Film Analysis: Pather Panchali

Pather Panchali or Song of the Little Road, the first of the Apu Trilogy, tells the tale of a number of years of Apu’s, the trilogies protagonist’s childhood. The film was the first of director Satyagit Ray. Pather Panchali was produced by the Government of the state of West Bengal and released in 1955. In this analysis we will examine the scene in which Durga is sick in bed with the flu, while her mother, Sarbajaya, watches over her. In the scene a storm brews until the power of the wind forces open both the window and the door which had been keeping out the cold, wind, and rain. Sarbajaya patches up the window and door and then embraces Durga while stroking her hair. Throughout the scene the visual motif of “oscillation” is repeated again and again. This consistent back and forth motion serves to represent the instability and precarious nature of the state of life in India in that time period.

The scene opens with a shot of Durga asleep in her sick bed with her mother Sarbajaya leaning over her. This shot, really every shot in the scene, is very dark. Sarbajaya is better lit than her daughter who seems to be almost consumed by the darkness. After a closeup of Durga’s mother puting a cold compress on Durga’s head we are shown a closeup of a little oil lamp with a small flame burning. The flame is pretty steady. During these shots we hear nothing. After the lamp we are shown Sarbajaya again dosing off. We then hear a slow fade in of the storm brewing outside. Sarbajaya then looks up and the camera pans right to reveal a window shade barley keeping out the wind. The shade is blowing in and out of the window frame, an oscillatory action.

Next, we are shown a shot of Sarbajaya while we begin to hear a creaking sound. Sarbajaya looks over and the camera pans to the left revealing a creaking door that is being pushed in and out, oscillating, by the wind. We are then shown Sarbajaya again, followed by the window with its shade oscillating back and forth with the wind. We are then shown the creaking door again, this time oscillating to a greater degree. After this we see Sarbajaya again, looking ever more in distress. She looks to her left and we are shown a shot of a statue of the “elephant-headed” Hindu deity Ganesha teetering on a small shelf, shaking back a forth by the wind.

After this we are shown Durga, sick with the flu in bed, beginning to toss around in discomfort. We are then shown the small oil lamp flame as it begins to flicker, shaking more and more. While this is happening, the sound of the storm from outside is growing louder and louder as the scene progresses. The next sequence of shots within the scene is a repetition of the shots already described with one important difference. Each oscillatory action established by the initial shots of the oil lamp, the window, the door, and the statue of Ganesha have increased in frequency.

Sarbajaya is shown again, in the middle of all of this motion, practically stationary. A flash of lighting crosses her face accompanied with the sound of thunder. The camera then pans quickly to the right to reveal the window shade that has been oscillating back and forth with the wind. The shade blows open and Sarbajaya jumps up and runs over to mend it. While she is doing this we are shown Durga moving her lips but all we hear is the sound of the storm. We are then shown the creaking door again and it too blows open. We see Sarbajaya finish fixing the window and then run over to the door to close it and brace it closed with a nearby trunk. While She is closing the door we are shown a shot of the oil lamp flame again flickering in the wind. After the door is closed we are shown a new shot, revealing Apu, Durga’s little brother sleeping soundly through this entire ordeal. We then see a closeup of Durga, her eyes open and she seems to say something, but all we hear is the storm. We then see Durga lift up her arms and her mother falls on top of her, embracing her attempting to protect her sick daughter. The scene ends with another shot of the statue of Ganesha shaking back and forth on its little shelf with flashes of lighting streaking across its image and the sound of thunder in the background.

This scene has about forty shots total from beginning to end, but many of these shots are duplicates. This duplication of shots and the cutting back and forth between these shots reinforces the theme of oscillation within the scene. In the scene we find Sarbajaya trying desperately to keep the storm out of the room. But because of her families’ utter poverty and lack of sufficient resources, she fails and in the following scene we find out that Durga has passed on.

The scene makes use of sound and movement to deliver its message, there is no dialogue. Though a number of the elements in the scene, mainly the door and window are narrative elements, they also shed light on some of the themes of the film as a whole. The oscillations of these objects that we are shown greatly reinforce the mental, physical, and emotional state of the characters in the scene and entire film, a state of instability. The flickering flame in a room shrouded in darkness is another powerful image that conveys this unstable state. But on top of all of this we are also shown a statue of Ganesha, an important and widely worshiped deity in the Hindu pantheon, also oscillating. Thus solidifying the scenes message of instability.

In conclusion, the storm scene in Pather Pachali shows a very distressed mother trying desperately to take care of her dying child. Throughout the scene we are shown a number of images that both directly related to the plot and are auxiliary to it. These images all share the common trait of moving back and forth, or oscillation. This oscillation not only represents Durga’s unstable state of health and her families general state of instability, but could also be seen to represent the unstable state of India at that time.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
  1. An excellent finale to a great semester– your description evokes the tension in this scene in such a palpable way. It’s a wonderful choice for this project because, as you make clear, meaning is conveyed purely through image, sound, repetition, and rhythm. Thanks for this, and for all your insightful comments in class and online all semester– it’s been a pleasure!

Comments are now closed.

Spam prevention powered by Akismet

Skip to toolbar