Finally managed to watch the cult classic of Satyajit Ray “Pather Panchali” his first film and the first of the Apu trilogy made in 1955. This has been digitally restored in colour and has English sub titles.
Haunting story of Sarabajaya Roy (Karuna Banerjee), story of Durga Roy (Runki Banerjee/ Uma Dasgupta) – story of their plight and suffering in a rural Bengal mileau in the 1920s. Sarabajaya’s husband Haraihar Roy (Kanu Banerjee) is a priest but has to take up odd jobs in order to survive with his family. They stay with an old aunt Indir Thakrun (Chunibala Devi) and Apu (Subir Banerjee) is yet to be born. Chunibala Devi has done a delightful role as the old tootless bent but caring aunt.
Apu gets born and there is joy in the family due to birth of a son, and subtle degradation of Durga starts from that point. Anything Apu asks for or does is doted upon anything Durga asks or does is frowned upon. They don’t go to school, girls are married of at 14 itself.
The family has to suffer the taunts of their better off neighbours but some of them do help and commiserate with their plight. Harihar gets a job in town so leaves the family with hopes, but nary a letter from him for months reduces Sarabajaya to an abject despair. Meanwhile, the money starts running out so do the grains.
Heavy rain storms bring more misery to the family as their humble abode is completely wrecked while Durga and Apu enjoy the rains, being kids, Durga later on falls sick and there is an old wizened man to give his doctor’s verdict. Apply more wet cloth as the fever raises. Devastating scene when Harihar returns home and realises his darling Durga is no more. That scene when the father gives a sari which he bought as a gift for Durga to her mother and the mother crumbling down helplessly gutted me.
The silent suffering Sarabajaya magnificently played by Karuna Banerjee is the highlight of the movie. I am surprised she did not win any acting accolades for her role in the movie. It is absolutely one of the most beautiful roles played by any lady in any film in India. She is breathtaking. She makes the movie come alive with her raw emotions of suffering, despair, happiness, pain, anguish, worry, and love.
Uma Dasgupta playing the role of teenage Durga is the next best thing to happen in the movie. With her twinkling eyes, she enraptures the audience and behind that naughtiness is an emotion of understanding, of responsibility of caring for her little brother.
Apu played by Subir Banerjee with his naughty eyes, disheveled hair, sprightly running holds a mirror to what young kids be like irrespective of the cultures they are brought up in. There is a haunting scene, when immediately after Durga’s death the young Apu, comes out of the ramshackle house, neatly dressed, takes a comb and burnishes his hair properly, looks up at the sky to see if the rain beckons, goes inside the house to pick up an umbrella, tucks it under his armpits and goes out seriously. That is the scene when boy become man in the movie.
The movies is neo realist in the sense that locations are actual villages with farms, ponds, trees, etc. Music by Ravi Shankar is haunting, while cinematography and photography are breathtaking to say the least. Satyajit Ray has run a nice tight script and being his debut film which won the National film award and also the Cannes, it is highly commendable.