The Apu trilogy did more than just lend a name to Springfield’s favorite Slushee-slinger on The Simpsons. It provided one of the most remarkable debuts in film history (marking the first three films of director Satyajit Ray) and put Indian cinema on the map. The three movies, based on the novels of Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay, tell the coming-of-age story of Apu, a Bengali youth growing up in dire financial straits. Shot with non-professional casts, the trilogy borrowed the techniques of Italian Neorealism for its matter-of-fact depiction of poverty, but they presented Apu’s story via a distinctly Indian sensibility, one highlighted by musical scores that introduced Ravi Shankar to Western ears.
In Aparajito (“The Unvanquished”) Apu (Smaran Ghosai) continues to display his resilience in the face of tragedy; he loses both his parents but still manages to get an education. The film won numerous international awards and introduced an innovation in technique copied by filmmakers the world over: cinematographer Subrata Mitra’s bounce lighting, a way of using light reflected off walls and ceilings to simulate daylight.
Aparajito was meant to be the concluding installment, but when Ray went to the Venice Film Festival (where the film won the top prize, the Golden Lion), he was asked if there would be a third movie, which inspired him to make The World of Apu, about Apu’s young adulthood.
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