As with the first film in Apu trilogy, I once again find myself more interested in one of the women in the story than Apu himself, although the young boy (Pinaki Sengupta) has turned into an adolescent (Smaran Ghosal) and finally has something to do. In "Pather Panchali" it was Apu's sister Durga, while in "Aparajito" ("The Unvanquished") it is his mother, Sarbajaya (Karuna Bannerjee). After the tragic death of Durga and the destruction of the family's home, Harihar (Kanua Bannerjee) has taken his wife and son to live in the big city of Benares. Harihar makes a meager living reading sacred texts by the holy Ganges River and selling herbal remedies. But when he falls ill Sarbajaya has to learn to cope on her own and takes Apu to the country, where she works as the cook for a wealthy family. Meanwhile, Apu turns out to be an excellent scholar and does well in school. Eventually he goes away to the university in Calcutta. Sarbajaya does not want her son to go, but she cannot stop him and while she waits patiently for him to come home she get sick and grows weaker.
The climax of this film comes when Apu finally learns of his mother's illness and has to decide if he will stay for his final exams or return to her side and skip the exams. Based on the novel "Aparajito" by Bibhutibhushan Banerjee, at the heart of Satyajit Ray's film adaptation is the performance of Bannerjee as a woman who has lost everything in the world except a beloved son who is to busy to even bother to write her a letter (like father, like son, for those who have seen "Pather Panchali"). This film is not as powerful as it predecessor, but that is invariably true of all middle films in a movie trilogy, and the finale, "Apur Sansar" is a great climax. However, there is also the fact that Apu is not a particularly sympathetic figure. We appreciate that he is good at his studies, but that and life in the city consume him while his mother sits at home, getting weaker, and wondering when she will see him again.
Two of the pillars on which Ray's cinematic success is based is his cinematographer, Subrata Mitra, who had been a still photographer when Ray drafted him to film these movies, and the then unknown Ravi Shankar, whose music often takes the place of voices in these films. When they gave Ray his honorary Oscar in 1992, shortly before the director's death, they cited him: "For his rare mastery of the art of motion pictures and for his profound humanitarian outlook, which has had an indelible influence on filmmakers and audiences throughout the world." Individually and collectively, the Apu Trilogy certainly provides ample evidence in support of the claim.