India, after Independence, was a beacon of hope for the world. We achieve our independence on the grounds of ethics and morality. India, after Independence, was poor, hungry and vulnerable. But, even in those darkest moments, we stood our ground, when our self-respect was at stake.
Pather Panchali’s Oscar winning Director Satyajit Ray
Pather Panchali is the amalgamation of a proud Indian. The only Indian director to ever receive the most prestigious award, “Oscar”, was Satyajit Ray. In his illustrious film career, Ray directed over 29 feature films. From Apu Trilogy to Charulata and from Devi to Shatranj ke Khilari, his works of art have received recognition from various film festivals abroad and in India.
Films have songs, Films have romance, Films have violence, and Films are meant to be enjoyed and forgotten after a while. At the same time, this holds true for most of the films. There is a true outlier in the work of the Apu trilogy “Pather Panchali.” This movie didn’t have any romance, violence or songs. But, it went on to become the greatest art film ever produced in India and the world.
Pather Panchali Meaning
The word “Pather Panchali” means the road that usually gets created by walking over and over on the same route. Indian villages have a plethora of in-roads that are constructed by walking on them. It’s the same as going on a trek and following the path of a fellow traveller who covered the distance before you.
The movie was not made by the veteran filmmaker “Satyajit Ray” that we know now. In 1955, at age 34, he was nobody. The process of making “pather panchali” had to go through a lot of ups and downs. Eventually, Ray didn’t have the capital to continue the shooting. The project was shut down for almost a year. Ray raised money from various film financers in India and abroad. Finally, he was able to wrap up the shooting of the film.
This social drama is the story that will resonate and connect with most of India. Because this is the story of every household in India. A well-educated man, Harihar Ray (Kanu Bannerjee), says to his wife ‘Sarbojaya Ray’ aka (Karuna Bannerjee), that I don’t have a high-paying job now. ‘But it’s a matter of time when my poems will become the talk of the town. If the plagiarised and toned-down version of the original work can get recognition, then it’s a matter of time before my original work gets its due credit.’, he asserts.
P.S. AI wasn’t invented in 1955, but plagiarism did exist back in the time as well.
It’s said the Directors are most fearless in their first outing. They are able to take the risk that a veteran filmmaker cannot take due to the expectations of the audience and the fraternity. Ray and his crew had never worked on a film before while directing Pather Panchali. The director never directed a film, the cinematographer never shot a scene, and the background score of the prominent sitarist was never tested. After watching the film multiple times, it can be said that the director used every principle in the book of filmmaking to ensure the highest quality of output was captured.
Why Pather Panchali is the Best Art Film?
After Apu (Subir Bannerjee) was born, Hari got a job that paid 8 rupees a month. He was thrilled that he could pay back this debt, renovate the house and make ends meet for his family. It’s the same feeling when you are 23 years old and you get your first job with an average salary. The salary doesn’t matter; it’s the feeling of accomplishment that you will finally do something for your family. Soon, Hari realizes that 8 rupees a month won’t cut it. He needs to venture out of the village and go scout for a better opportunity.
Apu, with his sister ‘Durga’, venture into the field, far from the comfort of home, to see the progress that mankind has achieved. The stark contrast between an underdeveloped village and the siren of hope from the coal-powered engine gives the reality check. Apu runs toward the moving train with all his might to get a better look while his sister falls down behind. The Ahh and the amazement of witnessing the miracle of the 1800 KW engine gave a glitter of hope in the eyes of an 8-year-old.
Hari didn’t have the audacity to ask his employer for the payments that were due. He was afraid that he might lose his job. The financial strain at home was evident. Apu and Durga rejoiced by hearing the bell of the sweet seller passing by. They both rushed towards the seller. But, stood at a distance.
They knew they had to figure out another way to get that kher sagar(a sweet). They followed the sweet seller to their friend’s house. Durga’s friend offered her a sweet. But her mom went ballistic with her. Durga went upstairs to play with her friend. Where she saw one of her friends making a necklace with pearls. Durga asked if she could join, but the girl said no. Durga’s friend who offered her the sweet came upstairs and gave it to her.
Being Obedient is the first lesson that our Indian parents have taught us. Society also upholds and praises the child who’s obedient according to the household standards. The manners and etiquette are inherited not only by the Apu and Durga but also by the street dog, who, in need of the hour, takes shelter in their home. Apu’s Mom is feeding him, and like every other child who’s filled with an insane amount of energy likes to run, play and occasionally eat when their mother feeds them while running behind them and going crazy. During this entire time, the dog obediently followed Apu’s Mom, stayed in line, and got the leftovers.
Summary of Pather Panchali
While away from home, Hari is in search of a better life. He has left his wife alone to figure out and care for the kids. As days pass into weeks and weeks into months. She awaited her husband to return with good news. Hari occasionally sends letters to his away. He’s trying hard to figure out a way to provide for his family. Sarbojaya Ray (Apu Mom) sells utensils through a bata system and gets whole grain in exchange for it. She’s trying hard to keep the family together.
On the eve of Diwali in 2016, my father rushed to the airport in Maldives. To catch an early flight to Mumbai. By the time he reaches home. Bringing various currency notes that my brother used to collect. Hears the news that his elder son is no more. I have never seen my father cry before that day in my life.
When Hari comes back home, he sees his home wrecked by the carnage caused by the storm. He’s taken aback. He witnessed that there was no one at the entrance. Comes inside. He gets a sense of relief to see his wife is still there. She brings water and a chair for him to wash his hands and legs. Hari starts showing the stuff he has brought for the kids. Sarbojaya(wife) breaks down; Hari holds her and asks, ‘What happened.’ To learn his daughter is no more.
For the first time in his life, Apu understood what it meant to see your parents hurt. He heard his father cry. Durgaaa… Durgaa Maaa. He sobbed. The 8-year-old Apu had to grow up and finally embrace the adulthood of maturity. A man does what is right, whether easy or not. You become a man when you first decide to put away the things of childhood, the talk of childhood, and the thoughts of childhood. You decide because you cannot be treated as both a man and a boy. Apu now had the sensibility of Man. The maturity was genuinely evident when he made the judgement to carry the umbrella by accessing the weather conditions.
Satyajit Ray’s mind works in a beautiful way. Apu, Aunty’s funeral was carried on the same route that the 8-year-old took with the umbrella beneath his left arm. Both of the journeys amounted towards heartache. This journey required courage, a sense of direction and maturity.
The neighbour who usually used to scold her daughter(Durga). Because Durga used to steal fruits from their farmland. Now, she came to offer her condolences. She brought a bucket full of mangoes. But, now, there’s no appetite left.
As a cinephile, studying cinema and decoding it’s meaning. Gave me an immense amount of pleasure. As I said before, the ‘Pather Panchali’ is the story of every Indian household. It’s also the script of my life. I didn’t know the melody of my life script was written in a movie before I was born. 45 years ago. ‘Pather Panchali’ is my life script.
To not see Satyajit Ray’s films is like never witnessing the presence of the Sun and Moon.
Read about Notable Authors Honored at Sahitya Akademi Awards 2023.