The lost movie of the week: Pather Panchali (1955)

Pather Panchali” is one of the greatest Indian film of all time. It is based on the novel of the same name, by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay, which is a coming-of-age story set in rural Bengal. The film launched the career of director Satyajit Ray.

The story of a young boy, Apu, and life in his small Indian village. His parents are quite poor – his father Harihar, a writer and poet, gave away the family’s fruit orchard to settle his brother’s debts. His sister Durga and an old aunt also still lives with them. His mother Sarbojaya bears the brunt of the family’s situation. She scrapes by and sells her personal possessions to put food on the table and has to bear the taunts of her neighbors as Durga is always stealing fruit from their orchard. Things get worse when Harihar disappears for five months and Durga falls ill. Even after Harihar returns, the family is left with few alternatives. (source: IMDB)

Satyajit Ray is one of the greatest Indian directors of all time, but before the fame came the journey to direct this film. The film had serious money problems and was shot over a period of 3 years. The production was delayed many times and it is only after the Government of West Bengal funed the film that Ray could complete the film. Because of that Ray started to think he would never finish his feature and believed that some event might occur to prevent his finishing it. After the success of the film he declared that the success of the film is based on three things referring to his cast by their character names: “One, Apu’s voice did not break. Two, Durga did not grow up. Three, Indir Thakrun did not die.”

“Pather Panchali” is the first film is the ‘Apu Trilogy’. The film is shot in black and white and influenced by the Italian Neo-Realism explored the poverty and situation of the Bengal population in a small village. Even though the story seems dim, the film sends a message of hope and of respect for human dignity. It is incredible how this film became a masterpiece because most of the crew was untested and the production didn’t have a finishing script.

The acting is fabulous, The 80-year-old Chunibala is the main attraction of the film playing Indir Thakrun. But Apu, played by Subir Banerjee is an excellent as a child actor. His parents played by Karuna Banerjee and Kanu Banerjee are wonderfull.

The film received an honorary lifetime achievement award at the 1992 Academy Awards. Afterwards, a push toward restoration was made and the negatives were sent to a lab in London but the negatives burned in a fire in 1993. Thankfully, they could restore the film because the negative was rehydrated.

The film was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes and won “Best Human Document” and an OCIC Award – Special Mention.

Stanley Berenboom

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