Aparajito | 1956
The second of Satyajit Ray’s acclaimed Apu trilogy, based on the novels by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay, follows the life of the young village boy determined to pursue his education in the city as first his father, and then his mother, die.
Aparajito opens in Varanasi, the post-independence name of Benares in the northern part of Uttar Pradesh (confusingly, Varanasi is also referred to by the old name of Kashi), to which Apu’s family move at the end of Pather Panchali, the first film of the trilogy.
Varanasi is the major Hindu holy city, home to over two thousand temples and shrines, built on the sacred Ganga (Ganges) River.
The opening sequence gives a picture of bustling life on the ghats, the stepped landings on the river banks, where priests recite, a muscleman swings a club and the dead are burned. In all, 81 ghats line this four-mile stretch of the Ganga’s western bank.
Young Apu passes the time on the ghats and it’s here, while negotiating the steps, that his father Harihar (Kanu Bannerjee) collapses. Apu returns to the landings to fetch a bowl of Ganga water for the dying Harihar.
The incense-filled temple to which Apu accompanies his mother is Varanasi’s chief shrine, the Kashi Vishwanath Temple (Vishwanath is an alternative name for Shiva, Lord of the Dance).
Built in 1750, the gilded decoration which dates from 1939 has earned in the name of the Golden Temple. It’s set back from the Ganga between Dasashwarnedh and Manikarnika Ghats and is not open to non-Hindus.
You can get the best view from the roof of the house opposite, which makes a small charge for the privilege.
After Harihar’s death, Apu and his mother (Karuna Bannerjee) leave the city for a remote village in Bengal (the name is given as Mansapota and the nearby school Apu attends is in Arboal), but Apu has ambitions beyond life as a village priest and takes the train to Kolkata where he studies at the university.
Arriving at East India’s main railway terminus, Howrah Station on the north bank of the Hooghly River, Apu sees the street sign in English on Harrison Road.