Thursday, November 26, 2009

Pather Panchali ( 1955 ): melodies from a past life-time

It seems like a diary of one's own life or a surface of water in which one can catch reflections of one's own soul.  It is a film that brings smiles, laughter and tears. It is a beautiful, beautiful film.

It is the most authentically  Indian of all films.

Not because of the poverty or backwardness it depicts but because it captures something common to the people of this subcontinent, the way their spirit has evolved through the ravages of time and environment. That is why I have that uncanny sense of identity--in terms of landscape, body language, music, speech and the way the minds of the characters work. I felt quite a tinge of regret not to know the language of the film, which seems half known even though it scarcely is. Because it is so authentic and truthful, pouring from the original wellspring of life, it is universal. In the sense that a true portrait of one individual is a portrait of humanity as a whole, a film that truthfully captures the life of one family in a village of Bengal in the first quarter of the last century must speak of people everywhere.

It is the story of Hari and his wife Sarbajaya, an impoverished couple, and their two children, Durga and Apu, and the granny of the house. The joys of childhood cannot be eclipsed by  hunger and malnutrition. The small ancestral house badly needs repair, specially to ward of the storms and downpours of the monsoon. The flat paddy fields stretch on all sides, and beyond the steam locomotive's distant wail beats time. The pathways on which the village children run and play are surrounded by banyan trees twisted with age and sometimes the sweet-seller jaunts along with his mouth watering wares which some children can afford and other's can't. And there are travelling play actors and a bioscope man to display the wonders of far-off  Delhi, Mumbai and Calcutta.

And death knocks at the door.

 Just before they decide to leave the village in search of a better livelihood, Apu throws the stolen string of beads into the murky pond- an act of anger, defiance and self-formation. The secret which belongs to him alone is now buried along with the memories of shared childhood in the receding village. It is a scene of  inspired, electrifying  simplicity.

The portrait of the long suffering Sarbajaya is a moving portrait of womanhood in all it's complexity, fortitude, weaknesses and maddona like beauty. And Durga, the innocence of dawning adolescence. Apu is to unravel in the sequels.

*Satyajit Ray (Wiki)* 125 minutes*
Roger Ebert's review

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