Pather Panchali (1955). This film is somewhat what I’d expected from a World Cinema/Arthouse classic from this era. In the Guardian it was voted 12th of a poll of greatest arthouse films of all time. Initially, I’d thought the film was called Aparajito (The Unvanquished) but discovered just before writing this post that this is in fact the sequel title released the following year.
As with many classics, and especially one as original and unique coming out of developing third world country, it’s achievement is obvious. A lot of auteur filmmakers, working outside the mainstream Hollywood studios, would strive to create and explore a story that original to their vision probably under extremely harsh working conditions and economic disadvantages – that’s what I imagine, and the same restraints must’ve have been in place against independents like Roberto Rossellini, Sam Fuller, Ken Loach, Shane Meadows, Truffaut and Godard to name just a few.
PP is a familiar Oedipal type story, ‘Bildung’. A young boy attempts pursue an education and his future against a backdrop of traditions and prejudices that permeate the rural poverty stricken community around him. His main opponent is mother, who shames him, fears abandonment, and wants him to become a priest like his father. So the themes represented naturally focus on family values, responsibilities, and cultural changes and conflict brought on by a younger generation taking advantage of India modernity and industrialized economy, much to the dismay of their elders.
The film’s themes are universal and somehow timeless, and the film itself, although it takes place over a series of years, beginning with the death of the father and the mother’s financial struggles, before moving onto the boy’s development from preteen to adolescence, and then dilemma he faces whether to stay with his mother or go to colleague.
The film’s style is what signaled the new wave in Indian cinema, the ‘Parallel Movement’ or social realism, which seemed to indicative of European cinema. What critics would later describe of British and Italian films as ‘kitchen sink’ or ‘men in vests’ films. Films that attempted to expose or dramatize the harsh realities of everyday life among the poor working class. Perhaps the filmmakers were driven by some moral or political interest to show bleakness and poverty of workers.
Although Ray’s film shows the family struggling against poverty, and that of the peasants and farmers destitute and uneducated, it doesn’t focus on the brutality of this as a cause of death or malnutrition, it merely shows this as part of the natural cycle of ordinary living. Loved ones die and pass away from sickness, that’s life, there aren’t any dockworkers, gangsters, priests or policemen exploiting anyone as we see in On the Waterfront, Rocco and his Brothers or Last Exit to Brooklyn. The films montage’s simply juxtapoise the boy playing or learning in school with his parents working or travelling, either at home or in the community. I suppose this is what Ray and critics would refer to as a poetry of ordinary life, which I will also examine when I get around to watching Ozu’s Tokyo Story.
It’s strange because one can see the same themes and story of childhood, morality, aging, friendship, love, life and death repeated again and again in more contemporary films such as Rocky, Raging Bull, Boys in the Hood, City of God, Boyhood, Lost in Translation, Juno, Good Will Hunting and many more films.