When Satyajit Ray was making Pather Panchali in the 1950s, he could not possibly have known that five decades later, the film will remain relevant for cinema enthusiast across the world, and feature in the list of best films for years to come. Surprisingly, the icon of art house cinema, was confident that he was not making a film for a niche audience but the general mass.
The scene where Apu and Durga run to see a train thunder past them
He wrote in an article for a film magazine, “I think it can be stated as a general rule that the main incentive that keeps a director going with his job on a film is the hope that a great many people will pay to see the finished product and like it. In other words, he expects to make a hit and is goaded by the expectation. That is as it should be…I had my own ideas of what makes a film popular, which did not, as it happened, run counter to my ideas of what makes a good film.”
The strict village teacher
And popular it was. A kind of popularity that cannot be measured in mere numbers but which transcends box office collections and enters drawing rooms and kitchens and becomes a part of the every day of the viewers. It crossed boundaries of languages, cultures and nations and moved filmmakers, authors and artists, who would even go on to become the masters of their craft, for decades to come.
Before Pather Panchali, Ray worked with Renoir for the film The River, which he shot in Kolkata
One such Indian master, who grew up with Pather Panchali, is Adoor Gopalakrishnan. The director has wriitten in a film journal that for him the film marks the beginning of a different kind of meaningful cinema in the country. “This one film, for the first time, for all Indians to note, asserted in no unequivocal terms that cinema was an art and it cannot be relegated to a corner as a sheer vehicle of ‘entertainment.”
Ray waiting for the right weather during the shoot of Pather Panchali
It is natural then that paraphernalia of this film is a treasure and certainly the sketchbook, which in itself was an innovative idea by Ray to narrate the script to disinterested producers. For he writes in a newspaper article, “After listening to a script, he (the producer) yawns, snaps his fingers and remarks, “Then there is no song in your film!"'
The Pather Panchali Sketchbook edited by Sandip Ray, Harper Collins, Rs 1699
But then the original copy of this sketchbook is now lost. Ray had donated it to Cinematheque Francais in Paris but when, in his final days, he expressed a desire to have a look at the sketchbook he was informed that it was missing.
The film's poster
The tragedy was undone partly when Sandip Ray, his son, found a scanned copy of the book from the office of the Criterion Collection and eventually came out with the book The Pather Panchali Sketchbook this year.
The book, offers a wonderful glimpse into an early stage of the film and comes with the earliest reviews and articles by film stalwarts and Ray himself about the film and the times.