Bengali film director Satyajit Ray was inspired by the example of Italian neo-realist films such as Bicycle Thieves (1948) to make his own low-budget, open-air drama painting a naturalistic portrait of ordinary lives. Encouraged by Jean Renoir, whom he assisted during the filming of The River (1951), Ray set to work on an adaptation of a 1929 novel by Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay about a young boy growing up in an impoverished rural community.
Distinct from the more commercial Hindi films of the time, Pather Panchali announced the arrival of a humanistic, Calcutta-centred Indian art cinema, ultimately paving the way for the emergence of the Parallel Cinema movement of the 1960s. Among the film’s intensely memorable moments is a scene in which Apu (Subir Banerjee) and his sister run through a paddy field to catch a glimpse of a passing train.
“Here is a cinema of awakenings.” Sukhdev Sandhu
“A tour de force of humanist cinema, looking at a rural family which faces tragedies as well as stolen moments of happiness and togetherness. The influence of Jean Renoir, coupled with a fierce originality in its black-and-white visuals, still mark it out as the best Indian film ever made – and all achieved at a negligible budget.” Khalid Mohamed
“Ray’s classic was hailed internationally as a realist masterpiece but dismissed in India by some eminent citizens (who should have known better) as a film that did nothing but highlight Indian poverty for Western eyes. Looking at it today, you marvel at what Ray pulled off. He had a great sense of design and space, but to have created a film whose every frame captures time and place with such elegance and depth still takes you aback. To me, it is Indian cinema’s first truly modern film, at home in the world.” Shubhra Gupta