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Literature / Pather Panchali

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Pather Panchali ("Song of the Road") is a Bengali Coming of Age Story by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay, originally published in India in 1929, during the time of The Raj. The author's first novel, it depicts the life of the impoverished Roy family in rural Bengal, seen through the eyes of youngest child Apu.

In the 1950s, it along with its sequel Aparajito became the basis for Satyajit Ray's critically acclaimed trio of films known as The Apu Trilogy. The film version of Aparajito covers Apu's adolescence and education, while series finale Apur Sansar follows Apu as a young adult.

This novel contains examples of:

  • Coming of Age Story: The overarching theme is Apu's education and growing up.
  • Impoverished Patrician: The Roy family are Brahmins, members of the highest caste in Hinduism, yet they live in poverty.
  • Masculine Girl, Feminine Boy:
    • Tomboy Durga and her shy, sensitive little brother Apu.
    • Practical, down-to-earth Sarbajaya and her poetic, daydreaming husband Harihar who dreams of becoming a writer.
  • Parental Favoritism: Harihar and Sarbajaya make no secret of their disappointment that Durga was born a girl.
  • What Beautiful Eyes!: Many comments are made about Apu's large, expressive eyes.

The film adaption contains examples of:

  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Apu to Durga. She's not happy when Apu messes with her prized paper collection.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Harihar's trip to the city was a financial success, but he returns to find Durga dead and Sarbajaya despondent. The family ultimately moves to Benares, abandoning their ancestral home.
  • Blade-of-Grass Cut: A rather long sequence showing a lily pond with water bugs and dragonflies flitting about.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Durga and Apu, at least in the eyes of the village.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The Roys' neighbors accuse Durga of stealing a valuable necklace, which Durga vehemently denies. While packing to leave Apu finds the necklace, throwing it in the lake to hide the fact that his sister was a liar and thief.
  • Elder Abuse: Sarbajaya towards the elderly "Auntie" Indir.
  • Flynning: The sword fight in the Show Within a Show has no choreography to speak of: it's just two actors striking their swords together in a repetitive pattern, alternately high and low. This being a pretty stylized form of theater, it's more an abstraction of fighting than an attempt to make it look real.
  • Match Cut: A rather unconventional cut from Sarbjaya, sitting outside the house, weeping, to—Sarbjaya again, still sitting outside the house and weeping in the same position.
  • Random Events Plot: As Ray put it:
    I felt that to cast the thing in to a mould of cut-and-dried narrative would be wrong. The script had to retain some of the rambling quality of the novel, because that in itself contained a clue to the feel of authenticity; life in a poor Bengali village does ramble.
  • Scenery Porn: Tons, particularly during the famous sequence of Apu and Durga running through the fields after the train.
  • Slice of Life: The plot deals with the ordinary rather than the extraordinary.
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: Sarbajaya after her daughter Durga dies. The entire family gives a particularly haunting one later as they ride a wagon away from their village.
  • Untranslated Title: "Song of the Little Road"