5 Star Movie Reviews by Astika: Pather Panchali

Pather Panchali – by Satyajit Ray

1953 – black and white. Based on the novel by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay

Never having seen a Satyajit Ray film
is like never having seen the sun or the moon
– Akira Kurozawa

I love black and white film, and I want to share a few of the classics with you in these reviews. I confess to adoring the film I’m reviewing today. Radiant in its depiction of an authentic life, alive to both joy and sorrow, flowing across the screen like a bright cloud in a stormy sky, Pather Panchali (The Song of the Road) became an international sensation almost from the day of its release. 65 years later it is still a top 100, if not a top 20, film of all time. And this was Satyajit Ray’s very first film.

Satyajit Ray followed Pather Panchali with two sequels (Aparajito, 1956 and Apur Sansar, 1959). The three make up the highly acclaimed Apu Trilogy. They depict the coming of age of a young village boy, Apu. In Pather Panchali, Apu is a child and the family darling; but it is Durga, his older sister, and Sarbojaya, his mother, who most grip the heart and give the story its dramatic force.

Shot between 1948 and 1953, Pather Panchali almost didn’t happen. Ray was so poor he had to sell his wife’s jewelry. With the money, he bought a surplus war film. He filmed entirely on location and hired not a single professional actor. This was Indie filmmaking at its raw and breathless best.

If you are a lover of the cinematic arts, you’ve probably seen Pather Panchali at least once. If not, don’t miss this masterpiece. The dramatic structure of the film is said to follow the form of the classical raga, and the soundtrack (by a young Ravi Shankar) is perfectly fitted to the film. The dialogue is in Bengali, and the rhythms of that language are an important part of its music, and the visual storytelling is so masterful you’ll hardly need the subtitles.

There are no gun battles, car chases, explosions or fist fights in this movie. Heck, there’s not even a villain, but what Pather Panchali does have is some of the most riveting drama you will find anywhere in the cinema. Ray pulls this drama from that glowing reservoir of love, faith, hate and insecurity that lies at the core of every human heart.
The film runs for just over 2hrs, but try to find the time to watch it in one sitting. Grab some popcorn or your favorite snack, a drink to stay hydrated, and settle in for the long run and don’t bail out before the end! This movie unpacks its most devastating scenes in last 20 minutes.

A word about the acting and directing – amazing! The acting is maybe too real to be called ‘acting,’ so credit Ray with brilliant directing and all the more so given that all his actors were non-professionals, many just villagers found at the shoot location. Another interesting fact – this had no script. The actors took their cues from sketches drawn by Ray and from onsite direction and yet the dialog is crisp and lyrical, nearly mesmerizing even if you forget to read the subtitles. This is not just a tour de force by one or two actors. The entire ensemble is more than convincing. So, put on a dhoti or sari and prepare to be magically teleported back to post-war village India, a time and place so vibrant and alive it might feel more real to you than our own.

The brilliance of Satyajit Ray is that he gives us common people who never step out of their ordinary lives, but they are far from boring. Once you’ve met them, you will never forget them. Long after the Imax mutants, the celluloid transformers and superheroes have faded from your mind and ceased to have any meaning whatsoever, you will continue to feel the passions of these simple people burning in your blood and their dark eyes, still lit and very much alive, haunting your heart.

Satyajit Ray followed Pather Panchali with two sequels (Aparajito, 1956 and Apur Sansar, 1959). The three make up the highly acclaimed Apu Trilogy. They depict the coming of age of a young village boy, Apu. In Pathar Panchali, Apu is a child and the family darling; but it is Durga, his older sister, and Sarbojaya, his mother, who most grip the heart and give the story its dramatic force.

  • $ 69.99 for The Apu Trilogy as a DVD box set (new) at various sites.
  • $2.99 ($3.99 for HD) single movie download from IMBd, Amazon or YouTube.

(Tip: the extra buck for HD is a must for this film.)

Not convinced? Visit IMBd to read 100 + reviews by international film critics.

– Astika

About the Author:

Astika is a 40-year disciple of spiritual master Sri Chinmoy. A universalist who has practiced several spiritual traditions in both monastic and non-monastic communities, he believes the essence of personal practice is the same across all faiths. A poet, essayist and short story author, Astika is a lay contributor to the Buddhist Text Translation Society when not working on his first novel, The City of The Goddess.

 


 
 

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