Pather Panchali

Dilip Basu is research professor of humanities and founding director of the Satyajit Ray Film and Study Center at UC Santa Cruz

The first film in Satyajit Ray's celebrated Apu Trilogy centers around the boy Apu's impoverished Brahmin family living in their ancestral village in rural Bengal. The father is a would-be poet, playwright, and priest; the mother, a realist terrorized by wicked neighbors and the prospect of tomorrow. In his quiet optimism and her despair, the family's days obtain an ongoing rhythm. But the film's unlikely driving force is found in Apu's sister Durga, who will steal all she can of life before death steals her; and in an ancient "Auntie," despised for clinging to life like a withering vine. Ravi Shankar's original score is the musical equivalent of Ray's completely visual storytelling, which is so liquid, so purely cinematic, it's strange to remember that it was based on a well-known 1928 novel. At Cannes this low-budget independent first film won a special prize-Best Human Document. It is still that.

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