Pather Panchali

The story of a very poor family struggling to make ends meet in a Bengali village in the 1920s. Harihar (Kanu Bannerjee) must cope with looking after an elderly relative, kleptomaniacal daughter, carefree infant son and her clueless husband as he does his best to provide for a family that never seems to catch any breaks.

There are many films in the 1001 list that, when watching, I can’t really see why they’ve been included, and it isn’t until afterwards (or during, if it’s really boring) when I read up on the film a little, that I discover there is some cultural significance or historical context within which the film can usually be appreciated as an achievement, but not necessarily enjoyed. Such is the case with Pather Panchali, for as I now know it is the first film of director Satyajit Ray, who would go on to direct various other films also included within the 1001 book: The Music Room, Aparajito and The World of Apu, with the latter two completing the Apu Trilogy, begun with this film. Pather Panchali also marks the first independent Indian film to garner international acclaim, so that at least answers the question of why it was in here.

So what was wrong with it? Well, nothing really, it just didn’t really feature a great deal in terms of plot or anything to engage my attention. Its just a rather plodding depiction of an Indian family’s life, and the sporadic ups amidst mostly downs that they endure. There are some nice moments – the joy cracking across the wizened face of the elderly relative when Harihar’s daughter Durga gives her a guava stolen from the neighbour’s orchard, Durga and her younger brother Apu encountering a train – but once again I’m getting rather tired of watching depressing films. As such, I really don’t have that much to discuss about the film.

The most annoying aspect of this film is that its the start of a trilogy, all of which appear on the 1001 list (and the Empire 5-star 500 List, for reasons that will hopefully become clear once I’ve seen the rest of the trilogy). Before watching, all I knew about Pather Panchali was that it was the start of this trilogy, titled the Apu Trilogy, so I was expecting it to be about someone called Apu. Therefore, once he was born, I expected him to be the central figure of the story, but was surprised when he was kept mostly to the sidelines. I’m sure he’ll become more prominent in the later films, but I’ll try not to anticipate that, just in case he doesn’t and I become even more disappointed later. Aparajito and The World of Apu are the next two films in my LoveFilm queue, so I should be getting to them fairly soon, as long as I can bring myself to actually watch them.

In short, I’m chalking this film up alongside the likes of The Jazz Singer, Battleship Potemkin and Olympia as being a historical moment in cinema, but one that I’m not keen to repeat, and definitely cannot recommend.

Choose life 5/10

2 thoughts on “Pather Panchali

  1. I really enjoyed Pather Panchali because of its simple innocence. In my opinion it is the best one of the trilogy so if you didn't enjoy this one you'll probably be very bored by the others.I'd be interested to know what you think of Cinema Paradiso because it is very similar in that it is a tale of innocence through time.

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