Pather Panchali (in English: Song of the Little Road) directed by Satyajit Ray and produced by the Government of West Bengal, India. Pather Panchali is described as a turning point in Indian cinema, as it was among the films that pioneered the Parallel Cinema movement, which espoused authenticity and social realism. The first film from independent India to attract major international critical attention, it won India's National Film Award for Best Feature Film in 1955, the Best Human Document award at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival, and several other awards, establishing Ray as a distinguished filmmaker. It features in several lists of great films.
Paul Reynolds guest blogs about it . Read on.
Pather Panchali, or the Song of the Little Road, was a film created in 1955. Bengali was the primary language of the film and it is 115 minutes in length. This movie was created by Satyajit Ray and was inspired by the novel “Pather Panchali” by Bibhutibhushan Banerjee. Government of West Bengal assisted the production of the film. Cinematography was overseen by Subrata Mitra, Editing was done by Dulal Dutta, Art Direction was done by Bansi Chandragupta and Sound Production was done by Bhupen Ghosh. The soundtrack of the film was composed by Pandit Ravi Shankar. The movie won Best Human Document. Cannes award and Diploma of Merit, Edinburgh in 1956. It was the initial phase of struggles for Satyajit Ray and he had to wait for two years to find a producer for the movie.
Pather Panchali is a story of poverty and starvation at many levels. It is a story which challenges the fact that the poor are devoid of all happiness. The bitter moments of poverty and deprivation occasionally meet moments of small joy that only the poor experience and know about. The train running across the village, running behind the mithaiwalah to steal one sweetmeat from his large collection, a little picnic in the forest where you cook your lunch and share it with all other kids, dancing in the rains etc. are the moments of small joy for the protagonist Durga and to her brother Apu. These little nuances in the film break the elitist thinking that there is no joy in poverty at all. It could be one of the reasons why this movie was made.
The story of Pather Panchali takes the viewers to a large joint family in rural Bengal. This large family has rented out a dilapidated part of their house to a poor family consisting of the protagonist Durga, a child of about seven years, her father and mother. Her brother Apu arrives a little later in the movie who is born into this poverty. There is yet another member in the family who is the elder sister of Durga’s father. She is a widow who came to stay with them after her husband’s death. Such practice prevails in Bengal among the economically challenged people.
Durga’s mother and her sister-in-law are at loggerheads with each other. One extra mouth to feed in such a poverty-stricken situation will obviously become the bone of contention for the family. Durga’s mother is dejected that her own needs are hardly getting fulfilled by her husband. He sincerely loves her, but the love is unfortunately restricted to the bedroom. They do not have the means to fulfill any materialistic desire. She is the perennial worker in the kitchen. Durga assists her in the kitchen and thus the mother got the company of her daughter in the kitchen. In the meanwhile her husband has to go to Kolkata for two months to earn a living. She is sad about having to live away from him though it is for a short duration. The concerns of a stereotypical Indian housewive for her husband is clearly seen in her.
Durga is growing up and she is the sole custodian of her little brother Apu. She bathes him, dresses him, combs his hair and takes him to school. She regularly steals a guava from her neighbor’s tree and gives it to her widowed aunt. She is always by her mother’s side, still she manages her moments of joy in the form of group picnics, the dance in the rain and watching the train passing through the village. Unfortunately enough, the pure joy of dancing in the rain takes away her life. She catches a terrible fever which gets treated only with a water soaked cloth on her forehead. Poverty cannot afford any medicine and at last it takes away the individual who is down with the ailment. The windy night and the storm outside becomes too telling that the worst is going to befall the family.
Durga’s mother is terribly grief stricken on learning that her daughter will never come back. The father comes home with all the goods and with a sari for Durga being unaware of the fact that he will never see his daughter in life. His wife holds the sari to her mouth sobbing and he yells Durga. Poverty has the last laugh in their life by taking Durga away from them. The family then decides to leave for Benares. As they leave the house a large snake creeps into the house. It can be interpreted that Durga’s life has transmigrated into a snake’s and she will continue to live in the house even if the rest of the family leaves for Benares. The story has an open end which is left for interpretation by the viewers.
Some other noteworthy nuances of the movie are good enough for discussion. Durga’s father writes to say that he is returning from Kolkata with some money. Just a couple of shots before this letter his wife looked famine stricken and she looked like dry leaves lying on the floor. The letter brought the moods of spring to the family, but it soon changed into a life of dried up leaves. Durga’s mother frequently quarrels with her husband’s sister and asks her to leave the house. The widow takes her only belongings- a torn floor mat, a small bundle of torn clothing and a torn blanket and leaves for another village where she has another relative. She returns to Durga’s house after a few days. On one such return, she sees Durga’s mother having her lunch with some fish. She nearly salivates at the sight of fish, but gets reminded of the fact that fish is prohibited to a widow.
The day before the family leaves for Benares the widow returns to the house and keeps some money in Durga’s mother’s hand. She also apologizes for her bad behavior with the lady of the house in the past. Then she explains a widowed life makes a person small in heart because they have nothing to look forward to in life. This is a sincere and true confession which should awaken everyone that deprivation can make a person mean. Therefore, the movie Pather Panchali is dense with messages to take home.
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