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3 - Breaking with the Past: The Apu Trilogy

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 November 2023

Devapriya Sanyal
Affiliation:
Mount Carmel College, Bangalore
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Summary

Satyajit Ray shot to fame with his debut film Pather Panchali, the first part of The Apu Trilogy. Pather Panchali traces the birth and growth of Apu until he is six years old. Aparajito and Apur Sansar deal with his adolescent years and Apu attaining manhood respectively. One can read The Apu Trilogy as a bildungsroman since that genre concerns itself with the individual discovering himself.

The birth of the bildungsroman as a genre is dated to the publication of Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship by Goethe in 1785–1796 or sometimes to Christoph Martin Wieland's Geschichte des Agathon of 1769. Although it originated in Germany it later spread to the rest of the world. As a genre it focusses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from childhood to adulthood, in which character transformation or development is important. One however observes that bildungsroman novels usually focus on a male protagonist, as is the case with Ray's trilogy. One can attribute this male-centeredness of the bildungsroman to it being a genre dealing with individual self-discovery while woman protagonists learn to conform to gender givens, rather than discover themselves as individuals. Anna Karenina and Pride and Prejudice – which are about strong women – are, as instances, about women adjusting to patriarchal societies, either successfully or unsuccessfully, as the case may be. While in everyday life women have entered the public sphere and their voices can be heard in politics and the media, in gender conceptualisation they are still confined to the realm of the personal and the private, as Ljiljana Ina Gjurgain notes.

In Apu's context, the fact that he is male becomes particularly relevant as his growth alongside the emergent nation partly informs the allegorical essence of the Trilogy. Apu's growth from childhood to manhood encapsulates in a way the conflicts, the paradoxes and histories of a nation in the making, although Ray is careful to allow it to be our reading through scrupulously realist storytelling. In the Trilogy – which is based on autobiographical novels by Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay – Apu grows up to become a writer, and it would be pertinent at this point to examine how the writer as creative artist was represented in popular cinema at around the same time. Evidently the creative artist had significance in the popular culture of the time to be thus represented.

Type
Chapter
Information
Failed Masculinities
The Men in Satyajit Ray's Films
, pp. 59 - 72
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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