Pather Panchali, 1955

A young girl named Durga (Runki Banerjee) ventures into the neighbor’s orchard that was once owned by her family, and picks some guavas for her great aunt, Indir (Chunibala Devi). The neighbors detect the incident, and complain loudly of Durga’s undisciplined behavior for her mother, Sarbajaya (Karuna Banerjee) to overhear. Sarbajaya, in turn, scolds Indir for encouraging Durga’s behavior, and the infuriatingly stubborn old woman packs her belongings and moves into the house of a nearby relative. But all is quickly forgiven when Sarbajaya gives birth to a son, Apu, and Indir returns home. The well-intentioned father, Hari Ray (Kanu Banerjee), has uprooted his family from the city of Banaras in order to follow in the footsteps of his ancestors – a long and well respected lineage of scholars and spiritual leaders – and he is determined to provide a good life for his family in his place of birth. But the road proves to be a difficult one. The ancestral home is in a state of disrepair. The family orchard has been relinquished in order to settle his brother’s debts. Hari’s employment opportunities are few and far between, and often involve spending long periods of time away from his family. It is a hard existence for the Rays, but one that is filled with love and a deep sense of loyalty to tradition and family. Hari reassures Sarbajaya that his new job and his original compositions will bring his family prosperity. However, years later, little has changed. A young Apu (Subir Bannerjee) is sent to a village school in order to learn the religious rites of his father’s profession, and Durga (Uma Das Gupta), approaching the age of marriage, continues to smuggle fruit to her great aunt Indir. Sarbajaya believes that the family should return to Banaras in order to have better opportunities, and when tragedy strikes, the family makes the agonizing choice to leave the beloved village.

From the opening scene of Pather Panchali, the first film of the acclaimed Apu Trilogy, Satyajit Ray strikes a graceful balance between nostalgic idealism and poignant realism. The lyrical soundtrack sets the vitality and visual poetry of the film, and echo the long, lingering shots of the small village road. In essence, the road is the metaphor for life: from Hari’s travels in search of employment, to the children’s adventures following the candy vendor and searching for a train, to the family’s bittersweet departure from the village. Pather Panchali is literally translated as the “Song of the Little Road”. Another translation defines it as an elegy. It is neither. Pather Panchali is a serene, graceful, and haunting universal symphony – a beautiful, understated celebration of the wonder of life and the interminable courage of the human soul.

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