Wednesday, January 20, 2016
2016 Blind Spot Series: Pather Panchali
Based on the novel by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay, Pather Panchali (Song of the Little Road) is the story of a young boy living in rural Bengal with his poor family as he endures poverty, social changes, and tragedy in the course of his young life. Written for the screen and directed by Satyajit Ray, the film is the first of a trilogy of films that follows the life of a boy named Apu who would grow up in the years living in India. Starring Subir Banerjee, Kanu Banerjee, Karuna Banerjee, Uma Dasgupta, Chunibala Devi, and Tulsi Chakrabarti. Pather Panchali is a tremendous yet heart-wrenching film from Satyajit Ray.
The film is a simple coming-of-age story about a young boy named Apu (Subir Banerjee) from his birth to encountering death, hunger, poor living conditions, and everything else in a small rural village in Bengal where his family struggle to make ends meet. Satyajit Ray’s script doesn’t really have much of a plot despite a traditional three-act structure that plays into Apu’s growth as a boy and his relationship with his older sister Durga (Uma Dasgupta) who would be a maternal figure of sorts for him. While Apu’s mother Sarbajaya (Karuna Banerjee) and father Harihar (Kanu Banerjee) deal with mounting debts, lack of resources, and having to care for Harihar’s aging cousin Indir (Chunibala Devi). It adds to a family dealing with little of what they have with Harihar struggling to find work as he often has excuses about not doing this or that which adds to a lot of frustration for Sarbajaya. Other issues include accusations from the family’s neighbor over Durga stealing fruit from their orchard which she often gives to Indir while Apu is just a child just trying to understand everything around him.
Ray’s direction is very mesmerizing for not just the beauty of the locations but also in creating something that feels very real in a world that is very different. Shot largely on location in Boral near Calcutta, India, the film does play into this world of rural India where it is poverty-stricken as well as being sort of removed from modern society. Especially a scene in the fields where Durga and Apu look at these towers with wires as it indicates it’s near a railway as the train is a glimpse into the modern world which they’re removed from. Ray’s compositions definitely range with its intricate usage of wide and medium shots to not just capture the location but also create some intimacy such as a typical night in the life of this family where despite their social status. They are together and always doing something together no matter how little money or food that they have.
Ray’s usage of close-ups are also evident as it plays into how everything is being seen from Apu’s perspective as this young boy who is coming of age as he is surrounded by trees and living a home that is often falling apart. Ray would also infuse things that play into a boy’s own sense of innocence as he, like any child, is someone that wants sweets and to participate in things that every other child is doing or seeing. Notably as he would encounter things that might be too complicated for a child to understand such as some of the events in the third act when his father has to go to the city to find work and is away for months. It has this air of realism of what Apu would see and what his mother would be doing but also the tragedy that he would encounter as the film’s ending marks the end of not just his innocence but also the end of a certain moment in his life. Overall, Ray creates a very compelling yet rapturous film about the life of a family in Bengal from the eyes of a young boy.
Cinematographer Subrata Mitra does incredible work with the film‘s black-and-white photography as it has this air of naturalistic quality into the lighting for many of the scenes set in the day while the scenes at night also has something that is real where Mitra would use some additional lights to play into the beauty of those scenes. Editor Dulal Dutta does excellent work with the editing by using some dissolves and rhythmic cuts to play into the dramatic moments of the film as well as some of the very intense moments. Art director Bansi Chandragupta does fantastic work with the look of decayed home of Apu and his family from the brick wall that is full of holes to the shacks that look like they‘re going to fall apart that is in contrast to the home of their neighbor which looks like it‘s been taken care of with numerous repairs.
Sound recordist Bhupen Ghosh does amazing work with the sound to capture many of the moments in the film‘s location from the sounds of nature to the sounds of the train in the train scene. The film’s music by Ravi Shankar is brilliant for its traditionally-based Indian music filled with sitars and various percussions along with some string-based pieces that includes additional music by the film’s cinematographer Subrata Mitra.
The film’s superb cast features notable small roles from Hardihan Nag and Binoy Mukherjee as a couple of village elders, Kshirod Roy as a priest, Harimohan Nag as the village doctor, Roma Ganguli as Durga’s friend Ranu, Haren Banerjee as a sweets seller, Tulsi Chakraborty as Apu’s schoolteacher, Aparna Devi as a kind and helpful neighbor who offers to help Sarbajaya, Reba Devi as the mean neighbor who is always angry at Durga stealing a fruit from her orchard, and Shampa “Runki” Banerjee as the young Durga. Chunibala Devi is excellent as the elderly Indir as a woman who could barely walk as she is someone that craves fruit and often encourages Durga to steal while being a nuisance to Sarbajaya.
Uma Dasgupta is brilliant as Durga as a young teenager who would be the maternal figure for Apu as she helps him get food and such while showing him the ways of the modern world as she also copes with growing up. Kanu Banerjee is amazing as Apu’s father Harihar as a kind-hearted man that means well but his unwillingness to take advantage of opportunities and desires to become a writer only to take action in order to provide for his family. Karuna Banerjee is fantastic as Apu’s mother Sarbajaya as a mother who copes with her surroundings and trying to keep the house afloat only where she becomes frustrated by the lack of progress in her home. Finally, there’s Subir Banerjee in a phenomenal performance as Apu Roy as a young boy who deals with his surroundings and the events in his life as it’s a very lively and innocent performance that is very natural but also full of wonderment considering what the child goes through as he comes of age.
Pather Panchali is an outstanding film from Satyajit Ray. Armed with a great cast, a powerful story, and amazing technical work, the film is truly a coming-of-age tale that manages to be so much more as it plays into the world seen from the eyes of a young boy in India. In the end, Pather Panchali is a magnificent film from Satyajit Ray.
Satyajit Ray Films: Aparajito - (Parash Pathar) - The Music Room - Apur Sansar - Devi - (Teen Kanya) - (Rabindranath Tagore) - (Kanchenjungha) - (Abhijan) - The Big City - Charulata - (Two) - (Kapurush) - (Mahapurush) - Nayak - (Chiriyakhana) - (Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne) - (Aranyer Din Ratri) - (Pratidwandi) - (Sikkim) - (Seemabaddha) - (The Inner Eye) - (Ashani Sanket) - (Sonar Kella) - (Jana Aranya) - (Bala) - (Shatranj Ke Khilari) - (Joi Baba Felunath) - (Hirak Rajar Deshe) - (Pikoo) - (Sadgati) - (Ghare Baire) - (Sukumar Ray) - (Ganashatru) - (Shakha Proshakha) - (Agantuk)
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