that he can't
keep clean. He's writing a novel in Bengali that his pal Pulu thinks is wonderful, but he's practically
starving. Pulu warns him against being too idealistic, too much of a dreamer. When he makes his decision to
plunge into a marriage literally out of the blue, it's almost because he doesn't see his life taking any
positive direction, and is willing to try something completely different.
It turns out to be a marvelous decision, and Apu and Aparna live an idyllic life on the 10 rupees he earns
per week. They're poor, and Aparna has to lecture him on his willingness to spend too much, but they have
high hopes and the future looks bright. Then tragedy strikes, and Apu loses his optimism for life, and his
ability to relate to his family. It takes him five years to put himself back together again.
The interesting people are backgrounded by an India that isn't colorful costumes or charming, funny people.
Apu's life in Calcutta is a dirty grind, but when he has love and companionship, the misery disappears. The
country wedding is formal, and certainly not the 3-ring circus of
Monsoon Wedding, and much of Apu's story
takes place in dingy streets and unpaved country roads. Yet we invest heavily in this impulsive young man's
basic goodness and optimism, and wait patiently to see if he recovers his personality.
Satyajit Ray's direction is clean and sparse and completely free of mannerisms or embellishment. The people
and the environment are everything, and we get the idea that India in the 50s for Apu's class (I don't know
what that might be, exactly) might have been just like this. I'm glad I didn't have any surprises ruined
by a full synopsis, and will be looking to see the earlier shows in the trilogy. This one played fine as a
stand-alone item. Soumitra Chatterjee is fine as Apu, but the lovely Sharmila Tagore is heart-breaking as
the sweet and determined Aparna. It's interesting to see cultural differences, as the way she sometimes
declines to look her husband in the eye, as a gesture of submission. This contrasts with other times when
she's clearly in charge of their relationship.
The IMDB lists a running time that's ten minutes longer, which could easily be a mistake. The only continuity
question is, what happened to the female relatives in Aparna's family? In the last act of the show, there
only seems to be a grandfatherly type remaining.
Columbia TriStar's DVD of The World of Apu is a disappointment in terms of quality. The sources
appear to be 35mm but are dupey, dull, and dirty. Chances are that this is what Sony/Columbia had as an
import element back in 1959, and a DVD release was arranged without going back for a better source. It's
like watching a
reasonable video from the 80s instead of the restored treatment we expect for classics like this now. Of
course it's watchable, but for a vintage foreign 'art' film that won't be a big seller, I should think it
would have been worth waiting for a better element to transfer.
It's a release for the already-converted Ray fans, as there are no extras. I'm glad I saw it, but regret
that a better version may never surface. At the price being asked, the disc can't be called much of a bargain,
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The World of Apu rates:
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: November 10, 2003
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2003 Glenn Erickson
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