Reviews

Pather Panchali

5

Indian cinema. It's all lurid colour, grandstanding spectacle and lung-bursting songs, right? Wrong. Satyajit Ray's humanistic masterpiece cut against the Bollywood grain in 1955, telling a simple story through the eyes of Apu (Subir Bannerjee), a six-year-old child.

Shot in poetic black and white by stills photographer Subrata Mitra, the `plot' is merely a succession of everyday events as Apu and his family eke out an existence in a small Bengal village. Food is prepared, wind and rain batter the landscape, someone dies. It's not, admittedly, the kind of stuff that'll have `em packing into the local multiplex.

What it is, however, is an understated, lyrical and deeply humbling film that perfectly captures the gentle rhythms of daily existence. It's also the movie that brought Indian cinema to the attention of Western audiences, for Pather Panchali (Song Of The Road) and its two sequels, Aparajito (1956) and Apur Sansar (1959), grabbed hearts and minds across the world - and a host of festival awards at Cannes, Venice and London. The Apu Trilogy, as it is known, follows Apu through a move to Calcutta, his education, an arranged marriage and the deaths of his parents and wife.

Incredibly, Ray had never directed a scene before Pather Panchali, Mitra had never shot one, and the children who were cast hadn't even been tested. Just how this team of novices fashioned one of cinema's enduring classics is a miraculous mystery.

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