Pather Panchali also known as ‘Song of the Little Road,’ is a groundbreaking drama film directed by Satyajit Ray in his directorial debut and funded by the West Bengal Government, the film is based on a 1929 novel of the same name by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay. The cast includes mostly newcomers like Subir Banerjee, Kanu Banerjee, and Karuna Banerjee, among others. The film is the first installment in Ray’s Apu Trilogy and explores the struggles of young Apu and his sister Durga as they navigate the hardships of rural life in a financially struggling family.
The film’s production faced numerous challenges, including financial constraints and a largely inexperienced crew, and took almost three years to complete. Despite these obstacles, the film was shot primarily on location and featured a memorable soundtrack composed by sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar, based on traditional Indian ragas. Subrata Mitra managed the cinematography, while Dulal Dutta took care of the editing.
After its initial screening at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in May 1955, the film was released in Calcutta to critical and commercial success, although it didn’t turn a significant profit until the early 1980s. It received accolades from both the Chief Minister of West Bengal and the Prime Minister of India. While the film has been lauded for its realism and emotional depth, some critics have found its pacing slow and have criticized its romanticized depiction of poverty.
Academic discussions around the film often focus on its lyrical and realistic storytelling, influenced by Italian neorealism, as well as its nuanced portrayal of the complexities and simple joys of everyday life.
The story of Apu continues in the subsequent films of the trilogy, ‘Aparajito’ (The Unvanquished, 1956) and ‘Apur Sansar’ (The World of Apu, 1959). ‘Pather Panchali’ is considered a milestone in Indian cinema, contributing to the Parallel cinema movement that emphasized authenticity and social realism. The film garnered international acclaim, winning India’s National Film Award for Best Feature Film in 1955 and the Best Human Document award at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival, among other honors. It is frequently cited in compilations of the greatest films of all time and solidified Ray’s reputation as a leading figure in Indian filmmaking.