Most of the time I write about film here it tends to be about Hindi pictures, only because the majority of the small, but regular, stream of Indian films shown on UK television come from Bollywood.
But on Thursday morning Film 4 are showing a Bengali film widely acknowledged as a cinematic classic – not just one of the best Bengali films, or even Indian films, but one of the best films, full stop.
Pather Panchali (The Song of the Little Road) was Satyajit Ray’s debut film, and the first in a trilogy that also included Aparajito (The Unvanquished) and Apur Sansar (The World of Apu).
It is a charming, bitter-sweet tale of a rural family struggling to making a living and was based on a novel by the Bengali writer Bibhuti Bhushan Bandopadyay. The music is by Ravi Shankar and the central theme is just lovely, a really evocative piece of music that I never tire of hearing.
For the student of Bengali – beyond the treat of seeing a world-class film in Bengali – I found interesting things in the dialogue, such as Apu’s mother’s habit of shortening commands – Dekhi (for ‘show me’) and bos (a truncated bōsō, for ‘sit down’).
Released in 1955 the film was nearly three years in the making as Ray, a graphic designer by profession, scrapped together the money needed for filming, which took place at weekends and when he had leave from work.
Speaking of the film and this transitional period of his life Ray said:
The urge to make a film was irresistible, and I staked everything to make my first film. The critical and box-office success that I achieved ensured that I would continue making films – both for the pleasure that it gave me, and as a means of earning my livelihood. I have never regretted the decision to change my profession.
Film fans too have not regretted Ray’s decision, and the clip at the top of this post is US film director Martin Scorsese talking about Ray’s influence on him and how he, as a Sicilian American living in New York, first came to see Pather Panchali, cut with adverts and dubbed in English, on US television in the 1950s.
For today’s viewer there are a number of different slices of the film on YouTube, including this example, but a computer screen doesn’t compare to seeing the film properly, which you can do in you’re in the UK with access to Channel Four’s digital TV film channel later this week.
Pather Panchali will be shown on Film 4 on Thursday 29 April at 11am.