Sixty-five years ago (August 26th, 1955), an unknown film director at the particular time, Satyajit Ray, distributed his directorial debut film, which has become raved as one of the best films of all time. Pather Panchali is a beautiful masterpiece, centered around a young boy named Apu and his family living in a poor village. The film is a pastoral poem sprinkled with the usage of phenomenal shots, an evocation of compelling sensations, and a luminous revelation of an Indian lifestyle that the world can not only comprehend but also sympathize with effectively. Heck, it even stumbles upon a reality carved into today’s time, signifying Ray’s work’s brilliance.
A simple life becomes explored by our two main characters, Apu (Subir Banerjee) and his sister Durga (Uma Dasgupta). Ray embraces the audience with natural joys. Both characters spend time together, such as sitting quietly under a tree, running after a candy man in the village, and listening to the whistle of a train passing by each day. He captures an eternal rhythm within a worn-out, rural town in precise detail, sifting family experiences through a young boy’s perspective.
It baffles this writer that most films nowadays do not understand what the term “primitive” means. Nowadays, every film must become endowed with some “wow” factor or mind-boggling visual effects (or CGI) that neglect the simple story. A narrative is a core of explaining or justifying a piece of art, and that becomes overlooked once the other elements take over (such as music, visuals, or even dialogue). As a result, we lambast films for procuring a sense of disorder and not a direction of fluidity. Ray’s masterpiece recognizes how to calmly approach a fitting story with such humanism and beauty in a simplistic manner.
He does not use color. He does not use state-of-the-art technology to compose his shots and music. This director had to pawn his own wife’s jewelry to complete this film. A man of passion and desperation had hurdles in crafting a stellar story based solely upon human beings’ interactions and their lifestyles in India’s state. That alone is one hell of an accomplishment. The plot is a succession of everyday events into how Apu and his family continue to progress while acknowledging their predicament. Food is prepared (albeit in a limited amount), the weather strikes the landscape, and death inevitably looms.
Pather Panchali delicately illustrates how the aspect of poverty does not have to abrogate love as poor folk can still enjoy the small pleasures of their world. Take, for instance, how Apu and Durga run away from home one day (after Apu meddles with Durga’s possessions) and catch a glimpse of a train. It is an immersive experience and an epiphany of fascination. After his inspirations by fellow director Jean Renoir and appreciation of the environments surrounding him, Ray sought to achieve realism and lyricism.
Many former and current filmmakers owe a massive debt towards Mr. Ray. He revolutionized Bengali narratives and highlighted a unique contemporary form of storytelling that is even more relevant nowadays. Martin Scorsese said the interactions with Ray are “memories I treasure.” Christopher Nolan called this film “extraordinary.” Akira Kurosawa said, “Not to have seen the cinema of Ray means existing in the world without seeing the sun or the moon” It is astonishing how Ray impacted the minds of directors we consider to be the film legends (in the present time). Ray is an underappreciated master of the arts, joined by other directors such as Kurosawa, Ingmar Bergman, and Federico Fellini. Satyajit Ray never directed a scene before the debut of Pather Panchali and worked on it for three years with an amateur crew. They rustled up a film that is fiercely local yet universally acclaimed. It is about quiet lives shot with potent complexity and continues into a phenomenal trilogy followed by Aparajito and Apur Sansar. Who knows if we will receive another classic like this, but rest assured, those who witnessed will still be talking about it for the next few centuries