Author: Bolai Chatterjee
I had seen the maestro’s film as a child, as a teenager, as a newlywed, and as I greyed my hair to eventual whiteness. This sheer poetry on celluloid has offered me different suggestions at different times…much akin to my changing perspective on almost all matters as the shadows got longer for me.
As a child, the tragedy of the story was so impactful that I cried, inconsolably, on Durga’s death. My parents had a real tough time consoling me on the journey back home from the cinema hall. Such was the impact, that I, otherwise a pugnacious brother, immediately stopped quarrelling with my sister and started being delicate and nice to her. Also, in school, I stopped bullying fellow girl students.
In my teens, I found Durga extremely desirable. She spends her days stealing fruit from her aunt, playing with the kittens, and run around with the other village children. I could identify myself with her as I would do the same in my own way, in the city where we lived, which was just developing. The shades of a simple village were still lingering as the concrete jungle was slowly in the making.
Sometime later I just could not endure Sarbojaya, who comes down hard on Durga for stealing in order to save face with the bickering neighbours, yet she herself is found stealing fruits, afterward. Her regret, as Bibhutibabu unfolded in the book, was strangely missed out from the film.
As a married man, I found Sarbojaya is confined in the walls of their small home for most of the film, trapped by anxiety, worry, and responsibilities. I thought Sarbojaya is the weakest character of the film, but I don’t think that’s Ray’s intention at all. Sarbojaya is deeply flawed because she burdens herself with worries, instead of following her husband’s simple submitting to whatever God wills. Her trust in God is never reflected. Even minutes before Durga’s death, she never asks God for mercy as all mothers in India would.
Again, when even older, I found the film hardly ever shows him engaged in the higher religious functions that come with being a priest. There’s not a single line of preach, not a suggestion of formal religious rituals.
When I again saw the film, I found Indir Thakurun doing needlework in the evening. It was and still is believed as a bad omen in Bengal. Also it’s almost impossible for such an aged person to see the thread through the eye of the needle.
Nothing in the film is as loud as the snake entering a household!!!
P.S My feelings are purely personal and my write-up is in the capacity of an ordinary cinema lover. I am not a Daniel who has come for judgement. Pather Panchali still continues to be “the greatest Human Document” to me and probably the rest of the world.
Freelance journalist, edits various small magazines, ardent fan of Manik Da … Raycist in nature