My first taste of Satyajit Ray; I found it unsurprisingly humanist & quotidian, yet also lyrical & mystic. Obviously inspired by Italian neorealism and also drawing on a kind of magical realist tradition. The beauty of the mundane.
The main element that distinguishes this from earlier neorealist works, for me, is Ravi Shankar's lively sitar score, giving the proceedings a propulsive energy even amidst the terrible poverty and tragic events. The moment when Apu is first revealed through the blanket by the introduction of Shankar's music is surely one of the canonical moments of Indian cinema.
Much of the narrative is typically dreary neorealist fare, so it's nice to have the interstitial moments to latch onto, such as the theatrical performance or chasing the train. It also does pick up quite a bit in the second half, although the ending is characteristically (for the genre) melancholic and suitably bittersweet.