Pather Panchali is a film that every film lover thinks has contributed the most to the Indian cinema scene and I agree with most of it. The 1955 film, directed by Satyajit Ray is undoubtedly a gem in the realm of Indian cinema. It is hard to believe it is his first film and subsequently, he went on to make two sequels named Aparajito(1956) and Apur Sansar(1959). Together the films are called The Apu Trilogy. In this post, I will talk about Pather Panchali.
Pather Panchali deviates from traditional storytelling in a way that it feels fresh even in 2020. It is a feat that a few films are able to achieve. There seems to be no conflict in the life of characters but the conflict is interwoven in a way that it is not apparent but visible. The father is a struggling writer with dreams of becoming a playwright and alleviating his family out of poverty. He belongs to a lineage of prolific writers. The family lives in his ancestral home in the rural parts of Bengal where living each day is a constant struggle. The father occasionally goes off to town to earn money leaving his wife and two kids behind. Sometimes he goes off for months at end leaving the wife struggling to feed her children. He is unaware of the hardships the woman has to endure while he is away.
Although away most of the time, he loves his wife and two children and tries to keep them happy by doing whatever he can. It is a typical Indian family and the film is a collection of nuances of this family that are tied together. The conversations topics are generic throughout but interestingly written giving the viewer necessary information when needed.
The wife is the one who knows the pain of living in absolute destitution with the sole bread-earner of the house being away. She tries to tell her husband that they can move to a town where there are ample and better opportunities to earn a living but the husband politely declines the proposition stating that the house they are living in is his ancestral home and it is difficult for him to just leave it like that.
The kids, on the other hand, are cared for properly by the parents and they have a happy childhood together. Pather Panchali is actually a film about childhood that revolves around the siblings Durga and Apu. They are happy kids with their kiddish mischiefs creating small troubles for the mother. The mother has to listen to taunts from a neighbour because Durga takes a few guavas from their garden and Apu constantly runs around skipping meals. Both the children have one thing in common which is they want to see the train that can be heard in their home from afar. Durga knows where the railway tracks are and Apu convinces her to take him there.
Jumping ahead, at the end of the film, the father is totally convinced that the family should leave the village and move to a town. What changes? His daughter- Durga dies due to illness when he was away. It is that shock that convinces him to leave the village once and for all. The mother is relieved but the entire situation is bleak. Circumstances were never in their favour.
The hardship of the mother living alone with the children is mostly unknown to father. He cannot possibly understand the plight of the mother and it gets especially difficult for her when he does not write for months while being away. It is only after the father suffers personally after the death of his daughter that he understands, the house of his ancestors he cherishes deeply deserves much less importance than he gives it. In the beginning, it was impossible to leave this house but when his daughter dies he understands that family comes before a place to live and seemingly important things for him becomes least important.
This is the idea that I take from the film and as human beings, we are susceptible to illogical decisions that stem from our ignorance. If only we were able to think about something with more clarity. That would make things simple and possibly merrier.