Sunday 16 March 2014

Pather Panchali (Song of the Little Road) [1955]

While working as a graphic designer at Signet Press, Ray had provided illustrations for renowned Bengali author Bibhutibhushan Bannerjee’s semi- autobiographical bildungsroman Pather Panchali; during a trip to London he’d watched, among others, De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves which had strongly affected him; and these, combined with his longstanding cinephilia, motivated him to quit his job and adapt the novel in neo-realist traditions, with hardly enough funding and with nearly everyone involved novices in this line – the rest, as they say, is history. This lyrical, poignant, episodic and humanist rural drama, bursting with exuberance, simple joys and profound tragedies that define life, naturalistic beauty and incredible realism, and the first chapter of his masterful "Apu Trilogy”, marked a defining moment for Indian cinema. It focused on a poor family small Bengal village, comprising of idealistic father Harihar (Kanu Banerjee), a priest and writer, stern mother Sarbajaya (Karuna Banerjee), adolescent daughter Durga (Uma Dasgupta), kid son Apu (Subir Banerjee), and the aged and lovable Indir Thakrun (Chunibala Devi). The film remains as famous for its production history that has become part of pop-culture trivia, as for its iconic sequences and indelible moments – the legendary scene where the wide-eyed Durga and Apu catch sight of a train for the first time, the heartwarming relationship between Indir and Durga, or Durga’s tragic death that suddenly makes Apu grow up by a few years. The family’s fluctuating fortunes were beautifully juxtaposed with nature’s progression, courtesy Subrata Mitra’s fascinating cinematography, and accompanied by Sitar maestro Ravi Shankar’s haunting melodies. Interestingly, trains acted as powerful symbols in the entire trilogy – here, as a metaphor for a child’s wonderment and the land of dreams.

Director: Satyajit Ray
Genre: Drama/Rural Drama/Family Drama
Language: Bengali
Country: India

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