In 1920, Apu (Pinaki Sen Gupta) and his parents, who have left their home in rural Bengal, have settled into an apartment in Varanasi where his father Harihar (Kanu Banerjee) works as a priest. Harihar is making headway in his new pursuits: praying, singing, and officiating among the ghats on the sacred river Ganges. Harihar catches a fever and soon dies, however, and his wife Sarbajaya (Karuna Banerjee) is forced to begin work as a maid. With the assistance of a great-uncle, Apu and his mother return to Bengal and settle in the village Mansapota. There Apu apprentices as a priest, but pines to attend the local school which his mother is persuaded to allow. He excels at his studies, impressing a visiting dignitary, and the headmaster takes special interest in him.
Within a few years, the teenaged Apu (now played by Smaran Ghosal) has done well enough to receive a scholarship to go to Kolkata for further studies. Sarbajaya feels abandoned and frightened by this, but gives in and lovingly packs his suitcase. Apu travels by train to the city and starts working at a printing press, after school hours, to subsist. He becomes more accustomed to the city life and feels out of place in the village. Sarbajaya expects visits from him, but he visits only a few times. Her loneliness and yearning for her son continue to grow. She becomes seriously ill, but does not disclose her illness to Apu, lest his studies get disturbed. When Apu finally comes to know about her poor health, he returns to the village to find that she has died. Bhabataran, Apu’s great uncle, requests that he stay there and perform last rites of his mother. Apu replies that he will perform the last rites in Kolkata and starts his journey back to the city.