They were released Nov. 17 on Criterion Collection DVD and Blu-Ray, and now the world cinema landmark Apu Trilogy—the three-film saga of an impoverished Indian village boy and his evolution into urban fatherhood, that introduced the world to director Satyajit Ray and sitarist/composer Ravi Shankar—is being presented by TCM on Nov. 30.
The network has previously screened the first Apu entry, Pather Panchali (1956). It will follow the Nov. 30 repeat with the premieres of Aparajito (1957) and Apur Sansar (1959), with a documentary on Ray and a screening of his similarly celebrated 1958 drama The Music Room to be programmed directly after.
As TCM’s website notes, Ray’s “breathtaking milestone of world cinema brought India into the golden age of international art-house film.” Starting with Pather Panchali (Song of the Little Road), the three films follow the journey of the free-spirited rural Bengali child Apu as he matures into an adolescent urban student in Aparajito (The Unvanquished) and finally, the sensitive man of the world of Apur Sansar (The World of Apu).
Based on two books by Bibhutibhusan Banerjee, the films were shot over the course of five years. “Each stands on its own as a tender, visually radiant journey,” says TCM. “They are among the most achingly beautiful, richly humane movies ever made–essential works for any film lover.”
“The Apu Trilogy had a profound effect on me when I saw the trilogy in the early sixties,” says hit music producer Russ Titelman.
“It looked and felt like a documentary, allowing us to see what life was like in rural India in the first half of the 20th century, revealing cultural and economic realities unknown to us. The depth of the poverty, how death was dealt with, the caste system–all presented so realistically that it overwhelmed the viewer.”
The acting and filmmaking techniques, continues Titelman, were masterful, “but to me the thing that subconsciously got the spiritual message through to the uninitiated Westerner was the magical score by Ravi Shankar. Indian classical music was introduced to the world on a limited scale by these beautiful films. George Harrison finished the job of educating the rest of the world by recording ‘Within You, Without You’ on the Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band album. Anyone who had a curious mind and was interested in learning about a different musical culture took it from there.”
As did Titelman himself. He studied sitar with Shankar at Shankar’s Kinara School of Music in Los Angeles (along with Little Feat’s Lowell George), and later produced Harrison’s 1979 self-titled album, which featured another illustrious production client, Eric Clapton; Harrison returned the favor on Clapton’s 1989 Titelman-produced Journeyman album.
“It’s the most complicated and soulful music on earth,” notes Titelman of Indian classical music, “and the only thing we have that’s related to it in performance is country blues, which is very rudimentary—but its slide guitar is comparable to the pulling of notes on the sitar. It’s deep soul music.”
The Criterion Blu-ray and DVD editions of The Apu Trilogy feature new digital restorations of all three films, undertaken in collaboration with the Academy Film Archive at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and L’Immagine Ritrovata, with uncompressed monaural soundtracks on the Blu-rays.
Also included are audio recordings from 1958 of Ray reading his essay “A Long Time on the Little Road” and in conversation with film historian Gideon Bachmann; new interviews with actors Soumitra Chatterjee, Shampa Srivastava, and Sharmila Tagore, and camera assistant Soumendu Roy and film writer Ujjal Chakraborty; a new video essay by Ray biographer Andrew Robinson on the trilogy’s evolution and production; a new program, The Apu Trilogy: A Closer Look, featuring filmmaker, producer, and teacher Mamoun Hassan; excerpts from the 2003 documentary The Song of the Little Road, featuring Ravi Shankar; The Creative Person: Satyajit Ray, a 1967 half-hour documentary by James Beveridge, featuring interviews with Ray, several of his actors, members of his creative team, and film critic Chidananda Das Gupta; footage of Ray receiving an honorary Oscar in 1992; a new program on the film restorations by filmmaker :: kogonada; new English subtitle translations; and a booklet featuring essays by critics Terrence Rafferty and Girish Shambu.
“The Criterion Collection’s digitally-restored version of The Apu Trilogy is a great way to celebrate by all counts the best known Indian films in the West and elsewhere,” says New York-based entertainment writer Aseem Chhabra, who also serves as director for the annual New York Indian Film Festival (NYIFF).
“These restored prints will go a long way in keeping the legacy of Satyajit Ray alive for future generations of filmgoers and scholars.”
Chhabra adds that “despite the growing interest in Bollywood in Europe, Asia and even parts of North America, and a number of remarkable Indian indie films playing in recent international film festivals, no other Indian filmmaker has earned the recognition that was given to Ray. He remains one of the giants among international masters like Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, Vittoria De Sica and Akira Kurosawa. There is a reason why Ray’s peer Kurosawa said the following about the Indian master: ‘Never having seen a Satyajit Ray film is like never having seen the sun or the moon.’”
Incidentally, one of the highlights of the 2014 NYIFF lineup was Apu Panchali, an award-winning 2013 Bengali film based on the life of Subir Banerjee, the actor who played Apu in Pather Panchali. Banerjee never acted again after it, and remarkably, his life paralleled that of Apu.
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