Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Pather Panchali (1955)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Pather Panchali (1955, India) (aka Song of the Road, or Lament of the Path)

In Indian director Satyajit Ray's first film, the low-budget, visually-poetic, coming-of-age drama (the greatest Indian film of all-time) - it was the first of an "Apu Trilogy" followed by Aparajito (1956) (aka The Unvanquished) and Apur Sansar (1959) (aka The World of Apu). It presented a rambling but realistic portrayal (or "slice-of-life") of low-class poverty in India - backed by sitar ragas of famed Ravi Shankar and the performances of many non-professional actors:

  • the film displayed the poverty-stricken lives of a small Brahmin family in the impoverished, rural Bengal village of Nischindipur beginning in the year 1910 through the 1920s
  • the head of the household in the rural village was Harihar "Hari" Ray (Kanu Bannerjee) - a well-intentioned dreamer (an aspiring playwright and poet) and part-time Hindu temple priest (pujari), but a passive husband and terrible provider; he was currently being cheated out of being paid by a rich landlord for performing religious rituals months earlier; he could never earn enough to support the family; however, he kept repeating that he was hopeful: "Whatever God wills is for the best"
  • his overworked, self-sacrificing, depressed and harried wife Sarbojaya Ray (Karuna Bannerjee) was worried about feeding her children, and vainly dreamed for a better life in a less isolated place, including two good meals a day and new clothes twice a year; Hari promised her: "In two years, we'll be living in comfort, free of debt"

Harihar "Hari" Ray (Kanu Bannerjee)

Sarbojaya Ray (Karuna Bannerjee), the Wife

Auntie Indir Thakrun (Chunibala Devi)
  • as the film opened, their young daughter, 6 year-old Little Durga (Runki Banerjee as young girl) was observed in the household's compound with the elderly, stooped-backed, toothless, wrinkled crone - Hari's penniless, story-telling sister - Aunt Indir Thakrun (Chunibala Devi), who did nothing to discourage the young and naughty Durga from stealing fruit from the wealthy neighbor's (the Mukherjees) mango-guava fruit grove and garden once owned by her family, but had to be relinquished to pay Hari's brother's debts
  • the burdened and stressed Sarbojaya continually scolded the Auntie for encouraging the spoiled and often lazy but clever Durga to commit thievery of fruit for her, and for stealing oil, salt, and chilis from the family's kitchen (over an eight year period)
  • the film's point-of-view would be told through the eyes of Durga and her mother; after their youngest child, Apu (Subir Banerjee) was joyfully born into the family, the film jumped ahead to six years later, as small-framed Apu and his free-spirited older sister Durga (Uma Das Gupta as older) often played together
  • the film surveyed the progression of simple daily life and survival, including meal preparation, the children as mischievous playmates who without money, chased after the traveling, pot-bellied sweets (candy) vendor Chinibas (Haren Banerjee) (who advertised "Delicious fried cream, sweet lentil balls, coconut candies, chandrapuli, sweet cheese balls"); the two siblings often played childhood games, teased and squabbled with each other, and experienced the world together
  • problems arose when Durga was accused of stealing a beaded necklace from Tunu, the daughter of their rich Mukherjee neighbors; although Durga and her mother claimed her innocence, the accusations were troubling and distressing for Sarbojaya, who heard the daughter's gossipy mother also decry her as a thief for raising a child with the propensity to steal: "Like mother, like daughter: a pair of thieves"; afterwards, Sarbojaya angrily dragged Durga by the hair as punishment
  • Durga often socialized with her neighboring young girlfriends and spoke to Ranu Mukherjee (Rama Gangopadhaya) who told her that she was already engaged to be married in a few months time; Durga and Apu attended a local folk-dance musical theatre production put on by an itinerant troupe of performers (featuring a sword fight between a Warrior and a Serpent King), exciting Apu's imagination
  • an argument erupted between them when the childish Apu stole some silver paper from Durga's toy-box to construct a make-believe crown for himself; their mother broke the two of them up, and harshly reprimanded her now-adolescent daughter: "You're too old for a toy box now" - it was a defining moment for the two siblings who were now defined and separated by their ages; Durga called her brother "stupid" for dressing up as a prince
  • Apu chased after Durga as she ran a long distance through an adjacent meadow of tall grass and rice fields; along the way, they stopped to listen to the humming sound of electrical power in an energy grid tower; they came upon distant railway tracks to await the thundering roar and whistling of an approaching train; the two watched in awe and were thrilled to see a big steam engine pass by (a symbol of promise and a more modern world of the future)
Durga and Apu in a Tall Meadow of Grass and Rice Fields
- Watching a Passing Train
  • parallel to this narrative part of the story, Sarbojaya cast the Auntie out of the household for bringing more embarrassing shame by selfishly begging for a shawl from a relative and for not helping to support the family; the Auntie departed and was allowed to stay in a nearby home for a few days; but then the old woman returned to the family home, not feeling well, to live out her last days: ("I'd like to spend my last days in the old home"), Indir was again heartlessly ordered to leave by Sarbojaya (who watched without saying goodbye)
  • as the happy children returned home on their way back from viewing the train, they discovered their Auntie's slumped-over dead body in the forest
  • the next day, the family's head of household Harihar Ray departed, promising to find work for a farmer in a nearby market town; as he walked from the village, he gave his children a few coins to view pictures through the street vendor's captivating bioscope; Hari's promised work for a bereaving farmer wasn't possible, and he was forced to continue to search for work farther away (relayed through a postcard to his wife)
  • Hari was absent for many months without any communication with his family; the impoverished Sarbojaya became desperate for food and was forced to pawn off her dowry kitchenware; the proud Sarbojaya became ashamed when a neighbor offered her money; promising news came by letter that Hari was soon returning home with money
  • one of the film's most dramatic sequences was of torrential, destructive and deadly monsoon rains that flooded the landscape, prefaced by the dance of water spiders on the surface of the pond; it brought a lethal chill of pneumonia to Durga after she impulsively played too long outside during the initial downpour; when a doctor said there was no cause for alarm, she promised Apu to return to see the train after she recovered, before she became very ill
  • the storm's whistling winds shook the door of their hut and were accompanied by the image of Ganesh (the beloved, good-luck Hindu deity with an elephant's head) illuminated by the flickering flame of an oil lamp; Durga perished from fever and respiratory exposure in the arms of her mother; the flame went out - and the statue of Ganesh was then only visible during lightning flashes and strikes; Sarbojaya was absolutely grief-stricken and in shock

Durga's Severe Illness and Death

Statue of Elephant-Headed Ganesh - Seen in Flashes of Lightning
  • the next day, Hari returned home after being long-overdue - coming back after five months of seeking work; he was stunned by the devastation of the village and the intense quiet at his home; however, he was also jubilant about his good luck, bringing back money and gifts of a wooden pastry-board and rolling pin, and a picture of goddess Lakshmi for his wife; when he handed his wife the gift of a new sari for Durga, she sobbed and sank to the ground clutching the gift; in the film's most eloquent wordless, grieving moment, Hari realized that his daughter Durga had died in his absence
  • in the film's conclusion set a few days later, the family was packing up - forced to move and make a bittersweet departure from Hari's ancestral home (of three generations) to the city of Benares to find better living conditions; just prior to the family's departure, Apu was astounded to discover the beaded necklace that Durga denied having stolen, hidden in a half-coconut shell on a shelf; to cover up her theft and discard the evidence, Apu threw it into the nearby pond water where it was submerged and concealed under the algae
  • the final image, after a view of a snake slithering into their abandoned home, was of the stoic family sitting on the back of a bullock-cart, headed toward Benares and the ghat on the Ganges River referenced earlier where priests could make money by singing and reciting from the scriptures

Little Durga (Runki Banerjee)

Little Durga With Her Auntie

Young Apu (Subir Banerjee)

Older Durga (Uma Das Gupta as older)

Auntie Indir with Older Durga - Still Providing Her With Stolen Fruit

Young Apu with His Mother

Durga (on right) Accused of Stealing Neighbor Daughter's Beaded Necklace

Mother Breaking Up Argument Between Durga and Young Apu: "You're too old for a toy-box now"

Durga and Apu Returning Home to Find The Slumped Over Dead Auntie

Hari With Presents For His Somber Wife

Wife's Grieving Reaction to the Gift of a Sari for Durga

Apu's Discovery of the Stolen Beaded Necklace

Family's Departure on an Ox-Cart to Find a New Home in Benares


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