Based on a Bengali novel of the same name, Pather Panchali follows Durga, a mischievous girl living in a poor part of Bengal. Her father, Harihar, dreams of a better life as a writer and her mother, Sarbajaya, struggles to take care the family that also includes Durga’s younger brother Apu and elderly cousin Indir.
Over the course of Pather Panchali we follow Durga and Apu grow up, and interact with their family and the wider community. The film shows a glimpse into the daily life of Bengali people, both good and bad. Unfortunately tragedy strikes and Durga dies of a fever caught during a monsoon. Distraught the family
leave the village in search for a better life in a city.
The first part of “The Apu Trilogy” Pather Panchali (is a film that has been praised all over the world. It has won numerous awards from every prestigious film festival, and it is easy to see why. The film has a lyrical beauty to it. There is a constant interplay between the real and the mystical as the camera pans across vistas so vast the characters seem to be lost in or a part of the lush vegetation. Furthermore, the home that Durga, Apu and their family occupy blurs the distinction between the interior and exterior. The mise-en-scene is littered with flora and fauna creating a living breathing piece of art.
With this in mind the film takes on an almost palpable texture. You can feel the heat, smell the rain and touch the mangos that Durga poaches from a nearby orchard. The film feels fresh, real, authentic and original. Indeed that seems to be the highest praise for the film. Marie Seton argues that “it is absurd to compare it with any other Indian picture.”. This does seem to be the case with it being distinguished from the glossy productions put forward by Bollywood, whose work is considered by western critics and Satyajit Ray to be clichéd, fantisiful and shallow.
However it is also important to step back from the praise and ponder who is giving that praise and why. While the setting, characters and language are unequivocally Bengali the style of filmmaking is not. Ray in his writing on Indian Cinema argues then need for Indian National Cinema, it is ironic then that Pather Panchali is heavily influenced by the realist cinema of Europe. Narratively the film feels very comfortable alongside a British Realist film, with the celebration of mundanity and the sudden tragedy. Similarly, one must also ask; for whom is this the real India? Are the reflections of the families poverty in the exotic local really true or are they presented to confirm the western views of India? and is Ray selling this false image of India in order to gain a global market for his film?
Pather Panchali can be and should be considered a classic of Indian cinema. However by doing so one must also be aware of who is setting these definitions and why.
Credits and Stats
Directed by Satyajit Ray
Screenplay by Satyajit Ray
Based on Pather Panchali by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay
Starring Subir Banerjee, Kanu Banerjee, Karuna Banerjee, Uma Dasgupta, Chunibala Devi and Tulsi Chakrabarti
Music by Ravi Shankar
Cinematography Subrata Mitra
Edited by Dulal Dutta
Production Company Government of West Bengal
Distributed by Aurora Film Corporation (1955), Edward Harrison (1958), Merchant Ivory Productions and Sony Pictures Classics(1995)
Release dates 26 August 1955 (India)
Running time 112–126 minutes
Budget ₹70,000–1,50,000 (US$14,600–31,300)
 Marie Seton, Portrait of a Director: Satyajit Ray (Indiana University Press, 1971)
 Satyajit Ray, “What is Wrong With Indian Cinema” in Our Films, Their Films (New Dehli, Orient Longman, 1976)