A wrinkled face, artistes without make-up: Adoor recalls first impression of watching ‘Pather Panchali’

12:12 PM May 03, 2022 | PTI |

Kolkata: Sixty-four years ago Adoor Gopalakrishnan had watched a film, the language of which he did not understand, but it left an indelible impression on him especially the image of a wrinkled face of an elderly woman singing a lullaby to a child.


That movie that did not have any subtitle was Satyajit Ray’s ‘Pather Panchali’ (Song of a Road) and “none of the films I had seen before was like this one,” the director said, recollecting his first impression after watching the Bengali classic in 1958.

What struck him most in Ray’s immortal ‘Pather Panchali’ was that none of the artistes used any make-up, Gopalakrishnan said at a programme here on Monday.

“My professor had told me there is a 16-mm film made by a student from Santiniketan, which has got international recognition. I could not follow the language, in those days there was no subtitle, but I saw an old woman whose face had shrunken with age. I could hear a lullaby. Though the nuances of dialogue were lost, none of the films seen before by me was like ‘Pather Panchali’,” he said.

Adoor was speaking at a function on the 101st birth anniversary of the maestro organised by Satyajit Ray ‘Janmo Satobarsho Committee’ (birth Centenary committee) at Kalamandir auditorium here. ”Later when I became a student of cinema, I saw ‘Pather Panchali’ several times,” he said reminiscing about Satyajit Ray, whom he labelled as the “tallest, highest and greatest filmmaker of our times”.


Ray made his directorial debut in 1955 with ‘Pather Panchali’, an adaptation of a portion of Bibhuti Bhushan Bandopadhyay’s novel of the same name, which eventually won many awards.

The film revolves around the lives of Harihar, his wife Sarbajaya, and their children Durga and Apu. Harihar’s elderly cousin Indir Thakuran also lives with the family and is very close to Durga.

Ray had motivated Chunibala Devi who was in her late seventies then to come out of retirement to play the role of Indir Thakuran. Chunibala Devi had won an award for best actress at the Manila Film Festival, Asserting that the auteur was a realist at heart, Adoor said, ”Ray is for me a realistic romanticist. Very often he is referred to as a neo-realist director to which I don’t agree. He was a realist at heart. He was a consummate artiste.” The veteran Malayalam filmmaker, having helmed classics like ‘Swayamvaram’ (One’s own choice), ‘Vidheyan’((The Servile), ‘Mathilukal’ (The Walls), said the rumour about the rivalry and rift among Ray and two other contemporary greats in cinema from Bengal, Ritwik Ghatak and Mrinal Sen, was not true and they had great respect about each other.

Ghatak used to recommend Ray’s ‘Aparajito’ to his students in the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune while Ray used to refer to Ghatak as someone ”who has cinema running in his veins”.

The same holds true about Ray and Sen, he said.

The acclaimed filmmaker said it was a great fortune that Ray used ”to watch all my films and encouraged me with his comments”.

”Among internationally known filmmakers he stands tall. Even when an artist lives no more, his works live on. He is the tallest, highest, greatest filmmaker of our times. He left a lasting impression on our life and culture.

“Let me share with you my joy and pride to have known someone like Ray,” Adoor, who went to the maestro’s residence on Monday morning, said.

He said ‘Pather Panchali’ finds a place in the list of 10 best films of the world prepared by a leading British magazine.

At another function held at Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute (SRFTI), Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Secretary Apurva Chandra said Ray’s film ‘Pratiwandi’, restored in the National Film Archive in Pune, will be screened at the Cannes film festival on May 18.

Chandra, who unveiled a life-size bronze sculpture of the versatile genius, said the ministry has started a lifetime achievement award for internationally known filmmakers in the name of Ray from 2021.

”Due to COVID, we could not organise the Ray Centenary celebrations on a big scale earlier. If necessary, we will continue with the centenary celebrations,” he said.

Chandra, accompanied by renowned sound recordist and academy award winner Resul Pookutty, inaugurated the Ray Renaissance Art Gallery at SRFTI and presented awards to winners of the Satyajit Ray Centenary Students Short Film competition.

Pookutty spoke about the multifaceted genius of Ray who had a grasp over every aspect of filmmaking.

”I feel so humbled when I stand on the side of this tall statue,” he said after it was unveiled.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in a tweet said the state was remembering Ray through several programmes.

”I pay my centenary tribute to the great filmmaker and writer Satyajit Ray on his birthday today. May his legacy flourish,” the CM said.

At Ray’s house, hundreds poured in to pay floral tributes to the maestro whose photo was kept on a pedestal in the courtyard of the heritage building.

Many other programmes were held across the state to remember the genius.


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