Satyajit Ray DOUGLAS McVAY - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Apart from suggesting an echo of the end of Grapes of Wrath in the closing compositions of Pather Panchali, I'd prefer to turn to one or two allegations of amateurism levelled against Ray—notably Paul Dehn's objection to the 'elementary' use in Panchali of long tracking shots. To me these shots are often among the most magical moments of the picture: the children pursuing the sweet-seller, the train sequence, or Apu running after Durga across the fields when they have quarrelled over the toy-box. And how many magical moments there are!…

[One can find nothing] amateurish in the visuals, the grey soft-dwelling close-ups and misty, luminous landscapes. Subrata Mitra may never have handled a camera before, but Ray has inspired him, just as he must have inspired Ravi Shankar, whose evocatively dissonant score was created in a night and is nowhere more perfectly employed than at the film's climax. The whole of the last two reels, indeed, are beyond praise. (p. 21)

In Pather Panchali desperate needs enforce desperate remedies. The family's existence, while it has its universal aspects and is frequently lightened by humour and small pleasures, seems a shade too impoverished to strike directly home to us: whereas the theme of Aparajito is psychological rather than documentary, applicable not merely to the poor but to every social plane.

I tend, in fact, to consider Aparajito the most profoundly sensitive panel of the triptych, for the central human bond of World of Apu, between husband and wife, springs from Apu's agreement to step into the shoes of a bridegroom who has become unhinged on his wedding day. Such an action—admittedly reluctant—may be excusable from an Indian outlook; to a Westerner, it appears a distasteful negation of sexual freedom. Because of it, the marital association isn't quite rooted in the normal, unlike the mother-son association of the preceding film. (p. 23)

Douglas McVay, "The Ray Trilogy," in Film (reprinted by permission of British Federation of Film Societies), No. 24, March-April, 1960, pp. 20-4.