Revisiting Pather Panchali

Updated on Oct 07, 2005 06:45 PM IST

The 50th year of Pather Panchali is being globally marked with a variety of tributes.

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PTI | BySanjay Kaul Rawal, New Delhi

The 50th year of Pather Panchali is being globally marked, most recently by Cinefan 2005, where the film is the Centrepiece of the festival.

Any magnum opus by an artist is generally brilliant. But brilliance is not a one-time achievement. Most of them fall flat on a redo. It is only the repetition of excellence that sets apart a maestro from a mediocre.

The mere fact that the recent Cannes Film Festival opened this year with Ray magnum opus Pather Panchali speaks volumes about Ray's genius acknowledged the world over. In fact, this year also marked  the 50 years of making of Pather Panchali. No wonder then his trilogy has been selected by Time magazine among 100 great films

His first film Pather Panchali went on to win the prestigious award at the Cannes Film Festival way back in 1955. However, Ray was not to be a one time wonder.  He followed one film after other with repeated successes. In the process, Ray evolved his unique distinct style & genre of films for the younger creed of directors to study and follow. 

After overcoming innumerable difficulties in filmmaking that ranged from locational faux pas to financing the film and availability of artists for his project  plus facing other occupational hazards Ray finally completed his first film. He went onto make a sequel with

Aparajito

(1956) and completed the Apu Trilogy with

Apur Sansar

in 1959.

"I became a film fan while still at school. I avidly read Picturegoer and Photoplay... At some point in my early college years, my interest shifted from the stars to the directors...  Interest in (stars like Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Gary Cooper and Cary Grant was giving way to an interest in Ernst Lubitsch, John Ford, Frank Capra, William Wyler, George Stevens et al. At this point I chanced upon an issue of Sight & Sound  (magazine) and became a subscriber.  I was no longer interested in just what the stars were doing, but... what were the characteristics that distinguished the work of one director fro another.' says Ray in his biography, My Years With Apu.

After schooling, he had brief stay at a Shantiniketan.  The serene atmosphere there made him think about himself and his future clearly. " (Initially) I had decided to become a commercial artist ... So I did enroll as a student in the Arts Department in Shantiniketan in 1940 - the campus was surrounded by villages where we used to go to sketch," says Ray.

It was while working at an advertising agency in Kolkata that Ray read the Bhibhuti Bhusan Bannerji's novel Pather Panchali,  as he to make illustrations of the same for an abridged version. This was to be an opportunity in work-clothes as it was to be his first interaction with the future Apu Trilogy films.

Fortunately for him, Ray got an opportunity to spent six months abroad in London on an official tour from his advertising company in 1950. This six-month sojourn gave him an opportunity to see as many as ninety odd films while abroad. He learnt many techniques and things experimented the world over. But the real inspiration was to be Vitorio de Sica's, Bicycle Thief.  After seeing this movie, Ray was convinced that it was almost the treatment he wanted to give his film back home.

On his voyage back to India on the ship, Ray thought and completed the treatment he would give to Pather Panchali... " I had absolutely no doubt in my mind that I would become a film maker, starting my career with Pather Panchali.",  says  Ray.

The initial teething troubles were a learning process for Ray & Co.  Many real-time incidents and problems that the film-crew encountered looked funny & desperate.

While making Pather Panchali  there were many frustrating incidents for crew, like poor results of   blowing a 16mm format film to bigger format size; or the Kaash fields selected for shooting being eaten up by stray animals; or suddenly the coffers of the film-unit becoming short of funds; the months of wait for arranging the funds to resume shooting. But the patience and the perseverance of the team paid in the end.

Ray says about the days of making his first-film," The early setbacks notwithstanding, my fund of optimism was inexhaustible."

His brilliance was shown by his eye for detail. Set in black and white, the some of the Ray films have treatment of a painting canvass and leave a lasting effect. The frames are full, visually arresting and communicating. The theme is gripping to the extent of involving the viewer as a participant. 
The communication unfolds in a manner that the viewer is in grip of the script. It is not as though loud dialogues have been used to communicate. Silence many times conveys thousands of emotions. Despite the technical difficulties of filming those days, it does not appear as a bad-job put together. Himself an artist, Ray has eye for detail, sometimes even for simple things.

And his first film is a fitting testament to his greatness.

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