The 1955 classic is refreshing to watch even today, to get an insight into life in rural Bengal in that era
Though it has been over five decades since Satyajit Ray's first film Pather Panchali (Song of the little road) was released, viewing the film even today is a refreshing experience. Capturing rural Bengal was an art within art. In Ray's own words, “You had to be there to find out for yourself how to catch the hushed stillness of dusk in a Bengali village, when the wind drops and turns the ponds into sheets of glass…”
Based on the classic penned by Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay, the film touches every chord in the heart and in the mind. Many feel that the novel was a biographical interpretation of the author's life and had had also a subtle touch on Ray's life.
With a plethora of characters in the film, the protagonists are the eight-year-old child Apu and his elder sister Durga.
The film deals with the struggle for survival of a small family comprising the Harihar Ray (the father), Sarbajaya (mother), Apu, Durga and Indir Thakrun (a distant aunt) in their ancestral home in rural Bengal.
The plot is simple: Harihar is a priest in the village who tries to meet both ends with great difficulty. His wife Sarbojaya plays the role of a typical housewife by taking care of their two children. Durga a girl full of life, likes to steal fruits from the village zamindar's orchard and takes great pride in sharing her steal with her brother and aunt. Indir is the old aunt not liked by Sarbajaya. Shunned in and out of the house by Sarbajaya on a regular basis, old Indir one day dies in the forest near the house and her corpse is discovered by Apu and Durga, who for the first time come in terms with the phenomenon called death. Unable to recover from the financial problems, Harihar moves to Kolkata for better earnings, leaving behind his family. During a bout of severe thunderstorm, Durga catches fever and finally dies in her mother's arms. Harihar returns with gifts only to find his beloved daughter dead. The film closes with the family moving down to Varanasi for a better living.
The power of the film lies in the calculated portrayal of situations by contrast. The maestro at one time shows how Durga delights her old aunt with a stolen fruit and on the contrast depicts how Sarbajaya ticks her off for accepting it. The film masterly explores the love-and-hate relationship between the siblings, and captures their different moods and affection for each other. It also subtly explores the gender bias prevalent at that time, as the little brother gets more love and affection of the parents over his sister.
The music was composed by Pandit Ravi Shankar, and the background score composed on folk notes using just the flute and the sitar is haunting. The use of Tarshehnai to depict Sarbajaya's grief upon losing her daughter synchronising with Harihar's return is touching. The cast is an ensemble of amateur theatre artists. Ray had difficulty in finding Apu, until his wife suggested a neighbour's boy. To give perfection to the cast, Ray picked by a veteran theatre artist Chunibala Devi from a red light area to play the role of Indir.
Paying tribute to Chunibala, Ray had once said, “She is a perfectionist and I have learnt a lot from her. She often picked up details that I had missed.” Pather Panchali won many national and international awards, including the National Award for best film in 1955.
Pather Panchali — Song of the little road
Document award at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival.
Cast: Harihar Ray – Kanu Banerjee
Sarbajaya – Karuna Banerjee
Apu - Subir Banerjee
Durga - Uma Dasgupta
Indir Thakrun - Chunibala Devi
Keywords: Pather Panchali