Pather Panchali -The Beginning of the Indian Neo-realist Cinema

The beginning of Indian neo-realist cinema can be traced back to Satyajit Ray’s Bengali feature film, Pather Panchali (Song of the Little Road) which released in 1955. Prior to this, Indian films revolved around any one character of the film and the viewers were shown all other characters and the setting of the story through the perspective of that one character.


Neo-realist cinema took the focus off from any one character in the film, as also from the glitz and glamour of the studio and chose ordinary real life locations for shooting, adopting a “slice of life” approach. It didn’t work much in favor of the existing stars of the day, encouraging new talent and describing a lot of events not directly related to the narrative, at times making it elliptical.


Poverty played a running theme in Indian neo-realist cinema and it was so believed that there is an ability in the camera to mechanically reproduce reality through recording.


Based on the novel Pather Panchali by Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay the film featured mostly amateur actors and was made by an inexperienced crew. Many shots of the film reveal that the crew was a first timer. For example, in the train scene in which Apu and Durga are running to catch a glimpse of a train, the camera is not used at a 180 degree angle but is just moved from one side of the train track to another, therefore, before the cut the train is going from right to left and after the cut it goes from left to right.


The film is set in rural Bengal of the 1920s and narrates the lives of the young Apu and his family members who live together in their ancestral village, Nischindipur. Apu’s father,Harihar, earns a meager living as a priest which is barely enough to fill the somach of his family. He aspires to become a scholarly playwrigh and poetest but as of now, his family is in dire need of money. He however cannot ask his employer to overdue his wages at whose hand he is easily exploited. Harihar’s wife, Sarbajaya runs the house and takes care of their two children, Durga (daughter) and Apu (son) and her elderly sister-in-law, Indir Thakrun.Due to lack of resources Indir is treated as a heavy burden on the family by Sarbajaya.Indir is very old, toothless, and a hunchback ghostly figure who has only one other place to go for food and shelter but Indir is deeply attached to Apu’s family and prefers to live with them.


The film gives its viewers an insight into the Indian rural society, almost unedited. It indirectly projects the misery of the rural poor, the lack of basic amenities such as adequate medical and other facilities, the condition of women and the position of the man in the family, the trend of rural-urban migration in search of employment, family relations – the loving bond between a brother and a sister, the strict mother who scolds and shouts but also cares and loves and the relation of all other family members with each other. The film explicitly and beautifully narrates the daily chores of an ordinary household and transports its viewers to the India of the1920s and gives them a chance to “live” those moments.


The sounds in the film are kept natural and every little noise and rustle has been recorded in contrast to the films that are now made.


The film takes a dramatic turn after Indir is found dead in a field and Harihar moves to the city in search of employment.


The climax of the film is very touching and wells up every eye watching it.
To experience real life in the reel world, one must watch this award winning film!


Aditi Shorewal

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