As the second in Satyajit Ray’s trilogy of Indian life, Aparajito is a worthy successor to the first film Pather Panchali. It doesn’t have quite the tension or quite the variety of mood but it has a special brooding quality and a more explicit conflict between East and West.
The story [from Bibhuti Bannerjee’s novel] simply continues to follow the fortunes and misfortunes of one Brahman family, which has moved to the holy city of Banares, where the father, movingly played by Kanu Bannerjee, practices as a priest until he contracts a fatal illness.
The mother, played by sad-eyed Karuna Bannerjee, is forced to take work as a rich family’s cook until a priestly uncle takes her and her little son, played by Pinaki Sen Gupta, back to a small village, where the 10-year-old boy becomes a priest. The little boy, however, yearns for a Western education and eventually wins a scholarship to a Calcutta university. The city tears the young man, played by Sumiran Ghosjal, from his mother and she becomes ill.
Satyajit Ray’s relentless camera searches out the foibles of mankind: a half-Westernized Hindu lecher hiding a bottle of forbidden liquor, a fellow Brahman trying to put the touch on the father, a hideous railway butcher peddling religious nostrums, etc. There are moments of lightness, too, when the son and a schoolmate stretch out on a grassy slope and contemplate the Calcutta roadstead and even a voyage to England.
This is the India of the 1920s, an awakening India, an empire bound by stringent religious precepts which slowly grows to realize its own strength.