Why do we watch a movie? For different reasons all right! But the most basic reason is that we want to have a good time, relax, enjoy and unwind from a tiring day and the most important element we look for in the movie is entertainment. How often do we watch a movie for the sheer brilliance of the maker and for the splendor of his creation! Which is why, I am very happy that I watched Pather Panchali last week. I had tried watching it a month ago but couldn’t and eventually returned the movie. I am glad it gave me a second chance by getting into my line of sight at the library last week again. Otherwise I would have been deprived of what is considered as one of the greatest films ever made.
The movie starts with a cute little girl stealing guavas from an orchard (that was once theirs). She then comes home and silently hides it in her grandmother’s basket. The expression in the face of the old lady (who has been neglected by everyone else), when she sees that fruit is one gem that wouldn’t leave your memory soon. And I tell you: Not many movies make me cry. Well, Pather Panchali means “Song of the Road” or “Lament of the Path”. To me it is a beautiful song of a loving family, filled with joy and pain, love and anguish. It is the best human document I have ever seen!
The story is a painful chapter in the lives of an impoverished family living in the decrepit ancestral home in a small village. The father, Harihar, is a simpleton who earns a meager living as a priest and is easily exploited by others. But he is very talented and dreams of being an author of scholarly plays and poems. His wife’s character Sarbajaya, is a beautiful portrayal of a struggling embittered woman who carries the family along, listens to the taunts of her neighbors and perennially worries about their future. You hate her when she asks the old lady to leave the house, but you feel for her when she tells her husband that she also had dreams. Her struggle to make ends meet everyday is a painful tale, remarkably told.
And then there are Durga and Apu. They bring you the smiles. And then the tears! They are the doting and playful brother and sister. They share the simple joys of life, such as sitting quietly under a tree, chasing each other, running through the fields to catch a glimpse of a speeding train, running after the candy man who passes through the village, watching a famous play and viewing pictures in a bioscope shown by a traveling vendor. To me, Pather Panchali is a story of Durga. Her touching relationship with her granny, her playful love and motherly affection towards Apu, her longing to be a woman and her fascination for marriage, her penchant to stealing: all make her a fascinating character that is at the heart of this story. She melts your heart when she covers Apu as they are getting drenched in the rain and says: “Rain rain go away”. And when she eventually dies of fever, storm, incessant rains and lack of medical or financial help, all the pain, suffering and misery that grip the family will engulf you and you will feel a lament deep down in your soul!
Finally there is the old aunt who seeks refuge in the house. The hardships faced by the old lady in the house will prick your heart. That was the reason I gave up on this movie a month ago. I just couldn’t bear her predicament. The way she is questioned, scolded and ill-treated will melt your heart. It is torturously painful to see her shuttle between the two houses for shelter and food and then eventually die, abandoned, under a tree. The scene where she is asked to leave and she waits with a longing look in her eyes hoping against hope to be called back is just too much to handle. And all this with no drama, exactly how it happens in real life, which is what makes it even more shocking and disturbing.
I can go on but will not. There are several memorable scenes in the movie that will just mesmerize you. They are very simple but have an amazing depth in portraying the ever so complex human emotions and hence are very compelling. They leave you spell bound. The scene towards the end of the movie where Apu finds a necklace that Durga had earlier denied having stolen and throws it into the pond is very deep and intriguing. The soul-stirring music and the brilliantly shot scenes, artistic and realistic at the same time, filled with little nuances of human emotion lend a poetic brilliance and lyrical realism to this movie which in the end ceases to be one. All you see is life unfolding in front of you. The final sight of the family leaving the village in an ox-cart with the sad memory of a lost one in their hearts will stay in your eyes and hearts forever!