Much like “Rashomon” opened the world to Japanese cinema, “Pather Panchali” introduced the rest of the world to Indian cinema, showing a vastly different and unforgiving look at the world from the innocent perspective of a child that would otherwise probably go unlooked. Films like “Pather Panchali” are the reason to watch foreign movies, the entire world is filled with as much wonder as there is tragedy. Every type of people has a story to tell, and film offers quite possibly the most human way to experience those stories.
The film follows the Roy family, who lives in a run down shack of a home, where the father (Kanu Banerjee) is not making ends-meet and only has a slim hope of success as a writer, but only if he leaves his family for several months. This leaves the mother (Karuna Banerjee) to fend for her children, Durga (Uma Dasgupta) and Apu (Subir Banerjee), with nothing but her wits and will, all while the rest of the village is convinced that Durga is thief and her aunt (Chunibala Devi) leeches off her very little food and supplies.
Yet under all of this, there is a honest sense of hope and optimism that permeates throughout the movie. The children take ever opportunity to savor every moment of innocence, while the parents seem to genuinely enjoy watching their children grow and enjoy themselves despite their less than ideal home. This is certainly helped due to most of the actors being a real family who live in similar squalor when the cameras aren’t rolling. It paints a harsh but uplifting view of India that was daring and bold for 1955. Hell, it would still be bold if it was filmed today.
“Pather Panchali” is certainly the most important Indian film of all time. Its honest depiction of the impoverished is striking and soulful. It is one of the rare films that transcends cultural and language barriers and speaks to anyone on a loving, passionate level.
Final Grade: A