Revisting Pather Panchali-The Satyajit Ray Masterpiece

18 Pages Posted: 18 Apr 2006  

Shaswata Dutta

National University of Juridical Sciences

Date Written: February 17, 2006

Abstract

Pather Panchali follows the trials and tribulations of this poor family: the first conscious experiences of Apu, his early school years and close bond with his sister Durga, and their adventures in the nearby forest and fields. The underlying strength of the film is Ray’s unsentimental but intensely artistic exploration of many universal themes. He carefully examines the interaction of life and death, the aged and the young, and makes subtle references to the tensions between rural and city life and how it is being changed by new technology—in this case electricity and the railway. Outwardly a reassuringly peaceful reflection of one Brahman family, Pather Panchali calmly demonstrates the fragility of this serene illusion. Set in the early years of this century, in a Bengali village far off the main cultural artery, we learn of the shockingly destitute Ray family. The head of the clan, Harihar Ray, dreams of becoming a feted writer and poet. Yet to put food in the mouths of his children, Harihar must set aside this fantasy; he works as bookkeeper for a local landlord. As Harihar slaves for a pittance, occasionally moonlighting to carry out religious ceremonies, his wife Sarbojaya struggles by. With two rambunctious kids, it's an endless chore. Satyajit Ray has also shown a beautiful relationship between old Indir Thakrun and young and restless Durga. She bonds wonderfully with Durga, and tries not to get in the way. But the relationship between Sarbojaya and Indir also portrays another type of relationship as there exists a friction between them, Durga being the common thread. . The youngest, Sarbojaya's son Apu, is always careering around and exploring, when not in school. It's a wild streak that he's picked up from Durga, who lacks the influence of school as a behaviour modifier. Unless press-ganged by her mother, Durga's favourite pastime is to scrump fruit from their neighbour's garden; it's a recipe for trouble.

It's interesting to note that while the film resides in a society where boys are prized over girls, women dominate Ray's vision. Though Harihar is the unquestioned head of the family, his absence ensures that Sarbojaya wields the power. She cements them together, against the blows of existence, while all Harihar does is earn too-little money and waste it on tobacco. In some respects he is similar to Indir, a part of the family but not quite in the inner circle. Luckily Indir has presence, a cranky and cunning spirit, to make up for her physical failings. Without this how else could she tolerate being abandoned to fend for herself? Of course, in a wider sense, this is just what happens to Sarbojaya and the children when Harihar leaves; as the funds slowly drain away they slide further into poverty, despair and misfortune. Karuna Banerji shoulders this transition almost alone; her performance of desperation and hope has astonishing clarity for such depth.

Pather Panchali has been a revelation in the field of Indian Cinema and for that matter has brought about a change in the nature Indian cinema was viewed. One can easily say that Satyajit’s work to be that of a genius and through the trilogy he has portrayed the story of the life of a little boy Apu and the factors that determine his whole tenure as a person in this world which is full of a network of simple relationships which though may look as a complex equation having a very puzzling answer. This is the reason why even after 55 years after its release it is still popular not only among the Indians but also the whole world. The researcher is able to make such a value laden statement, based on the popularity this Trilogy received during the recently concluded Cannes Festival.

The researcher in this very project would like to venture into the various aspects of human life that Satyajit has tried to explain through this series. Though one must also look into the fact that the book written by Bibhuti Bhushan had the same concept in mind while writing the story. There have been views from many critics that the writer has through the character of Apu has narrated the story of his own life and struggle to become a writer. The researcher during the course of his project would not draw a comparison between the book and the movie rather he would try to draw a comparison between the movie and the book rather he would try draw a parallel to the way the author and the director tried to portray the character of Apu. The researcher would though like to point out the fact the director emphasized more on the female characters that surround Apu rather than Apu himself than in the book. If looked into one can also observe the fact that the author’s description of the life and liberties enjoyed by women in the rural Bengal can be questioned. But the writer has surely spotted out the difference between a girl and a boy beautifully through the characters of Apu and Durga, Apu on one hand was given education and sent to a school whereas Durga’s character was portrayed in a way which showed that she lacked the very essence of formal education. While discussing the female characters in the life of Apu from his childhood to the period in Apur Sansar where he becomes an adult.

The researcher would like to bring to the attention of the readers to the very fact that he would be concentrating on the first film more than the other two as it must have been noticed by the reader while reading the introduction to this project. But the researcher would refer to certain instances from the other two movies in order to maintain continuity during the course of the project. This is for the fact that while discussing the life of any character one has to take into account each and every aspect of his/her life. The researcher feels that while discussing Apu as a child he has to draw a parallel between his teenage and then his transition into an adult, the reason being that the researcher’s objective is to bring forward the changes that a person faces and the role of various social institutions in that very regard.

In this particular project the researcher would aims to put forward certain special moments through which the director has shown the intricacies of human life and the society he lives in. He also would like to concentrate on the various female characters in the life of Apu.

The researcher apologizes for any comments of his, which in any way would have offended the views of his readers. This project is an effort on the part of the researcher to pay a tribute to the great work done by the immortal director, Satyajit Ray and the author Bibhuti Bhushan Banerjee.

Suggested Citation

Dutta, Shaswata, Revisting Pather Panchali-The Satyajit Ray Masterpiece (February 17, 2006). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=885487 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.885487

Shaswata Dutta (Contact Author)

National University of Juridical Sciences ( email )

12, LB Block, Sector III
Salt Lake City
Kolkata, Kolkata 700 064
India

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