In Ray’s movies, actions are where the silences are. It is cinema at its purest. Every art form, has its own realm where it reaches its zenith. The thrill of the theatre is in its vibrant expression. What is opera without the crescendo? For a painting, there is the prime feeling which the subordinates strive to invigorate. The strength of cinema lies in its simultaneity. The space it provides for multiple feelings to be exhibited at temporally non-distinct points is unique to the medium. Needless to say, this is not its raison d’être, but is certainly is its prime distinctive feature.
Consider this scene in Aparajito, the second of Ray’s Apu trilogy. Apu, now an adolescent enters his room in Calcutta for the first time. The boy from the village had spent his entire childhood nights, with lanterns and oil lamps. Here he is to stay in a room, which has an electric lamp. His master who has offered him the room is yet to come. He merely flicks the switch of the lamp to see it go on and off again and again. This is the crescendo of the subtlety, seen in background of the previous scene where he crosses the road to reach the place in an unassured manner and then exhibit utmost shyness in talking to his host for the first time. During the conversation in the previous scene with his host (who is an owner of a press) he keeps looking at the work happening there while giving replies to the host’s questions. The conversations that happen with the host merely help to move the story forward. But the real actions where Ray captures the feelings of the boy happen in the background and between the conversations.This is one of the many examples in a brilliantly crafted movie, where Ray proves how unparalleled he is in Indian cinema in handling human emotions.
The movie is also one of the very few I have come across, that places adolescent sensibilities at its focus of exploration of human emotions. But Ray again stands out in powerfully bringing out an adolescent persona with distinctive subtlety. The scene in which Apu is in the headmaster’s room, he is an epitome of shyness after being informed he has secured the second rank in the district in the board exams(not much different is his behaviour than from a few years ago when he entered the same room for the first time). In the next scene in the altercation with this mother, he comes across as a young adult itching to assert himself. Successful in-depth characterization is not about a black and white outlook; but about a multidimensional analysis. The character of the mother is no less well structured. Ray’s love for allowing objects to convey human moods stands out in this movie too. The train continues from where it left in Pather Panchali. I am sure no other director could use the ‘paan’ so well again without even showing it. The few scenes in the school and the college brings out Ray’s flair for comedy with subtlety.
Every frame in the movie is crafted with great care that not only travels into the human minds to unravel its innermost expressions but also to show the India of the time, in its socio-economic whole.
Rarely a moment passes by in the movie which is not well thought out. What else do we expect from the master director who made his screenplay into a storyboard before canning it? The fact that the movie was made almost fifty years ago throws one into disbelief.