From the User’s Guide to Indian Films Intro
The movies described in the User’s Guide are the hit list of Indian cinema. They’re not only the best films of all time, but they give you the best glimpse of what Indians enjoy, their sense of tragedy and comedy, their aspirations, their regrets. In short, it’s a visual chronicle of Indian society in the last fifty years. Enjoy.
Week 2: Pather Panchali (“Song of the Little Road”)
1955, B&W, Bengali.
Dir: Satyajit Ray
If Raj Kapoor is the master of Indian commercial cinema, India’s art-house maestro is Satyajit Ray. Lionized in the last fifteen years by critics and filmmakers like Pauline Kael, Louis Malle and Martin Scorsese, Ray is India’s most well known director in the West. See Pather Panchali, Ray’s first film, and you’ll understand why. Ray takes the story of a young boy, Apu, and his family in a remote village and elevates it into an epic narrative of loss and survival. The grainy realism of Vittorio de Sica’s The Bicycle Thief, served as an inspiration for Ray’s filmmaking style. But, his unique visual documentation of the character’s environment, the dense, sultry jungle of rural West Bengal, its tranquility, its rain, its heat, remains the most palpable experience of the film. The shot of Apu’s sister playing in the midst of the monsoon rains, twirling round and round in delirious excitement, her long hair flying across her face, her drenched sari clinging to her wiry body, is one of the most painterly visions ever put on film. But Pather Panchali is a story about poverty, and Ray understands that nature, for all its beauty, is equivocal. The Apu Trilogy—Pather Panchali, Aparajito, and The World of Apu—unfolds like a Greek saga, where each of the three phases of Apu’s life, boyhood, adolescence, adulthood, is marked by the death of a loved one, a woman. After each stage we see him struggle, harden, and ultimately, accept what life has left him. In a country that clings to the concept of karma, Ray’s films resonate with haunting clarity and sadness.
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