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PATHER PANCHALI (1955, IND) – 9/10

Satyajit Ray is, without competition, the greatest and most important representative of Indian cinema. The father of Indian cinema as he is called, a director who completely transformed Indian cinema, and he influenced a whole galaxy of later authors not only from India, but also from the rest of Asia and the world. “Pather Panchali” or “Song of the Road” was also his debut film, and it is also the first part of his trilogy about Apu, which he later continued with the films “Aparajito” and “Apu’s World”. Here we meet the title character of all three films, namely Apu, as a boy who lives with his family in rural Bengal. Ray made a film based on the novel of the same name by a writer whose name I will surely misspell – Bibhutibushana Bandyopadhyaya, and who knows how to pronounce it, I treat him to Badel’s mirogojček.

The time of the action is around 1910, and Apu’s father dreams of becoming a poet and playwright, but he survives by working as some kind of village priest or shaman. His wife Sarbajaya takes care of Apu and his sister Durga, as well as an old cousin, a skinny grandmother who weighs less than 30 kilos. And it’s a hard life, children are more often hungry than full, and all this will lead the father to make the difficult decision to move to the city. And he shot Ray “Pather Panchali” in a realistic, almost naturalistic style and everything seems incredibly authentic, real. And while my first association with an Indian film is that unwatchable kitsch with that irritating music and some kind of howling, Ray’s work is the complete opposite of that.

It is quite obvious that his style was decisively influenced by Italian neorealism, which he encountered when he lived in London for six months in the early fifties. During that period, he watched numerous then current films, and after seeing De Sica’s “Bicycle Thieves” he vowed that he too would be involved in film. And indeed, at the end of 1952, he started shooting “Pather Panchali” in which he invested his own savings, hoping that financing would come when he shot the first frames. Unfortunately, this did not happen and therefore the shooting lasted more than two and a half years, and practically as soon as it appeared, “Pather Panchali” became a canonical film of Indian cinema.

“Pather Panchali” was also screened in Cannes, and Ray then instantly became a favorite of the world’s film critics and an absolute star in the film world, who was enthralled by this completely new approach for Asian films at the time. Especially Ray was revered for his humanistic approach, and so is the story of his first film. It is an emotional and touching almost documentary drama about the lives of ordinary Indians, poor people who, despite their almost daily existential worries, manage to find some joy in life. Although a good part of the crew who acted and were in the production had no film experience, they made a film that became one of the most important in Indian cinema, and Ray then turned into an auteur whom Scorsese placed side by side with his contemporaries such as are Bergman, Fellini and Kurosawa.