64 years of Pather Panchali: What made the Ray classic ahead of its time

Pather Panchali is not only a film. It’s a direct peek into the Bengali Society of the early twentieth century. With its universal humanitarian approach, Pather Panchali paints strong emotional strokes into the hearts of its viewers. 

If anyone asks what this film is to me, I’ll reply in one line. This film makes me grieve for a sister that I never had in real life. 

It’s one of the few evergreen films out there. Even after its 64th anniversary, people watch and empathize with this masterpiece.

It’s surprising when you realize that this was the debut film of Satyajit Ray. 

Stories inside and outside

Let’s talk about the film. We all know that the whole Apu trilogy is marvellous. There are very few people who haven’t come across the Train-Running scene from this film. I haven’t come to analyze this masterpiece. Rather I am here to discuss stories. Stories from both inside and outside the film. 

And in between the stories, we will explore some reasons why one should watch it even after 64 years of its release. 

Stellar acting

64 years of Pather Panchali: What made it ahead of its time

The acting performance of Chunibala Devi (Indir Thakrun) has surpassed the level of comparison. She showed us how even a simple activity like eating can give emotional blows to the viewers. Unlike Chunibala Devi, Karuna Banerjee was completely new to cinema acting. But still, you’ll see flawless acting from her in the movie. 

In real life, Karuna Banerjee was an extremely soft person. Her daughter Runki Banerjee told in an interview that for this role Karuna became the complete opposite. She became the harsh, strong mother who quarrels. 

64 years of Pather Panchali: What made it ahead of its time

Kanu Banerjee, Subir Banerjee, and Uma Dasgupta created an acting level of their own in this film. But it was Satyajit Ray who brought them together and composed this art piece.  

Brilliant Cinematography

Subrata Mitra was the cinematographer of Pather Panchali. This was also his first-ever film making. Subrata had never operated a film camera before and before Pather Panchali, he was a photographer. Before the shooting of Pather Panchali, Subrata and Satyajit went to the scene with a borrowed up 60mm camera to learn everything. 

But on the first watch, you will see an amazing cinematographic performance. It’s so amazing that you can pull out a photography exhibition from this film. 

A storyboard

64 years of Pather Panchali: What made it ahead of its time
A storyboard page from Pather Panchali drawn by Ray

Thank heavens that Satyajit Ray adapted Pather Panchali into a film. It’s hard to tell if anyone else could do it. We all know that a film cannot completely follow a book. Just because of that Satyajit Ray also brought minor changes to the original contents. 

Satyajit Ray literally painted the storyboard of Pather Panchali. His watercolour paintings cleared out everything from the expression of characters to lighting.  

Back then there was a stigma in filmmaking. It was believed that films should have happy endings. Satyajit Ray broke this stigma and brought in a realistic approach. 

Timeless music

64 years of Pather Panchali: What made it ahead of its time

Music can convey emotions that words cannot describe. Pather Panchali was outstanding even in this way too. Ravishankar did the music for this film. 

With the use of Bengali classical instruments, Ravishankar put the perfect music piece in the perfect position. There are scenes where talking or screaming becomes abundant. In those places, music became the messenger. 

Ray’s direction

64 years of Pather Panchali: What made it ahead of its time

Satyajit Ray was a powerful director. He portrayed his beliefs and point of view through the cast members. Although many of the cast members were completely new to acting, Ray’s direction covered every bit of inexperience. 

Runki Banerjee was just a small girl when she played Durga. Ray brought his direction to the simplest form to capture the perfect pose. In fact, Ray did this with every cast member. 

However, Ray faced difficulties in direction too. He had to adapt a lot while shooting. For example, the Kans Grass field where they wanted to shoot the train scene was supposed to be the first shot scene of the film. But on the day of the shooting, they found the place completely empty. It happened to be that cattle ate all the Kans Grass. Later they returned to that place after around 2 years. 

64 years of Pather Panchali: What made it ahead of its time

Other than the improvising, the implementation of film-philosophy is also admirable.

Satyajit Ray took the Italian Neo-realism approach while making this film.

His showcasing of poverty, desperation, etc. in everyday life bolsters this claim. 

We can also see the influence of Rasa theory in this film. This concept relies heavily on the emotional side. It centres on two aspects. The first one is the feelings experienced by the characters. And the second one is conveying those feelings to the audience in an artistic way. 

Satyajit Ray gathered up the perfect team for that.  With the story of Bibhutibhushan, with the acting of the cast members, with the cinematography of Subrata Mitra and with the music of Ravishankar he conveyed every bit of emotion to us. 

A legacy that lives on

64 years of Pather Panchali: What made it ahead of its time

Satyajit Ray had to stop shooting this film in midway due to fund shortage. He went to the government officials for the funding, but they didn’t like his realistic approach. 

Because he didn’t give up, we are still talking about his first film after 64 years of its release. Here’s an interesting fact – the Apu Trilogy created an ineradicable impact on teenage Martin Scorsese. 

If you haven’t watched this masterpiece already then go and watch it. It’s been 64 years and you are missing out on a gem of Bengali classic. Happy watching!

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