Having left their village in Bengal at the end of Pather Panchali, young Apu and his parents, father Harihar and mother Sarbajaya are now living in the city of Varanasi, by the Ganges River. Harihar has gotten a job as a priest and the family is doing OK—until Harihar catches a fever and suddenly dies. A widowed Sarbajaya is forced to work as a servant, struggling to survive and provide her intelligent son with an education.
Adapted from the last fifth of the novel Pather Panchali and the first third of the sequel Aparajito. The score is by Ravi Shankar.
- Adapted Out: The original source novels had Leela, a love interest of Apu, that was one of the reasons why he is reluctant to leave the city for the village. Ray had concerns that it would effect his character motivations. After watching the movie however, he didn't feel her absence.
- Coming-of-Age Story: Follows Apu as he grows from a boy into an adolescent in his late teens.
- Diabolus ex Machina: After the traumas the family suffered in Pather Panchali, the family seems to have found stability when Harihar gets a job as a priest—until he catches a fever and croaks, sending Apu and his mother into a tailspin.
- Disturbed Doves: The pigeons scatter from atop the temple as Harihar dies.
- Downer Ending: Apu gets a letter that his mother is ill. He rushes back to the village only to discover that she has died. He winds up going back to Calcutta for school, now all alone in the world.
- Everything's Better with Monkeys: At least Apu thinks so: he makes a point to feed the monkeys that are overrunning a temple. His mother can't stand them.
- Kitchen Sink Drama: A single mother struggles to rais her son while he struggles to improve himself.
- Match Cut: Two match cuts show Apu learning to light tulsi leaves as he learns to be a priest.
- Off-into-the-Distance Ending: Apu wearily trudging back down the road to the train station, leaving his village behind, probably forever.
- Street Performer: A throwaway scene has Apu watching an exceptionally limber street contortionist.
- Teen Genius: Going to school reveals that Apu is exceptionally bright. He winds up getting sent to a special school in Calcutta.
- Time Passes Montage:
- A montage of shots of Apu showing off to his mother the knowledge he's been picking up in his books—explaining how eclipses work in one shot, dressing as an African tribesman in the next.
- A later montage shows Apu's studies in the Calcutta school, including chemistry experiments and using iron filings to show a magnetic field.
- Time-Shifted Actor: Two different actors play Apu as a younger boy and as a teenager.
- Untranslated Title: "The Unvanquished"