M3 Features

The Eternal Song of the Road

September 1, 2013

Pather Panchali (Song of the Road) is poetry on celluloid. It is a depiction of human relationships - of strife, struggle and existence; it is possibly the best creation of imagery in cinema. It is a ballet of life. If a vote is taken on recall of scenes from Bengali cinema, Pather Panchali would win hands down - and it has been 58 years since its release!

With this cinematic masterpiece, Satyajit Ray broke into the world of films like a comet - his brilliance did not stay within the boundaries of Bengal but transcended all barriers and reached the heart of every cine-goer in the world. Praise and accolades poured in from every corner of the globe. A larger-than-life presence was created with the most intricate minute details called life.

One way of looking at Pather Panchali is to watch it as a film... the story so deftly written by Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay and cinematographically executed by master craftsman Satyajit Ray.

But that would be mundane. That would mean just absorbing a tale of human bonds and being a mute spectator in the journey of Apu and Durga.

Is that all to the film? Why does it linger on? Why is it timeless... immortal, yet contemporary even though being just two years away from being declared a senior citizen? There has to be something in the film that leaves an indelible mark in our hearts as well as our intellects. Pather Panchali speaks to each viewer differently. Some just love the characters. The audience can feel the resilient spirit that struggles to peep out even through abject poverty and mundane incidents like the quarrel between Sarbajaya and Indir Thakuran. Who can forget Indir Thakrun... a character that lives on in every Thakuma. But time moves on and generations evolve; grandmothers have become modern and evolved from the Indir Thakuran stereotype.

The expressive eyes of Apu captivate the audience and so does Sarbajaya's. Her gaze and gait does most of the talking and it takes a master to capture it in his frames. The 'motherly love' or sneho (as we say in Bengali) is depicted vividly in the bond the sister and the brother shared. Sneho is just an intangible, inexpressive emotion. Yet, with ease, Ray could make it speak.

The film is like an album where every screen is a perfect picture; each frame speaks from every pore of its texture. That one scene of little Apu and Durga running through fields laden with Kaash to see a train chugging by, letting off smoke, is perhaps the most embedded scene in our DNA. Every single year as tufts of kaash phool break out before Durga Puja, there could hardly be a person who has seen the epic film and not felt nostalgic. That is 'brand recall' in modern management jargon!

The cinematographic brilliance of Ray has been talked about ever since the film released on August 26, 1955. It not only grew to be an iconic film, but also a reference point for films to follow. True, such creations happen once in a millennium, perhaps. To think that such brilliance was created in just Rs. 150,000 breaks the myth that dazzling opulence is the key to the success of a film.

The anecdotes that went into making of this film are as fascinating as the creation itself. Kishore Kumar gave a loan of Rs. 5,000 to Satyajit Ray to complete the film as it struggled for lack of funds. Satyajit Ray chose to wait one full year to re-shoot the scenes in the fields laden with kaash phool. This speaks of the diligent, keen mind, and the patience that is often required for creating a masterpiece. The film was funded by the West Bengal Roads and Buildings Department in the hope that 'The Song of the Road' or Pather Panchali would be a promotional documentary for the roads of the state!

If the word 'immortality' ever needs an ambassador, Pather Panchali definitely would be a strong contender.

Written by: Gunjan Chakrabarty for M3.tv

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