What makes “Panther Pachali” a masterpiece?

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What makes “Panther Pachali” a masterpiece?

Who hasn’t heard of the Panther Pachali book? Set in rural Bengal, the book exposes a beautiful flow of emotions which has been intrinsically penned down by its author Bibhutibhushon Bandopadhyay. Among the other noted Bibhutibhshon Bandopadhyay books, this novel stands out as a masterpiece. It was first published as a set of periodicals in 1928 which was later put together as a book in 1929. The story is essentially a bildungsroman of the infant protagonist Apu whose narrative is somewhat related to the author's own childhood. "Pather" means the way or travel while "Panchali" means a popular poem/song, which can be set freely as "Song of the Road". The story drifts like a river with a vivid portrayal of each character.

The plot is located in the village of Nischindpur where the Apu family lives in an ancestral house of their grandma Indir Thakrun. Apu’s father is a priest and lives in his own dreamland without any earnings. So the entire household responsibility falls onto the shoulder of Apu’s mother, Sarbojaya who is a woman of high self-esteem. Durga, her daughter and Apu's elder sister is sympathetic and has a filial affinity towards the old lady. Durga is the ultimate free-spirited girl who refuses to get bogged down in difficulties. Apu is an innocent kid following the footsteps of his father and more interested in the books and articles brought by him. The story is a simple expression of human interactions and emotions that has been presented beautifully and poignantly. As Harihor does not earn much money from the village, he decides to try his luck somewhere else. His search goes in vain and the entire family falls into utter poverty. Adding to their woes Durga falls ill and the cyclone hits them at the same time. Due to the lack of medical facilities, Durga passes away, with Apu’s father getting a good opportunity as a priest of a rich family. They shift to their new house with Apu lamenting about his sister as they board a train.

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The sibling relationship between Apu and Durga is captured in Satyajit Ray’s camera as he adapts the cult Bengali novel into a masterpiece. Initially, the Panther Pachali movie by Satyajit Ray did not have a script; it was made from Ray’s drawings and notes. Ray completed the first draft of the notes during his sea voyage to and from London in 1950. Ray's film is perfect for the universal rhythms of family life. The quiet domesticity is intruded by the whistle of a faraway train which shows traditional life invaded by modernity. Ray’s camera shifts to Apu who has a sense of awe filled in his eyes. The death of Durga is the most heart-wrenching scene that marks a monumental shift in the sibling relationship. The realistic way the rural life in India has been depicted, how people find happiness in small things, how they inflict small cruelties on each other, how mothers expect daughters to be responsible but shower affection on their sons, have been beautifully and realistically depicted.

With the broader image of poverty as a background, Bibhutibhushan weaves beautiful interludes around children- Durga sharing slices of raw mango with her brother under a jackfruit tree; Apu seeing a rabbit for the first time; both of them hearing stories of princes and princesses, and the epics. Ray said he chose Pather Panchali for the qualities that made it a great book: “its humanism, its lyricism, and its ring of truth.” Bibhutibhushan’s encyclopaedic map of rural Bengal and its perfect contrasts captivated the cinematic Ray to turn it into a film. He was praised as a master-piece of his own. Bibutibhushan Bandopadhyay brought another book "Aparjita" as a sequel to that novel but the original one remains in the heart of every Indian till date.


This movie is depicted simply with the deepest desire and complex emotions. It is a representation of realism. The movie, a beautiful rendition of the Pather Panchali book, fills the mind of every viewer with melancholy and sweet sentiments which makes it a true masterpiece.