53 years on, ‘Pather Panchali’ remains a timeless classic

August 26th, 2008 - 5:49 pm ICT by IANS  

Kolkata, Aug 26 (IANS) Satyajit Ray’s masterpiece “Pather Panchali” repulsed critics in New York and upset yesteryear’s actress Nargis when it was released in 1955, but exactly 53 years on his son Sandip Ray says the landmark film has stood the test of time because it was about life’s hardships. “For the first time a film was made not on the heroism of the hero, but that of life amid the hardest of situations,” Sandip told IANS here Tuesday.

Based on the classic Bengali novel by Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay, “Pather Panchali” (Song Of The Road) was released on Aug 26, 1955.

“The film, as the name suggests, talks about the rhythm of life that turns victorious even in face of poverty, misery and death. Perhaps this is the reason the film has been able to stand the test of time,” Sandip said.

Set in the early 20th century in a remote West Bengal village, the story revolves around a poor Brahmin family of five - Harihar, his wife Sarbojaya, daughter Durga, son Apu and aged relative Indir Thakrun.

While Harihar frequently stays away from home for work, Durga and Apu enjoy life to the fullest. They get pleasure in doing small things like running across fields to see a train or following a candy seller, though they cannot afford to buy one candy.

Durga, the more mischievous of the two, falls ill and dies of high fever after getting drenched in the rain when Harihar is away. The family then leaves for Varanasi in search of a new life.

Sandip says the struggle portrayed on camera was faced behind the camera as well.

“My father pawned my mother Bijoya’s jewellery to finance the first stage of shooting of ‘Pather Panchali’. The shooting was on the verge of suspension when then West Bengal chief minister Bidhanchandra Ray came forward and ultimately financed it.”

However, the minister’s suggestion of changing the morose climax of the film was turned down by the veteran filmmaker.

“Pather Panchali” was a commercially successful film, but critics, both in India and abroad were not happy with the movie.

Sandip said that while critics at New York left the theatre mid-screening saying they were repulsed seeing people licking their fingers, Indian actor-turned MP Nargis Dutt alleged that Satyajit “exported images of India’s poverty for foreign audiences”.

“Throughout the making of the film my father was worried over two major things - that Chunibala Devi, who was in her nineties and played the old aunt Indir Thakrun in the film, didn’t die before completion of the film. And the boy (Subir Banerjee), who played Apu, didn’t physically grow up,” said Sandip, also a filmmaker with films like “Nishijapon” and “Bombaiyer Bombete” to his credit.

“But very few know that my father projected his own image and psychology in the character of Apu,” he added.

“Pather Panchali”, with its use of symbolism and simplistic storyline, went on to win 11 international awards, including the Best Human Document at Cannes and its maker Ray was honoured with an Oscar for lifetime achievement in 1992.

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