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First Impressions: Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali

May 23, 2020 | By

15 year old Rhitam is mesmerised by the use of music in Satyajit Ray’s films. Introduced to Ray, at a young age, through the character of Feluda, Rhitam watched Pather Panchali and could not help but notice the rhythms of music, movement, and scenes. He records how some of the scenes of the films affects him more than the others.

Poster of Pather Panchali

Poster of Pather Panchali

Pather Panchali” (Song of the Little Road) (1955) is one of the iconic masterpieces of Indian films that captures life in rural Bengal in early twentieth century. The first film in the “Apu Trilogy” directed by Satyajit Ray, this film stands out by showcasing the melancholic childhood of a small boy, Apu as a son of a poverty stricken educated man Harihar. Apu lives with his mother, his father, and his elder sister Durga. Later their father has to stay away from home for work.

There are beautiful and intricate details added by the director in the film.  The vibrancy of the seasons with the background soundtrack showcased in the film makes it an unparalleled example of cinematography and direction. The different characters have vivid personalities and their own intricacies. The story is narrated from Apu’s perspective and the world viewed through the eyes of a six year old boy.

Ray’s use of music is very evocative. His use of raagas played on the flute depict pathos. The eloquent playing of sitar by Pandit Ravi Shankar captured the essence of the scenes. A blind person can visualize the mood of the movie just by listening to the music. The use of flute was most impressive in my opinion.

The fun that the children had with their limited resources is intricately depicted. The shot from within the earthen pot showing Durga’s face when she was peeping into it to pull out the kittens is striking. Durga and Indir Thakurun had an affectionate relationship. Sarbajaya, the mother of Durga and Apu was in continuous conflict with Indir Thakurun, Durga somehow felt bad and tried pleasing her by stealing guava from the neighbour’s orchards, at times even at the cost of being blamed for the theft. Sarbajaya even blames Indir Thakurun for encouraging Durga to pluck fruits from other people’s orchards. Hurt and sullen she leaves the house to stay with another relative. She dies on her way back to the house. Apu discovers her lying under the bamboo bush with a soft smile in the corner of her lips. The music used at this moment, the ‘alankara’ on sitar, is touching.

Pather Panchali

Durga offers the guava to Indir Thakrun

The scene with the sweet seller again reminds of their poverty, Apu stares at the delicacies in earthen pots of the seller but he has no money. His longing for the sweet leads  him to follow the seller to the neighbour’s house which is beautifully depicted through a reflection on the water of the pond :the reflection of the sweet seller walking along the pond with the pots hanging on a bamboo pole, with Apu and a dog  running behind him. This scene is truly one of the best in the film from my point of view. It shows the innocence of the character while preserving the storyline.

Pather Panchali train scene

Apu and Durga run through the kash to see the steam train

Following this sequence, Apu and his sister follows the chugging sound of a train and runs to see it as they happened to have never seen one. This iconic scene is shot in the lush plains of Bengal over a period of two years due to an interesting reason. The scene features a field filled Saccharum flowers which is a fodder plant. In My Years with Apu.  Ray writes, “the shooting was going on in a steady manner when we decided to take a break. Who knew this would lead to a disastrous event. The starting of the train scene was shot while the other half was left. When we came back the next week, we could not believe our eyes. The flowers were gone. We were informed that they were consumed by the cows and that we have to wait till the next year to continue shooting. And so did we! The shooting was resumed after waiting for a whole year.” This I had read before watching the film. After watching the film, I am moved by the effort which was put to make the film. Ray’s sense of perfection in visualizing the shots and executing them to full perfection is mesmerising.

Click here for exclusive features on understanding Satyajit Ray’s films coming up as part of Ray@100 Centenary Series.

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Rhitam Bagchi is a 15 year old boy from Kolkata. He studies in the 10th grade at Birla High School. Apart from playing football, he likes to play the Harmonica and the Keyboard. He got introduced to Satyajit Ray’s work at a young age. His favourite character is the iconic detective character that Ray created, Feluda. The use of music in Ray’s films mesmerizes him. He also likes to read Bengali comic books like “Nonte Fonte” and stories of Tenida.
All Posts of Rhitam Bagchi

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