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Satish Bahadur, the guru / Photo SC

Had things gone right, Professor Satish Bahadur should have been the one writing these books, nor me. He would have done an infinitely better job than I am ever going to be capable of. So please be warned, dear reader, that in reading my stuff you are compelled to make do with only the second best. Bahadur sahib wrote miles and miles on the black board but was most reluctant to touch pen to paper. Even now I can see the great teacher smiling his blessings through clouds of chalk dust as I begin.

Satish Bahadur was our truly ‘listening’ Professor of Film Appreciation at the Film Institute of India in Pune where I spent three years as student of film direction in the late 60s. Within weeks of our arrival he showed us Pather Panchali, followed by Aparajito and later Apur Sansar. These were eye openers as you can imagine, after which we were converts for life. I certainly was. In 1974 I returned to join the direction faculty but spent that time being an extended student with Prof Bahadur. (Even our offices were next to each other and I would usually be found in his.) When in 1983 he superannuated and left the Institute, I felt very very nervous and alone. He had inspired a whole generation of us but left nothing behind for those coming later. Prof Bahadur passed away in 2010 at 85. He knew at the time that my book on Pather Panchali was on the way but couldn’t hold out. A huge loss personally for me, for I would trust none other’s feedback than his.

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At the moment I have three books on Apu trilogy to float on this blog. They’ll be released one by one, and true to the spirit of bogging, chapter wise. That should take about a year. That done, more will follow.

The first, therefore, would be a refined version of the The Pather Panchali of Satyajit Ray published by McFarland and Company in the US.

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McFarland had plans to bring out an Indian edition through their Indian partners, redesigned but more importantly re-priced for our chiefly browsers’ market. (The American edition was sold exclusively online—you never got to thumb through the book at a book shop—and priced at $55!). But two years on nothing came of it. In February 2014 the rights reverted back to me. Since then my experience with Indian publishers has been dismal. I didn’t know any top honchos and approaching through routine channels they made me feel as though I was looking for a job. Unlike Americans, they were excessively secretive and kept neither their word, nor deadlines. So I have now dropped the idea of getting rich through writing and decided instead to directly reach out to the world sitting at home.

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 No more squeaky accented women to deal with on the phone, no Bengali commissioning editors assuming exclusive rights on ‘Shautojeet Roy’ to meet in their featureless, sterile cubicles.

The second and third books would be on Aparajito and Apur Sansar. Words for both these are ready, only illustrations remain to be done. I don’t want to ask Girish Sahasrabudhe, who did such an excellent job for Pather Panchali, to do these since I couldn’t pay him matching price for his talent and labour. I paid him just 22 thousand rupees in 2009 whereas 50 should have been in order; today, even more. For my part, in case you are curious and interested, I received just one single cheque of $200 from McFarland for my entire effort on the project! Dileep Padgaonkar told me he received a similar amount from his book on Rossellini or Pasolini, I forget which since I haven’t seen the book. Writers apparently are supposed to make their kill from publicity fallouts of writing: be nominated on committees, invited for lectures, inaugurations, weddings, funerals; essentially from living on page 3. Back in the 70s, the FFC filmmakers earned their monies from non-descript ad shorts, documentaries and corporate films while their New Wave titles got them name and prestige, and from that a claim on large budgets. Post Ankur, Shyam Benegal demanded the use of a state helicopter from Bansi Lal for a Haryana government documentary and got it. The film he made? Never mind.

After Apu trilogy other books under Professor Satyajit Ray can be analyses of famous—or my favourite—scenes from some of his other films, both fiction as well as fact. Or just structural notes on some others without necessarily going into details. Or even related material, say a rare interview with the master, which provides hands on academic insights into Ray’s world suitable for a learning filmmaker. Jalsaghar, Mahanagar, Charulata, Aranyer Din Ratri, Seemabaddha, Jana Aranaya, Kanchenjunga, Ashani Sanket, Shatranj Ke Khiladi, Pikoo’s Day, Rabindranath Tagore, The Inner Eye, Bala.  Again words for most of these are ready, sketches would follow. Given the advantages of the medium of blogging I would have colour film illustrations in colour. Publishers tend to cringe having to include colour plates in paper books.

So unless help comes along in some form, I intend to do the rest of the illustrations myself. They are after all no more than black board work, the illustrations, at which I can assure you I wasn’t bad in my days. And who knows, with practice I may even improve!

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Ray is among the most consistent of filmmakers in the world. Kurosawa, Bergman, Mizoguchi are others on whom my kind of books are possible to write and they could all be learnt from by self-taught filmmakers. In addition, Ray is also rock bottom low on budget, which gives students a sense of kinship with him. In my opinion what learner filmmakers need are insights into the technique of the masters (technique as distinct from technology) and not necessarily their so-called worldview. Nuts and bolts, in other words, of how a scene was put together and not aesthetic discourses as so often tirelessly pedalled and obfuscated by critics and film studies departments. But more of this in my Preface to the Pather Panchali book.

About the same time that I got introduced to Satyajit Ray’s cinema in late 60s, an army cadet explained to me the technique of ballroom dancing that they were offered as hobby in the National Defence Academy. How does the couple relate without stepping on each other’s toes, I wanted to know. Putting his arm around my waist and holding my other hand above, he raised his first elbow in level with the shoulder to offer my free hand a firm support to rest over. The man initiates the woman, he told me, providing her an assurance and trust of security so that she can experience the bliss of romance. A trust that she’d never be cheated by this partner.

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I don’t know if the cadet was right on facts about ballroom dancing but watching a Ray film, I certainly feel like that privileged woman.

Book PP /A post-Pather Panchali article by Ray

Beside those included in Our films, their films and Speaking of films, many of Ray articles have remained scattered. I chanced upon the two included in this book, A New Approach and Should a filmmaker be Original? during a random search of our FTII library’s dump of magazines. Both are from the Apu trilogy days and are being published for the first time.

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A New Approach

By Satyajit Ray

From Filmfare, August 17, 1956

Apologies.

Pending Filmfare’s formal permission, the text of the article is being withheld. The same, however, is available in my book ‘The Pather Panchali Of Satyajit Ray’ published by McFarland & Company, 2011.

 

Book PP /Flow of Scenes

Chapter 1

Titles.

Sejo-bou bows to the tulsi plant, notices disturbance in the garden below and yells at a little girl, who runs away.

Ducking mother on the way, little Durga comes home. Old Pishi is away, so she places the stolen raw guavas in her bowl. Then pours milk and feeds the kitten.

Sejo-bou is still cursing Durga on her terrace when she spots mother Sarbojaya at their well and begins to go at her. A friendly neighbor, Nilmoni’s wife offers help to carry the pitcher but Sarbojaya declines.

Pishi is now back and eating in her veranda as Durga sits watching. Sarbojaya returns from the well, calls Durga away and scolds her. As Durga goes to return the fruit, Sarbojaya shouts at Pishi for spoiling the child. Angry, Pishi folds up her things—a mat, a couple of bundles and a lota—and leaves in a huff. Durga returns just in time and tries to stop her but Sarbojaya restrains her.

Night. Durga is asleep. Father Harihar anxiously paces up and down as Sarbojaya is in labor. Sejo-bou—she’s a relative—and Nilmoni’s wife attend to Sarbojaya.

Morning. Led by an excited Durga, Pishi returns the same as she had left. Durga puts her things in her old place and joins Pishi at the entrance of the labor thatch. Moved at the sight of the newborn, Pishi wipes a tear.

Pishi has taken charge at the cradle string while Durga sits counting her seeds alongside in the veranda. In the kitchen Harihar joins Sarbojaya and soon both begin speaking of their modest ambitions. “Being able to repair the house, send the boy to school, find a good husband for Durga and two square meals, what else do we need…”

Pishi sings a lullaby.

Chapter 2

Sarbojaya comes calling Apu, then asks Durga to wake him up. Durga is now an adolescent and Apu an easy smiling six-year-old. A glimpse of the morning routine suggests that life has remained much the same as before.

Sarbojaya and Durga fondly dress up Apu for school. Durga goes to leave him there.

Apu is at school. Or is it rather the grocer’s shop? It is both. The pot-bellied Prassana dictates a sum to a class of “nine gems” while he weighs and sells his wares, as also deals with some villagers collecting jatra subscription. But suddenly he can be less funny and has a defaulting pupil dragged to him by another for a round of supple caning. Seeing which Apu squirms even as a girl customer runs off.

Home. Pishi tries to pinch some chilli from Sarbojaya’s kitchen. She is checked in time by Sarbojaya. Pishi broods as she cooks in her veranda when Durga brings in front of her eyes, first one stolen guava, and then a second. That spreads cheer across the wrinkled face.

Sarbojaya calls Durga over for help. Then sitting in the kitchen veranda, she gives her a long sermon saying what a girl her age is expected to do. She also checks on her forehead for fever.

Apu returns from school with Harihar. He goes over to mother, says he’s hungry. Just then he is called over by Durga who, sitting under their window, quietly asks him to get something from inside.

Harihar is headed towards the kitchen when Pishi calls him for help. She shows him a large hole in her wrapper and is promised a new one by Harihar. Sarbojaya resents this and shows annoyance when he asks cinders for his hookah. He then settles down in the kitchen veranda next to her, but gets away when she begins to press him for money for repairs, for clothes, to return Sejo-bou’s loan of five rupees…

Apu gets mustard oil from the living room shelf for Durga’s tamarind paste. Then sitting under the window, both lick the preparation in secret—it’s too sour for him but Durga loves the tang.

Presently, the sweet-seller’s familiar bells are heard. Durga sends Apu to father for money but already knows they are not getting it. “Let’s go after him!” she says.

One little caravan they make—the sweet-seller with his dangling pots, followed by Durga, Apu and even a dog—and soon reach Sejo-bou’s house where a chorus of voices greets the seller. Durga and Apu enjoy the sight from the courtyard door. Then Durga is taken inside by one of the girls while Apu stays out. On the terrace Durga finds Tunu beading her necklace but the girl wouldn’t let her even touch it. As usual Sejo-bou had been rude and mean with Durga downstairs but here her daughter Ranu comes over and slips a sweet in her mouth.

Evening. Durga and Apu bring the cow from the fields while Sarbojaya and Pishi offer their brief prayers at the tulsi plant in the courtyard.

Night. Sarbojaya calls Durga away from Pishi for doing her hair. The unsuspecting girl even gets a tight slap this time. Both mother and daughter settle down in the veranda next to Harihar and Apu. Harihar is doing accounts as also supervising Apu’s lesson. Mother and daughter talk about Ranu’s coming marriage. Presently the night train is heard and the children talk of going and seeing it some day.

Pishi in her own veranda keeps trying to thread an impossible needle by the lamp flame to mend her wrapper.

Chapter 3

Sarbojaya is feeding a playful Apu as he trains his bow and arrow at a hungry dog. Then he begins to run about chasing his arrows and she has to give up. The dog gets the food.

Suddenly, Sejo-bou appears at the door. Tunu’s necklace is missing and Durga has stolen it, she declares. Where is Durga?

Sarbojaya is struck dumb. A child accompanying Sejo-bou goes in and gets Durga’s box, but there is no necklace in it. Just then Sarbojaya sees Apu making frantic gestures to warn off Durga and sternly calls her to appear.

Durga denies the charge, upon which Sejo-bou moves to grab at her, but she is held back by Sarbojaya who herself begins to search the girl.

Just then Pishi comes in dragging a large dry palm leaf behind her and wants to know the matter. But no one tells her. Only some raw fruit are recovered from Durga’s pallu and this draws taunts and counter-taunts from both sides. Sejo-bou scores reminding Sarbojaya the 5 rupees that she still owes her. Finally asking her to return the necklace when found, she troops out of the house. “Like mother, like daughter!” she declares to a passing woman outside. “A bunch of thieves!”

Sarbojaya is breathless with anger and humiliation. Durga is collecting her things in the box as Sarbojaya calls her over. When the girl doesn’t move, she grabs her by the hair and begins to drag her on the ground, past the bushes, towards the courtyard door. Pishi tries to intervene but gets pushed back. Apu merely watches by the post. Beating her all the way, Sarbojaya finally pushes Durga out of the house and slumps against the door exhausted.

The storm over, Pishi begins to collect Durga’s scattered playthings in her box, while Apu tiptoes across the courtyard to rinse his mouth from eating just a while ago. He’s back to the veranda, book in front and reading aloud, when mother calls out from the door. She asks him to go and call Durga for food.

Smile breaks out on the boy once again as holding his bow and arrow, he goes out bouncing, looking for his sister.

Chapter 4

The same night. Pishi is narrating a story to the children, with Durga lying in her lap and Apu in Durga’s. Pishi’s shadow on the wall could well pass off as the witch from the same story.

The session is interrupted with Harihar’s call. He has brought a large fish which Durga brings to the mother in the kitchen, but Sarbojaya still carries the day’s incident on her mind.

Harihar is bubbling as he washes his feet in the veranda. He has received his three months’ salary which he passes on to a much relieved Sarbojaya. Later, taking his meals in the kitchen he relates another happy incident with relish when somebody from another village came introducing himself and requested him to perform a certain initiation ceremony in his family. Harihar had been clever not to show his eagerness to accept immediately. Again they discuss expenses to be met from the salary: Harihar mentions clothes for children and a wrapper for Pishi but Sarbojaya wants to first return Sejo-bou’s five rupees. The repairs once again get postponed till after the Pooja festival but as always Harihar is upbeat. “Everything will be done, don’t you worry,” he tells her.

As they settle to sleep children exchange notes on the missing necklace.

Night train is passing as retiring to bed, Harihar mentions a plot for a new play that’s running in his head. Sarbojaya sits mending clothes by a lamp in the next room as children sleep beside. She asks him about the ghats of Benares where he had spent some years leaving her behind and whether they can shift there to make a living. Harihar dismisses the thought saying he had come back to the home of his ancestors leaving Benares once and can’t think of going back there again.

Sarbojaya takes a deep sigh. She is worried about having to live in a house like theirs. Says it’s like living in a jungle, with nobody to share your thoughts. She’s afraid when he’s away for days together but even when he’s there, he’s so carefree… There’s no response from Harihar; he’s fallen asleep.

Outside, sitting in her moonlit veranda, Pishi sings a boatman’s song with great devotion: A poor beggar am I, O Lord, the day is done, evening falls, ferry me across the river…

Chapter 5

Durga and her friends are playing at cooking in the jungle. Apu and some others help as girls cook on an improvised fire.

Pishi goes around showing off a new wrapper. A little girl pokes fun asking if she’s getting married.

Durga continues to conduct children with great gusto.

A woman washing at the pond asks Pishi where she got her wrapper from. Pishi tells her that a certain Raju gave it to her. Looks nice on you, says the woman.

Ranu comes running and joins Durga and others at cooking. Says her mother is away so she came. While going over ingredients that they have collected, Durga discovers that oil has been forgotten. A quarrel ensues but Ranu pacifies matters offering to go and get it.

Sarbojaya is airing new utensils and quilts from a large cane box in the veranda when Pishi tries to enter unnoticed. But Sarbojaya spots her wrapper and demands to know who gave it. She flares up on the mention of Raju and says if they can clothe her, let them feed her too.

A heated exchange ensues. An angry Pishi begins to pound something in her veranda while Sarbojaya takes out a tin trunk to empty it at the pond behind her house. Excited, she gets into a bout of coughing and drops the trunk, spilling its contents over the steps leading to the water.

Pishi leaves everything and comes over running to help and comfort Sarbojaya but Sarbojaya remains unrelenting: Pishi must go.

Durga and Ranu sit side-by-side enjoying the food they have cooked. Durga counts the number of days left for Ranu’s marriage and Ranu tells her that her mother too is looking for a husband for her. “Marriage won’t happen to me,” Durga keeps saying. “I know it won’t.”

A number of little boys run across chasing each other noisily. They pass by a bent, still figure of Pishi by the pond, wearing her new wrapper but once again homeless.

A dissolve later she appears at Raju’s door, announcing herself and asking if she can get shelter for a few days. “Only a few days,” she says panting, doddering. “There’s no peace at home. Nothing but complaints…”

The unseen Raju welcomes her.

Chapter 6

A drumbeat announces Durga pooja. The festival spirit is in the air with both children hurrying to rush as Sarbojaya adjusts their new clothes. Like others, Apu and Durga are headed towards the big household where Sejo-bou distributes sweets to hordes of outstretched palms. Apu and Durga get their share.

At night is the jatra performance which Apu watches with great involvement.

Next morning he is in front of a mirror trying to sport a tinsel moustache to a tinsel crown. Durga is at first amused, then suspicious—he’s indeed gone and used her scissors and material! After a hot chase in and out of the house, Durga pins him to the ground but Sarbojaya intervenes and separates them. Durga had wanted to go see Pishi but the mother now asks her to go and look for their calf. After a brief exchange of sobbing looks and tongue showing, animus dissolves and the children go running out of the village and into the open fields looking for the missing calf.

The time-ravaged courtyard door which Pishi is heard approaching. She now carries a stick and doesn’t look too well. Wants to spend her last days in her ancestral home, she says gasping, but Sarbojaya warns her of trouble if she didn’t go away instantly. Out of breath, she puts her bundle and lota on her veranda and sits down tired against the post.

Durga sits alone chewing at a sugar cane stick in an open field. Apu appears in the background but before he can catch up, Durga jumps off her perch and moves away. Apu follows.

Goaded by Sarbojaya, Pishi begs her for water. Sarbojaya sits eating inside the kitchen and merely takes the lid off the pitcher next to her. Pishi struggles to it with her lota and takes a pause to smile at Sarbojaya, but Sarbojaya holds forth unmoved. Pishi drinks water and brings the left over to pour over her stub of a plant. Then collecting her belongings she turns to take one last look at her veranda—already there’s a dog there—and moves on to leave. A momentary touch of remorse passes on Sarbojaya’s face before she resumes eating.

A crisscross of wires on telegraph poles as Durga stands listening to the hum below. Wading through stagnant water Apu joins her and tries to listen too. Durga moves on.

They are submerged in a field of tall kaash flowers where Apu briefly looses track of his sister. Then he receives a hit of the sugarcane stub and finds her sitting under a tuft of grass. He joins her and begins to ask questions. At one point she sits up listening, then stands up. She can hear the train.

Both children run towards the tracks to have a close look. Durga stumbles and falls early but Apu rushes ahead. Preceded by a growing rumble, the monster suddenly enters big in close foreground and begins passing uncut. Through the blur of wheels on the other side emerges the tiny figure of little Apu who is barely able to complete his climb to the tracks before the train is all gone. The whole sky is left filled with a long trail of smoke.

Apu and Durga are returning with the calf. On the way in the bamboo grove sits Pishi. Durga is the first to spot her and cautioning Apu behind her with a gesture, begins to soft step towards her. Apu watches from a lower position as Durga bends low to take a look at Pishi’s face sunk between her knees. But Pishi doesn’t stir. When she tries to shake her by the knees Pishi rolls over, her head hitting the ground with a thud. Apu’s eyes transfix with shock but Durga has as if been touched by death itself. Then scared as she gets up and turns to go, Pishi’s lota gets dislodged. It goes rolling down the slope finally landing into a patch of water, splashing as the children struggle with the calf and run away to report.

Pishi’s boatman’s song is heard as the pallbearers carry her away outside the village for cremation. The children sit in her veranda, Durga now where Pishi used to be. Harihar and Sarbojaya stand silently at the pond staring into the water.

Chapter 7

Dilli dekho…” It’s the bioscope-man come to the village. Apu and Durga stand watching from a distance as hordes of children converge shrieking to the magic box.

Harihar is preparing to go on a journey. He and Sarbojaya have collected his pieces in the main veranda. He’ll be back in seven days, he says. He’s hoping to get some regular income in a nearby town. “Then we can sit back and relax…”

He’s forgetting something—his umbrella, which he goes in to get. While returning he bows to the Ganesh idol on the way. Sarbojaya too, standing in the veranda, bows her head in prayer after him as he leaves.

Standing as before, Durga spots father and sends Apu over for coins. She then runs to meet Apu at the bioscope. Harihar sends a silent blessing to the children as they both stand peeping into the magic box.

Sarbojaya has laid out a number of preparations to dry in the sun. Durga comes in carrying a kitten and the mother sends her to fetch two-paisa worth of jaggery for a favourite dish of Apu’s.

Chitti! Chitti! Chitti!…” Apu comes running into the courtyard bringing a letter from Harihar. As Sarbojaya reads it, a shadow appears on her face. Yes, he has met the person who had approached him for the initiation ceremony, but there had been deaths in his family, and so—. But he would be proceeding to the town and will be back with money, don’t worry. Whatever God ordains can only be for their good. Blessings and love to the children—.

A mendicant approaches the house singing for alms. Depressed and lost, Sarbojaya remains sitting motionless on the steps while Durga comes to the door with a bowl of rice. “Bless you, little mother, may you marry a king!”

Night. Carrying the day’s worries, Sarbojaya sits awake next to the sleeping children. The night train passes and her mind is made up. Sarbojaya bends to kiss Apu and feels Durga’s forehead. Then she takes the lamp and comes to the other room. Here she opens her large cane box and takes out shining brass utensils.

It’s still early when carrying the brassware Sarbojaya opens the courtyard door and leaves. When she returns a while later, the morning mist has given way to patches of sun. Under her wrapper she has brought a bundle of rice, which she empties in her storage pitchers.

Chapter 8

A party of uniformed brass band players stand playing in front of the big house. Village elders watch with excitement and exchange notes. Apu runs up and jostles his way through a group of boys coming to stand right next to a horn-player. The unshaven old man plays as Apu watches intently.

Inside, fish and vegetables are being cut in large quantities. Sejo-bou supervises as women work. Her head bowed, Sarbojaya too is here among the women.

Ranu is being dressed up for the ceremony. Smiling contented, she looks at Durga who wearing a bindi and eyes lined with kohl, smiles back wistfully.

The marriage ceremony at night. An old priest conducts, chanting from the holy text. Durga looks even more remote.

Chapter 9

The storage pitchers are now empty. Nilmoni’s wife discovers this in the kitchen while Sarbojaya, deep in despair and sobbing, sits in the veranda outside. Nilmoni’s wife offers help and much against her refusal to accept, leaves behind some money.

Chitti! Chitti! Chitti…!” Apu brings another letter—and gets slapped for being too playful. But this time the letter carries good news. Harihar has at last found some means of earning money and is returning soon. It seems our luck has turned at last. Whatever God ordains can only be for our good…

The famous, sublimating, water-lily sequence. The pond, flat leaves, dog, kitten… At the end Sarbojaya lies on the veranda floor, drained and exhausted.

The gentle wind begins to gain strength and thunder to roll. Durga has had a bath and now hurries through planting a sapling and saying related prayers. A carefree Apu is returning from school.

Sarbojaya comes to as Durga runs away closing the courtyard door. Apu too throws his schoolbook and wrapper through the window and runs off. Sarbojaya calls after them as she begins to take the drying clothes off the line.

The first drop of rain falls on a bald pate fishing by the pond. Soon it’s a big downpour all over. Both Apu and Durga bathe in the fields. Apu takes shelter under a tree but Durga keeps taking the rains in full. Going round and round in the open and teasing Apu, she finally joins him under the tree. Then wrapping her pallu around him begins to recite a song asking the rains to go away.

The rain beats on as Sarbojaya is returning home carrying a large edible leaf. Near the pond on the way lies a fallen coconut. Checking to see no one is looking, she snatches up the fruit under her pallu and continues as though nothing has happened.

That’s when Durga gets her first sneeze under the tree. And then, a second.

The village doctor, a phlegmatic old man himself, examines Durga with a stethoscope. Nilmoni and his wife are present. The doctor prescribes sago which Nilmoni’s wife offers to give. He also recommends wet-cloth application on the forehead if fever goes up. “There is nothing to worry about,” he says. “Don’t let her catch a chill. Come on Nilmoni, let’s go.”

As the grown-ups leave, Apu draws to his sister. “Listen,” Durga tells him. “When I am well, we’ll go and look at the train again, alright?” “Yes,” Apu smiles.

But just another day, the sweet-seller’s bells are heard as he passes on the other side of the pond. Strangely Durga has no interest in him.

Night. The children are asleep and Sarbojaya is changing the wet cloth on Durga’s forehead. The earthen lamp is lit with a steady flame.

Sarbojaya is about to doze off when the wind is heard building up into a stronger gale, sending the door creaking and the gunny sheet covering the window bulging. Changing the wet cloth, Sarbojaya almost waits for them both to give way. The first to fall off is a corner of the gunny curtain, letting the rainwater in. And even while Sarbojaya is tying it up comes off the wooden cross-latch of the creaking door, which she returns to block with a tin trunk. But there’s hardly anything she can do to stop the growing flicker of the flame. Or the sway of Ganesh idol.

She is bending over adjusting the quilt when Durga suddenly throws her hands up for her. Leaving everything, Sarbojaya holds the child in a tight cheek-to-cheek embrace.

The final round of thunder and lightening flashes repeatedly on the shaking idol.

Chapter 10

A grey morning. Little Apu stands knocking on Nilmoni’s door. Didi is not well, he tells Nilmoni’s wife, so mother has asked him to fetch her.

They both come wading through puddles in the courtyard. The hardest hit by the storm has been Sarbojaya’s kitchen which lies all damaged and exposed. The cattle-shed by the courtyard door was always a temporary structure but a part of the main veranda is now roofless.

Inside Sarbojaya sits with Durga’s head on her lap, motionless. Nilmoni’s wife sends Apu away to call her husband and moves closer feeling Durga’s pulse. She then sits down facing Sarbojaya on the bed and gently takes her head on her shoulder.

Follows a montage showing little Apu cleaning his teeth all pensive at the pond. Sarbojaya draws water at Sejo-bou’s well, her bindi smudged. Apu is getting ready—bath, combing hair, everything—now without help. Somewhat wiser, he even returns from the courtyard back into the room to re-emerge with a man-size umbrella, before setting out on the familiar road to school. Pishi’s veranda is now the kitchen where Sarbojaya sits lost in front of a boiling pot. She doesn’t even respond to Nilmoni’s daughter who has brought some vegetable. The girl leaves them on the floor and backs away.

But then Harihar calls and Sarbojaya wakes up with a start. He’s calling the children as he approaches past the pond and discovers the beating his house has taken. A tree has fallen on the outer wall damaging it in a big way. The fragile door, oddly, is still there through which Harihar enters and again calls the children. Instead Sarbojaya appears from behind and vaguely receives him, getting him the jug to wash his feet. Somewhat relieved, he sits down on the veranda floor itself and eagerly begins to show her various things he has brought one by one. A rolling pin and a board, a framed picture of goddess Laxmi and, finally, a sari for Durga—.

That’s when Sarbojaya’s floodgates open. As Harihar presses the sari to her hands, all her pent up grief wells out in one continuous gush and she slumps down weeping bitterly, uncontrollably and with complete abandon. Harihar is first bewildered, but when the full impact of the tragedy strikes him he starts to rise in confusion, then sinks collapsing over Sarbojaya’s sprawling body. Finally he gives out a full-throated long-drawn wail.

Apu, already a little man with an umbrella and an oil bottle, listens to his father’s agonized cry reaching him outside in front of the pond.

Night. The family is in bed; their worries transferred, Sarbojaya and Apu are sleeping while Harihar lies wide awake. The night train is again heard passing and a decision made.

Morning. Glasses on the nose, Harihar sits dusting and sorting the ant-eaten sheaves of paper in the roofless veranda. Apu keeps running up and down bringing out household things. They are winding up.

Elsewhere in the house, Nilmoni’s wife helps Sarbojaya with sorting and packing other household goods. Sarbojaya has lost all attachment with the ancestral home in the last one year and thanking the good neighbor for all her help, blames it on their fate. Nilmoni’s wife wishes them well in their new home.

Comes calling Sejo-bou with a basket of mangoes. Says they fell in the storm the other day and that she’s brought them for their journey. No, she’s not angry with Sarbojaya for not telling her they are leaving. Rather she’s pleased, very pleased. “Staying years after years at one place makes a person mean,” she says confessing. “It’s happened to me—.”

The village elders come to meet Harihar. They have heard that he’s leaving for Benares. One of them reminds Harihar that his three generations have lived in that house which they are now leaving and asks him to think again if that is the right thing to do. But Harihar is sure, says he can’t forever be living on debts. All his hopes for making a living as a writer, of educating the boy have come to nothing. He hasn’t even been able to repair the house. And as for the girl, he says shaking his head, she gave them the slip. “So it’s right for us to leave,” he concludes. “There are times when you have to give up even your ancestral home.”

Inside, Apu tries to reach the high shelf for a coconut shell. It trips and falls—spilling a spider and Durga’s stolen necklace!

Stunned, Apu picks up the find and stares at it silently. Then on a flash, he jumps out of the window, climbs over the damaged wall and comes to the pond.

One long throw and it lands in the water. Apu remains staring as the floating carpet of green closes in where the necklace fell and disappeared. It’s all but closed.

The deserted courtyard, with the clothesline fallen loose on the ground.

Between the broken bricks of the veranda a snake slithers slowly, sinuously. It goes crossing the floor towards the room, finally disappearing into it.

But Harihar, Sarbojaya and Apu are safe. The family sits under the matted arched roofing of a bullock cart, moving. Harihar takes a deep sigh. As the dawn prepares to break, sad to leave, but on the move.

_________

 

Book PP /Chapter 10 (b)

Harihar decides to leave.

Notice first the ease with which the film deals with such a major decision. The man lies awake at night and a train passes in the distance. Almost Haiku in its grace, wit and brevity. Ordinarily such a step would ‘demand’ a scene discussing the issue. In fact such a scene is there but after the decision has been taken and even announced to the villagers.

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Secondly, watch the composition of the shot. Again a classic Academy Aperture Satyajit Ray. Harihar lies big in the middle of the frame, while Sarbojaya and Apu sleep huddled in the leftover space, barely noticed. And yet picture of a family, with the head deciding. Next the family would be seen in a single static composition like the present only at the very end of the film, on the bullock cart.

And finally, Sarbojaya’s would be the soundest sleep in months. Having managed in the breadwinner’s absence all these days, the charge is back to where it belongs.

Reminiscent of another noble example from the times: Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu Monagatari. The dead woman’s ghost looks after the child in her husband’s absence and quietly leaves once he arrives and takes charge.

The ‘discussion’ scene.

Notice the general strategy of the scene. Firstly, that it takes place separately among men and women. Then, it comes about through visitations while sorting and packing is going on. Both Nilmoni and his wife are present at the time of visits, she actively helping Sarbojaya and Nilmoni sitting by smoking hookah as Harihar sorts his papers. Among women it’s a single individual, Sejo-bou, that comes calling, whereas among men it’s a motley group of elders familiar to us from earlier scenes. And finally, the ‘discussion’ scene both begins and ends with Harihar; it’s his decision and his realisation after all that enough was enough and that it was time they moved.

Variation within symmetries is the name of the game.

Notice further that both conversations are more towards being monologues expressing their respective positions than being interactive, ‘argumentative’, trying in any way to affect the decision. Accordingly, there is minimal fragmentation and intercutting.

Harihar and his ‘scholarship’.

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This is the first shot articulating the decision that they are leaving—through showing essential action on it. In so doing it also focuses on the essential loss, that of Harihar’s scholarly pursuits. His moth-eaten writings at this end and discovery of Durga’s spider-infested, stolen necklace at the other are the two specific things singled out by the narration.

Notice that Harihar is not sullen and sad from Durga’s death; he’s shaven and bathed and looks rather fresh, recovered. After a set back, moving on with a smile so to speak. Notice too that he hasn’t been shown carrying any heavy stuff although it’s inconceivable that somebody else may have brought out the sheaves of paper he is sorting. We have never seen him do physical work in the film and such an image would go against the essence of his character.

Sarbojaya and her household.

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Notice that the space of the shot has been equally divided between the two women. For one, it upgrades the help being rendered by Nilmoni’s wife as a close friend through thick and thin. But more importantly—and purely in a manner of speaking—this cuts the Sarbojaya character to size. After Harihar’s return she is no longer the foreground character that she was required to be and has receded to her traditional role and its relative importance in the household.

Most cameramen would point to such a dead-frontal composition as flat, featureless and providing no separation. While all this is true as a general principle, not including flat compositions in your construct in some degree would itself make everything look monotonous, sugar sweet and featureless. How do you portray ‘against the wall’ situations, for example, if you look for ‘depths’ in compositions all the time?

Notice the dialogue between the two women. Appearing most casual, these are good-bye lines between two close friends of years. They also acknowledge a possible comment from sceptics as to how this was the only family so effected by the circumstances. “It’s our luck,” says Sarbojaya.

Sejo-bou’s arrival.

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Notice that it’s the mangoes first, then the carrier. Sejo-bou’s is a character with a kink and this scene is the last chance of redeeming her from being completely black. And yet she cannot be fully absolved of the damage she has caused to Sarbojaya and Durga. So, it’s situational irony that’s been used through introducing her thus. Also, the film doesn’t want Sarbojaya either to conclusively forgive or even continue to hold a grudge against her. That would be difficult if the mangoes were to be brought later into the scene.

Notice too that there isn’t even an exchange of glances between Sarbojaya and Nilmoni’s wife at Sejo-bou’s explicit meanness. Anything of that sort would amount to bitching on their part which would ‘soil’ their composite image at the conclusion of the film. The film as it ends is all about this dense, stunning sorrow experienced by the family at having lost their daughter and having to leave the village, rather than settling personal scores.

Notice that the visual idiom of this scene is devoid of any ‘angular’, ‘edgy’ or ‘pointed’ features typical of Sejo-bou scenes throughout earlier. It’s as though all those features are now blunted and we are for once seeing a mellowed—de-fanged, if you like—Sejo-bou.

Besides Harihar, Sejo-bou and Nilmoni’s wife’s characters were played by professional actors. The kind of lines Sejo-bou speaks and acts in this scene, as indeed everywhere else in the film, cannot be expected from non-professionals.

Elders’ arrival.

As against Sejo-bou’s direct arrival, the elders take a long time behind Pishi’s bush. For one this helps us to get our orientation right, but equally this contributes to the steadily growing image of the wild overrunning human habitation and squeezing them out. The place seems to need an urgent ‘hair cut’. The snake shortly to enter the house and the family leaving are the culmination of this growth in Pather Panchali.

Elders settle down.

Notice the cut as one of the men sits on an unstable trunk, then shifts. A close examination of the action across the cut shows that it’s basically a situation of forced match of action through aggressive cutting. All four visitors—non-professional, elderly locals—generally file in and go for their assigned places to sit. One who has speaking lines makes a loud gesture in response to Harihar’s getting up to remove a trunk—he’s the jatra man from the grocer-teacher scene. Then, as they are generally settling down, comes rather a pre-mature, sudden cut to another closer view of the group where a glum, moustachioed man—the first rain drop man—sinks on a trunk that promptly gives way. The resulting humour tides over the physical mismatch of the action of the speaking character who from standing in the previous shot is already otherwise sitting in this one.

However this is not a situation of cover-up through editing. On the contrary, it’s a very witty device and the humour is intended—how else can you possibly match action of half-a-dozen bodies trying to settle down across a cut?—and so are the technique and strategy for achieving it.

But again, why humour in a grim situation like that? Will it be missed if it weren’t there? It’s more an issue to reflect upon than answered. Incredible as it may sound but it is to ‘wake up’ the audience, freshen them up, from a stun and stupor resulting from prolonged grimness. The anger we experienced a short while ago at Sejo-bou’s hypocrisy provided the same variety. Rather than distract, a mix and blend of different emotions heightens the experience of a given presiding rasa.

Notice that it is a long uncut shot, with Harihar’s occasional off screen fillers, as the elder man goes on saying his piece. Apu, who has been helping father, keeps going up and down the stairs providing an occasional blur in the foreground (but no footstep sounds). As observed earlier, it’s not a close question-answer rhythm of a discussion but more like the elders saying their bit and Harihar his.

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Also notice the variety of characters, types, built, ages and indeed their postures and positions in the frame, where without talking they are all supposed to be supporting what the eldest amongst them is saying. None of them is making any kind of head gestures of consent and support, as both professionals and non-professionals tend to do in such acting situations. It’s very difficult for people in front of the camera just to be and not try in some way to ‘help’.

Harihar’s answer.

Harihar’s lines are interestingly similar to those of Sejo-bou, certainly in respect of the need to move to new places. “Staying at one place for too long makes you mean,” she says. “Look at me…” Likewise Harihar says, “There are times when…

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Notice the composition of the shot. A little looser than the opening tilt-up from his writings a while ago, this one here includes Nilmoni at the back. (Nilmoni is not arguing; being close to the family, he’s already on Harihar’s side of the divide on the subject.) Rather than equally share the frame as in the case of Sarbojaya and Nilmoni’s wife, Harihar has been asserted here at the centre. Which really places him as the man of the moment—unlike Sarbojaya’s assertive position in the frame in the earlier parts of the film, he’s in charge at the moment.

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Also relative positions of the host and the guest in both the compositions have been reversed—Nilmoni sits left frame while his wife with Sarbojaya was on the right. The formula is to break the formula.

Notice also that Apu hasn’t been run in this shot. Not only would it be overdoing him in the present context, he has been also saved for the immediate next.

Apart from the emphasis it denotes, track-in movements of the camera have also been associated with a certain conclusion in this part of the film—akin to end of a paragraph. The scene of Harihar’s return ended a brief while ago with the view tracking in on Apu by the pond. Thus, at the end of the present shot when the view tracks in to Harihar’s close up—the same size by the way as at the beginning of this scene—the audience knows the scene is concluding.

Equally, why doesn’t the camera track in on the elders? Say, when they are talking about his three generations having lived in the village which he is now leaving? The answer is: the filmmaker is sympathetic to Harihar’s position, rather than the elders’ trying to persuade him to rethink departure. Tracking in on both parties would suggest an evenly poised situation, waiting for a resolution one way or the other.

Notice across the scene the range and variety of household goods chosen to represent the family’s accumulation over the years. Harihar’s wasting writings, Sarbojaya’s trunks full of knick-knacks (Nilmoni’s wife is seen carefully rolling a conch shell in a cloth band while Sarbojaya is handling items from her dowry cane box), the large wooden divan in the courtyard on which elders are seated. By way of the children’s ‘wealth’, only the chance-find Durga’s stolen necklace represents the whole lot. Durga’s trinket box, if included, is bound to ‘share’ the emotional payoff with the necklace and blunt its sting.

And what does the boy do with the necklace? Acting from his newly acquired grown-up status, he runs out and tosses it in the pond. This in all respects is his independent decision arising from his own judgement. How much of their things are they carrying with them anyway? A lot of it has been left behind sold to pay up debts, as Harihar tells the visiting elders. Had it not been for this whole range of household goods ‘planted’ through the scene  (indeed through the film) the necklace’s disposal would not score as a major moment in the film as it does.

And finally, did the women’s visit, men’s visit and throwing of necklace happen sequentially or simultaneously? Where exactly are the women sorting things in the house? Are they and Harihar within each other’s earshot? Why aren’t they in that case heard in the background? Again these are all questions relating to Ray’s characteristic space-time treatment discussed at length in chapter 2.

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Apu stumbles upon the necklace.

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We are familiar with this visual idiom from early on in chapter 2 when Apu had similarly reached for a cup of oil from the same shelf for Durga’s tamarind paste. Except for a slower pace here, these are identical camera set ups, again all static, but fewer in numbers.

What is the coconut shell doing in the shot of the necklace? Sure, Durga had hidden the necklace in it but why have her hide it in a coconut shell? The idea is to make the moment as poignant as possible and the coconut shell helps to connect this present context with the specific day when first the children had fun licking the tamarind paste (a ‘stolen’ pleasure) and later when Durga stole the necklace. Music application, the repeat of the sharp drumbeat used over Durga’s thrashing, does the same on the sound track.

Then there is the spider walking away. Not an easy detail to shoot, mind you, and yet it’s been incorporated. Apart from its sensual and cultural associations, the image provides an echo of the larger meaning in the present context. The spider too has after all been dislodged from its place of residence. And not to forget besides that images also work in clusters. The spider here, a snake further down, the upturned frog a little earlier…

Apu disposes off the necklace.

Notice that the scene is in long shots and close ups. (The tree trunk fallen across Harihar’s compound wall has since been worked on.) Secondly, the poignancy of the moment comes from the unanticipated, unexplained, sudden decision of the boy to do such a neat job of the disposal and so simply. To have thought up all that, the boy certainly has grown, we say to ourselves.

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And Apu’s ‘acting’. As so many times before, there’s none per se! As established in the Soviet director Lev Kuleshov’s experiment with neutral expressions way back in 1918, the juxtaposition of closing moss with the low angle of Apu looking brings about the necessary pathos, not the boy’s emoting. The situation may well be a perfect example of that famous experiment.

Notice finally the lone bird sound used after the splash of the necklace on water. A similar application was noticed as an eerie punctuation earlier when Durga had received a thrashing from mother at Sejo-bou’s instance.

The departure.

From solitary bird to the chorus in the morning. The top angle shot of the deserted courtyard. That it is deserted is suggested by the fallen clothesline. Snakelike?

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Notice the introduction of the snake. It’s first seen in a close view and just a slithering section appearing among the stones. Then it is seen crawling a ‘lovely’ length across the veranda, entering the house. Music. Is the family still there? Is it going to be another parting kick before they leave? “Couldn’t you have waited?” Harihar had said to the fallen tree upon his return a little earlier. It’s a perfect situation for him to repeat the sentiment. Similarly, we felt relieved when we saw that the children had returned just in time while Pishi was still alive and breathing. Similar is the kind of apprehension that we experience on seeing the snake enter the house.

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Relief. Safe outdoors, open skies. A bullock cart on a dirt road, with no suggestion of the village even in the farthest background. The family—what remains of it—is leaving safe.

As the view pans with the bullock cart, the emphasis is on the ‘travelling system’ that it is—the hanging lantern, the two wheels, the dangling stand-stick—rather than the thatch under which the family would be sitting. Having travelled the night, the lantern is still lit you notice as the wheels cut through a clear patch of water. A perfect ‘hangover’ image from Durga’s death when the lamp had survived the storm and continued into the daylight.

Altogether the departure has been conceived as an effect-and-cause scheme. You first see the deserted house, then the family that left it. The other way round would have to drip with sentimentality. There would have had to be a full-blown ‘departure scene’, with each member leaving the rooms, carrying the last bit of luggage, crossing the threshold, the first turn of the bullock cart wheels, the last look at the house, the pond. Would they be seen off? By the Nilmoni family? All those inessentials have now been done away with. The family lost their daughter, the boy consigned her last stigma to a watery grave and they now leave.

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How do you seat the family in the bullock cart for the final scene? Where can you possibly shoot them from? What are the options? Why can’t Harihar be next to the driver in front—a single-axle two-wheeled cart such as this is usually balanced in seating for optimum mechanical advantage—Sarbojaya looking back at the receding road, and Apu perhaps sleeping? Wouldn’t they all have appropriate charge of symbolism, richness of meaning and even variety of angles suitable for ending a great film? Why can’t it be a see-through angle of view with the driver and the road also seen, with the whole thing moving into the sunrise?

In other words, why should the family seen in one go and against opaque background be Ray’s chosen option to end Pather Panchali?

That for once should be home work for the reader…

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Fade out

[To be continued]

Book PP /Chapter 10 (a)

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After a dense night, relief. Apu stands knocking at a door.

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We are spared the agony of staying with Sarbojaya against those slipping, impossible odds. Reminiscent of and modelled after the bright morning after the night of Apu’s birth. It was good news then; let’s see how it turns out here, is how we respond. How is Durga? Did she pull through? We await confirmation as we watch.

As if to play on the uncertainty, the narrative here has switched to Apu’s point of view. He had been asleep through the troubled night and here he is at Nilmoni’s door sent to call his wife. All through the errand Apu keeps trying to check what might be wrong and he is constantly not told. Finally the viewer gets to learn of the fact through Nilmoni’s wife but the child has again been given the slip. “Is Didi sleeping?” “Yes, yes. Go call your uncle…”

Telling her barely seen daughter to sweep the courtyard—same as how Sarbojaya had told Durga at the beginning of the film—“Let’s go,” says Nilmoni’s wife to Apu at the door. And the view dissolves to the devastation.

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Through a tilt down it’s an initial exploration of the damaged kitchen before the view levels up to a deep composition of Harihar’s courtyard in which Nilmoni’s wife and Apu appear.

Among the first details to strike is a dead frog among the utensils. In view of its widely acknowledged impact, there had been speculation that maybe the frog was a spot improvisation during shooting. But Ray confirmed that it had been in the script. Second detail that stands out from being in the middle of the courtyard composition is an earthen pot hanging from a fallen beam. And the third, as though in contrast to the frog, is a calf standing its size just behind the beam.

As Nilmoni’s wife and Apu enter the courtyard, they go wading through water. We are familiar with these sounds through an earlier association—when out to see the train, Apu had to walk through water to hear the humming telegraph poles. Pather Panchali abounds in such subliminal cross-references which help to hold the film together.

Nilmoni’s wife takes a momentary pause to look at the fallen kitchen. As they resume the view pans to include the family’s living unit to which both she and Apu climb. Oddly the living unit has a patch of direct sun over it. Was it a compromise to let such a shot pass in the thick of monsoon? Or would it be a welcome chance happening during shooting—indeed while the shot was rolling—enhancing the irony of clear weather so soon after a devastating storm? Schematically speaking, there is no sun in Pather Panchali after the arrival of rains. That was to heighten the grey mood of the film in that part of the film.

A technical comment before moving indoors. As the shot is passing over the frog, a drip falls creating a circle of ripples over water underneath. This telling detail lends a whole dimension of authenticity to the shot without which it would look lifeless.

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Much in the same way that a falling leaf does in the bamboo thicket as children went following the sweetmeat seller. Or the fresh leaves do as Sarbojaya sits wailing in front of the kitchen.

And while at it, imagine how the drop may have been achieved. By way of preparations for this shot, the setting would no doubt be arranged and the courtyard flooded with water. (Even though “neo-realistic”, it’s not necessary the shot was taken after real rains.) Then just before rolling the camera, have the setting sprayed and wait for the excess water to drain. If a drop doesn’t fall during the shot, have it done through a clever assistant. Two drops would be one too many.

Inside the room, notice the framing of Nilmoni’s wife and Apu as they stand looking.

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Through this section, Apu’s tininess has been emphasised in many ways. Even at Nilmoni’s door he tended to remain at the bottom of the frame. Here too he is on the edge. Withdrawing the camera a couple of feet from the actors would ease up the composition but it would lose on intimacy and emotion.

Check this composition in the context of different screen ratios. Composed for the Academy Aperture, the shot would be completely ruined if projected through the wide screen gate.

Notice that the way the scene is constructed, we are never allowed a stare at Durga’s face. Thus, for one, the actress is never challenged with having to hold breath for too long; and secondly, this is a ‘design’ decision—newly born Apu’s face too wasn’t clearly shown when Durga brought Pishi to see him. There it was a corner of the quilt which kept blocking the view, while here it’s Nilmoni’s wife’s person which keeps doing the same.

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Much has been made of the flickering flame during the storm. What has often missed popular notice is that the flame after all survived the storm. It was the girl that went away. The flame still burns quiet and steady when Nilmoni’s wife arrives. Irony now is that it needs to be put out and nobody is paying attention under the tragic circumstances.

A lit flame here, by the way, is as much a contrast to death as the fresh leaves were to poverty a while ago.

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Nilmoni’s wife pressing Sarbojaya’s head to her shoulder is only a partial resolution to Durga’s death. For full resolution, Sarbojaya’s cathartic release must await Harihar’s return.

Notice the devices through which the part-resolution has been achieved.

Firstly and chiefly, Sarbojaya doesn’t breakdown in spite of the sympathetic embrace. Neither does Nilmoni’s wife to be sure. Nor indeed Apu, whenever that may have taken place. We simply have been denied showing any crying until the flood gates. In fact there isn’t even a standard over-the-shoulder shot showing Sarbojaya’s expressions. Instead the narration moves on to show her drag through the routine—drawing water, cooking, staying unresponsive to neighbour’s gesture of sending vegetables, etc. Similarly, Apu has now to be on his own, not only getting ready and dressing up by himself but even returning for that large umbrella before setting out for school.

Notice too that all these actions are being independently carried out by the two characters, and not, say, one helping the other. Imagine Apu helping mother with drawing water from the well! Or Sarbojaya calling after him, asking to take the umbrella!

And finally the music which triggered by Nilmoni’s wife’s gesture of sympathy soon takes the character of a ‘montage’ mode underlining the general, rather than a more specific, cathartic application which comes later.

This is not the first time we are seeing Apu learn his lesson either. Earlier when Durga received a thrashing and was thrown out of the house, he had promptly gone to wash his mouth and sat down chanting from his schoolbook. While that evoked humour, this one is tragic. Equally that was also the time we saw the family settling down after an unpleasant event and the same is being done here. As observed elsewhere, Pather Panchali, as indeed Ray’s cinema as a whole, is built on deductive logic. You saw it then, see the difference now. And draw your own conclusions.

So that hardly anything in the film would be new by now. Nilmoni’s wife handing over kitchen to her daughter before leaving with Apu is a subtle repeat of Sarbojaya having done the same when, having been called by her husband to hand over the salary, she had asked Durga to tend to the cooking. Equally, the woman’s gesture of help is itself also not new—we have earlier seen her helping in all kinds of ways.

Now for the details of the montage.

Interestingly, the two streams of action are independent and autonomous. Apu gets ready and goes to school while Sarbojaya brings water and cooks. Both streams are a variation on how we have seen those chores done before. We never saw Sarbojaya washing clothes, for example, and she isn’t doing that here either.

Notice that Apu’s cleaning of teeth by the pond has this time been shown in the reverse angle to the frontal first time. This gives the act a holistic, comprehensive dimension. The same principle has been used towards showing the devastation caused by the storm, first from inside the courtyard as Nilmoni’s wife arrives and later from outside when Harihar returns.

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Similarly for Sarbojaya drawing water from the well.

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The first time the narration had followed her to the well, now it starts from the other end, from inside the well, coming up with the bucket. Notice too that her earlier associations of rope ‘cutting through the frame’ are still retained at the beginning of the shot.

Notice that the two shots of the courtyard showing Apu coming after bath and then leaving for buying kerosene are from the same camera viewpoint.

This indeed is going to remain the main viewing angle—the ‘home’ angle, if you like—for subsequent actions in the veranda, like Harihar settling down upon return showing Sarbojaya what he has brought and the snake entering the house at the end.

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This time Apu combing his hair is not an image in the mirror as it may seem. It’s a low angle shot looking up at the boy, the mirror being below the frame. Also, coming as it does between two similar views of the courtyard, the shot provides a good punctuation point even as it sums up the boy’s getting ready.

Since flooding in the rain, some order has been introduced through providing stepping-stones in the courtyard. But equally Apu doesn’t much use them as he enters. However by the time he leaves with the kerosene bottle, a new concept has been introduced in the shot because of which we do not see the courtyard floor. This time round the camera pans back and forth with the boy, with the tilt firmly locked.

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This enables the narration to explore purely the graphic dynamics of the frame as the boy climbs up and down the stairs.

Associated earlier with going to school, Apu goes down the same dirt road, now by himself. Notice other differences between the two compositions. This time the camera is higher emphasising the lone figure. Could the spectacled bystander profitably be switched to this shot?

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More associations have been built around the same location. Pishi was carried off for cremation down the same path and in a more magnified view, Apu munching grams was seen returning from school as rain clouds gathered. It’s interesting to note that none of the applications of this location are shot in a reverse view, showing the village settlement. It’s always a one way, outbound view.

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The hearth and the view tilting up along the cooking pots.

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Notice the concept of the shot. In one continuous even-paced tilt along the set up—hearth, the pots, the broth inside ‘eager’ to brim over, finally to Sarbojaya’s stoned, lost looks as vapours play in front of her face—it’s a whole story of her state of mind in one go.

Nilmoni’s daughter brings vegetable.

Two things are noteworthy about this scene. One, where in the house has this new kitchen been set up? And two, the shot division. It’s never directly been established that after the collapse of her kitchen, Sarbojaya now cooks in Pishi’s veranda—exactly where Pishi used to cook. This fact has been underplayed; perhaps more than this would be making an issue of it which would distract from the immediate business at hand, namely the steady and systematic build up to the grand cathartic discharge from Durga’s death.

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In the first shot of the girl, it’s extremely important to include the courtyard door, howsoever briefly, because that provides the viewer a firm reference point to the geography of this sub-location. Minus the door, we’ll never make out that it’s Pishi’s veranda.

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Then the girl goes past the camera and eventually stops by at a distance from Sarbojaya, both facing away from the camera. The view then match-cuts to a frontal of the girl as after getting no response from Sarbojaya, she begins to leave the vegetables on the veranda floor. The visual anchor here is the tulsi plant in the background. Finally in the same shot, and all the time looking at Sarbojaya, the girl withdraws.

Notice that more than half the acting of the girl is covered by the facial type that she is. The rest is asking her to just keep looking at Sarbojaya as she goes through her action. Plus, if you can imagine, Ray’s cool, minimal, instructions as the shots are rolling.

But how do we know this girl is Nilmoni’s daughter? Well, the same as we knew that the balding man standing by as the doctor examined Durga was Nilmoni. Purely through proximities and associations. The “circumstantial push” in both cases suggests the characters’ identities.

Additionally, the girl comes with her hair in fancy plaits if you notice. Well, Durga too used to ask her mother for something like that!

Finally, Harihar’s arrival. 

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Sarbojaya is the first to react—with the vapours still playing around her face, the lone bangle on her hand slides down a notch as she comes alive. (No sound, though; the image is big enough.)

Notice that the whole scene is built around Harihar’s discovering in stages the damage caused by the storm, the ultimate damage being Durga’s death. That’s the concept of the scene, just as our first look at Apu after birth was through Pishi’s return to the household. Both are the presiding logic of the scenes, so to speak.

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While the first two shots give an indication of the damage through a smaller branch, he discovers (as we do too) the large trunk fallen across the boundary wall only in the third shot.

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Then as he moves towards the door, the view pans to show more damage, stopping at a rich composition just short of the main door.

As noted earlier, this view of the damage is the exact reverse angle of (and therefore complementary to) what we saw during Nilmoni’s wife’s visit just a while ago. So much so that, whereas that view was from inside the fallen kitchen, this leaves out the kitchen space altogether. The damage to the house is shown in sections that add up.

The shot holds on as Harihar exits towards the door, opens it offscreen, and reappears inside at an unhurried pace. We have seen a whole range of shots built around such a concept—Apu briefly bending outside to spit by the pond, a blank view waiting as the slate reappears suitably crossed, Apu going in and returning with the umbrella. Even otherwise, there have been so many entries and exits through the courtyard door that holding back from showing it this once is a beauteous stance by itself. And if it catches your attention, it’s ironic that that singularly fragile structure, the courtyard door, should have still been the one to hold out in the storm.

That’s when Sarbojaya appears and the two climb the steps to the veranda. There had been no formal farewell when he left and there are no greetings now as he returns. Harihar ascribes her stoic silence to the damaged house, we decide.

Once the action reaches the verandah, it’s largely played out in the ‘home’ angle view. Harihar stands uncertainly with his bundles as Sarbojaya goes in and out of the room bringing him things to wash his feet. We are by now fully familiar with the custom and look for when and how he is going to receive the big news. Finally as Sarbojaya is about to leave, he stops her and settles down right there in the veranda to show her what he has brought.

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Stage is now set for the grand cathartic discharge.

The mega feel of the famous scene comes from the fact that it is actually a two-in-one catharsis. One, Sarbojaya’s long held opening of flood gates and two, Harihar’s own response to the news of his daughter’s death. Since the two play out without interfering with each other’s space, the impact is a multiplied, compounded one.

Sarbojaya’s floodgates.

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Examine the viewing level of this two-shot composition. It has been taken from an angle higher than the sitting Harihar but slightly lower than the standing Sarbojaya. The shot has been composed so as to catch the raised gifts—particularly the sari which he insists her to touch—in the centre of the frame. Thus the close view of the sari when it comes becomes a perfect ‘inset’ of the two-shot, necessitating raising the frame to capture Sarbojaya’s breakdown. With this begins a sustained dialectic of ‘rise and falls’ between the frame and the action in the rest of the sequence.

The raising of frame showing Sarbojaya’s breakdown has been synchronised with the start of the persistent, high-octave tar-shehnai music, triggering off the emotional discharge. Sarbojaya collapses out of frame and is first ‘collected’ in the two shot with Harihar where he had been showing gifts, and then rolls over, lying across the frame in the ‘home’ angle composition. Her face hidden from view, the burden of the scene now transfers to Harihar and begins to build up towards his outburst.

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Harihar’s wail.

Harihar has so far been taking the shocking news, vivid but unheard. His instinctive first reaction on learning of Durga’s death is to stand up. But almost immediately he feels his energy drained—‘weak in the knees’—and sinks back, resting his head on his wife’s sprawling, sobbing body. Finally overwhelmed, he raises his head and gives out a long, agonised wail.

For this single uncut shot, it’s again a fluid camera (this time on the rails) that continues with its rise-and-fall play with the action. As Harihar begins to rise, there is no effort to tilt up with him—instead the view waits (seeing his trembling hand in the process) as if knowing he would soon have to return, which he does. The view then recedes as he raises his head from Sarbojaya’s body and at the end gives out the long wail.

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As noted throughout this commentary, Ray’s camera engages with the character as though in a dialogue. It’s not a formulaic ‘coverage’ of the action but its selective, ‘intelligent’ delineation directed towards generating emotion. There are any number of examples worth a close study from Ray’s cinema in this regard.

Notice, too, that after a selective reporting of voices through the scene, Harihar’s wail is played out full-throated, loud and clear, carrying outside the house where Apu stands listening by the pond. For one, this brief partial restraint followed by an uncontrolled expression is a repeat—an echo—from Sarbojaya’s own outburst, only here the release being almost immediate. Secondly, in the scheme of camera movements, notice the ‘conflict’ of movements across the cut as the scene concludes. The camera first tracked in on Harihar, then it eased out from him and across the cut once again tracked in, this time on Apu.

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Notice the magic of wind in this concluding shot when it plays all around the boy, not only among the leaves and branches in the background but also blowing his clothes and hair as he stands holding a man size umbrella under the arm.

Has this montage been a development over one single day? Or is it an account of their way of life in general after Durga’s death and therefore happening over many days?

To be sure it is a combination of both. While the chronology of activities could add up to a single morning chores—Apu stands cleaning his teeth at the pond, Sarbojaya brings water from the well, Apu gets ready and leaves for kerosene, Nilmoni’s daughter brings vegetable to a lost Sarbojaya, who only comes to when Harihar calls—they have not been taken from the same single morning. One detail that helps enforce this is Sarbojaya’s bindi which is smudged the day she is at the well and normal otherwise. In fact there is evidence to suggest even some ‘recovery’ by the time Harihar comes. For one, Sarbojaya’s sari grows somewhat less tattered than the condition it had been in through Durga’s death and earlier.

Harihar decides to leave.

Notice first the ease with which the film deals with such a major decision. The man lies awake at night and a train passes in the distance. Almost Haiku in its grace, wit and brevity. Ordinarily such a step would ‘demand’ a scene discussing the issue. In fact such a scene is there but after the decision has been taken and even announced to the villagers.

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Secondly, watch the composition of the shot. Again a classic Academy Aperture Satyajit Ray. Harihar lies big in the middle of the frame, while Sarbojaya and Apu sleep huddled in the leftover space, barely noticed. And yet picture of a family, with the head deciding. Next the family would be seen in a single static composition like the present only at the very end of the film, on the bullock cart.

This would be Sarbojaya’s soundest sleep in months. Having managed in the breadwinner’s absence all these days, the charge is back to where it belongs.

Reminiscent of another noble example from the times: Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu Monagatari. The dead woman’s ghost looks after the child in her husband’s absence and quietly leaves once he arrives and takes charge.

[To be continued]

 

Book PP /Chapter 9

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After the ‘high’ of marriage in the previous chapter, silence.

The view fades in where it had last left off on Harihar’s family, on the kitchen pots. No grains are by now left.

Resuming thus on the grains turns the intervening marriage sequence into a cut-away of sorts.

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It’s a tighter shot than before and the bangled, feminine hands lifting the pots one by one finally turn out to be, not Sarbojaya’s as we first thought but the friendly neighbour’s who’s been checking them. This is by now a style in this neighbourhood of scenes. In the marriage sequence just before, similar thing had happened in relation to Apu (next to the horn player) and Sarbojaya (while cutting vegetables).

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Interestingly, a close inspection of shots—not possible in a running film—reveals that the pitchers are not quite the same as before; neither in arrangement, nor even the pieces themselves. Even camera angle is different. Just as in case of the courtyard door that Sarbojaya went in and out through bringing these grains, it’s almost a philosophical position with Ray that things can never quite remain the same across a time lapse.

Sarbojaya is desolate; the friendly neighbour forces help and leaves.

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Once again, utter simplicity and directness of the scene is striking.

Notice the presence of a fresh-leaved creeper in the shot when the neighbour leaves. Ray’s idiom incorporates—rather is built up of—such contrasts for the ‘crispness’ of expression. This may seem a far-fetched observation but imagine the ‘dull’ visual it would have been without the fresh creeper. 25 years later in Ashani Sanket Ray composed a whole film on the irony that a famine occurred while the crops stood fresh and green.

Finally a design note on the mise-en-scene as a whole.

Altogether in Pather Panchali there are three such intrusions made by outsiders. A child accompanying Sejo-bou had freely run inside the house to fetch Durga’s play-box in her absence; earlier Pishi had entered the same kitchen to pinch spices even as Sarbojaya sat outside;  and now the sympathetic neighbour has been inside checking pots. All three violations (Pishi’s included; she too is an outsider living and cooking separate) cover different shades of human relationships from different angles and are complementary to each other.

Chitti, chitti, chitti…!” Another letter comes from Harihar.

A lot is common between the two letters and the effect they have on Sarbojaya. Accordingly the shot division of both scenes is similar in certain respects and different in others. The scenes are designed to work purely on the basis of deductive logic.

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In both shots where she reads the letters, Sarbojaya is approaching the camera but the image size is bigger in the second instance. In both she tends to turn her head towards her right, but does so until a complete profile only the second time. While sunlight plays a very expressive role in the first letter, second time round an unexplained brightness implies the spread of cheer as she approaches the camera. Apu had dropped the first letter on the ground which Sarbojaya picked up and read, but she snatches the second letter from him after a tight slap. (In both however she turns round as the view match-cuts to her settling down with the letter). Both letters are read standing, and both in the courtyard. Sarbojaya’s disappointment after reading the first letter is expressed through having her sit down, whereas her elation—physical as well as emotional—is expressed through her going one stage further, lying down exhausted on the veranda floor. And of course both actions are ‘jumped’ to and not shown as they happen. After the first letter has been read, the view cuts to the mendicant and we discover her already seated as a result at the end of the camera pan; whereas after the second letter, the view dissolves to the glorious ripples on the pond and the rest of the memorable montage, leading us eventually to her lying spent on the floor. The impact of one letter is brought out through ‘a holding back’ silence whereas the second is expressed through ‘the gay abandon’ of a long feast of music and poetry. When Apu brings the first letter, he carries a bow and runs through a wider frame just outside their house; when he brings the second, he carries a stick and a slightly tighter frame pans with him as he runs much the same as before. One could go on and on depending upon one’s patience and capacity.

The celebrated montage.

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In this section the plot takes a holiday and the narrative begins to savour the sudden relief that Sarbojaya has come upon. As it happens, this stretch is the longest such holiday taken by the narration in Pather Panchali. Perhaps it’s a good idea to call it a privileged moment in the film.

Portrayal of mood being the emphasis here, it would seem the choice of images could be arbitrary. But it is only apparently so. Even in independent, autonomous images—ripples over water, insects, flat spread of leaves, dog, cat—a certain narrative thrust can be sensed. In fact so definite is the narrative here that even rains and later on the storm seem to be caused and brought upon the family by the extremes suffered by Sarbojaya. From being in the pits to sudden elation, it’s her experience of this extreme hot-and-cold that seems to permeate the atmosphere and first bring the rains and then the storm, which ultimately force them to leave the village. The whole sequence is as though ‘triggered’ by Sarbojaya’s sudden release from suffering.

Two considerations are of essence here. One, there being no specific action to follow, the overall length of the sequence has to be judged in the context of the flow of the story. And two, determining what the ‘subject matter’ of the individual images, the shots, would be.

The montage itself is in two broad sections. And much against popular impression, wide liberties seem to have been taken with the time of the day (or even days) over which the action has taken place.

The first section would start from Sarbojaya getting the good news, followed by elation, the pond, the water skaters, the flat leaves, the dragonflies, the dog and kitten, and the birdcage until she is seen fanning herself lying on the veranda floor. This without doubt would be one continuous action on the same day.

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Then comes Durga putting on kajal in the eyes and bindi on the forehead and this should be the beginning of the second section. But is this happening on the same day? How long would it be after the letter?

After a leisurely kajal and bindi, followed by an elaborate bath (presumably in the pond), Durga hastens through rituals around a sapling in her courtyard as rain clouds gather. On the same calling and intercut with this, Apu too returns from school (having just brought the letter, he couldn’t have gone to school the same day) and on an unspoken understanding, both then run off to play in the rains.

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The montage would have us believe that the rattle of the courtyard door as Durga makes a dash outdoors wakes up the drained Sarbojaya, who then gets up anxiously calling after her and begins to remove the washing from the line.

Was this one of the ‘mistakes’ Ray had in mind—the other one he singled out was the old Pishi struggling to thread the needle at night (on the grounds that activities like threading needles, sweeping floors etc are not done at night in rural India)—which on the occasion of 25th anniversary of Pather Panchali he said he felt embarrassed about?

When rain comes, there are no dark associations built around it. Those come later, in the wholesale, on the night of Durga’s death. At the moment it’s rather the arrival of the monsoon season with all the positive, cultural associations that go with it. Seen in this light, it’s interesting that the whole experience of this first rain of the season should be rooted in humour—we are specifically shown where its very first drop falls.

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Again, all kinds of things are happening back home while children are away. One of them, which is critically placed in relation to Durga catching cold, is Sarbojaya picking up the fallen coconut from the ground while returning with an armful of firewood. Although she is not quite stealing the coconut, she picks it up like a thief. (The ‘stealth’ gesture, by the way, is a repeat of her leaving home early morning to pawn her dowry brass.) And that’s when we see Durga’s first sneeze from catching cold.

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A moral angle is slipped in—indeed stealthily—between the two developments. Did mother’s picking up a fruit, not quite her own, in some way cause the daughter to catch cold, which eventually led to her death?

Notice details in terms of the staging of the action. Between the two children, Durga is the one to be really bathing in the rain while Apu quickly comes to stand under the tree watching. The portrayal is not quite the equivalent of “Both children played and one caught cold…” It’s more nuanced than that. When sitting huddled together, she is the one who keeps trying to protect Apu against cold, while catching it herself.

The key difference between the children’s response to the rain is Durga’s adolescence. There is a distinct touch of sexuality in her behaviour that goads her to act as she does.

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Furthermore, it’s noteworthy that two poems get to be recited, both by Durga, in quick succession at this stage of the narration. One, her hurried chant in front of the plant before running off to play and the second the equivalent of “Rain, rain, go away…” as she sits with her rather insufficient wrapper around her little brother as the two get wet. (Words are heard but not the sneeze.) And another moral angle: Did the hurried chant bring punishment upon the child in this tragic manner?

Doctor’s visit.

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The big close up—somber looks plus the stethoscope—delivers its goods all at once. The doctor, you say, upon this silent shot after a long, long rain sequence with plenty of music. The next shot—Durga lying on the bed asked to show tongue—confirms the same.

In a way, all subsequent shots after this keep exploring the same idea from the point of view of different characters. Apu as he responds to the ‘fun’ part of the doctor’s visit, the mother and friendly neighbour, Nilmoni’s wife, as they watch anxiously, and the portly Nilmoni himself, as the man in charge of the situation in Harihar’s absence—indeed highlighting that important absence. The strategy of the scene is to ‘enlist’ characters one by one, in one’s, two’s and finally briefly the whole group as the doctor leaves.

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Notice the doctor. It’s essentially a local vaidya, a herbalist with stethoscope. He is not quite a quack, the doctor. Only a ‘malnourished’ professional. As a physical type, his key contribution remains as a somber face with the stethoscope at the entry point into the scene; never mind if the rest of him as he speaks his lines does not quite match up to that telling image.

After the doctor’s visit, the children come closer to share a secret. Notice the ‘tension’ created in the second shot with wholly graphic means. There is no effort to ‘fill the frame’ with the children; they remain precariously at the edges, with the gap emphasised.

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It’s overall the same stance as had been deployed earlier between the two children when sleeping one night, Apu had drawn closer asking Durga if she had taken Ranu’s necklace. Once again it’s the ‘sameness’ with a difference.

After ‘fun’ part of falling sick, the grim foreboding.

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Notice the concept of the straight tilt-down, single shot. The sweetmeat seller in the distance with his ‘fun music’ associations—he’s always been in the distance for these children—then the view begins to tilt down showing closer foreground this side of the pond. Comes and goes an out-focus wooden bar (water drops falling) and we realise we are indoors, looking out. Soon the focus withdraws further inside, on the bed and, suddenly, we are faced with Durga staring back at us, unblinking, deadpan, withdrawn.

Style-wise it’s a similar concept as the last tilt down shot of Pishi as she lay dead. In terms of lighting, the moulded face falls in the same category as she looking wistfully at Ranu on the night of her marriage. Both images extend the same meaning.

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The night.

Consider the mise-en-scene as a whole. The action takes place all indoors while the storm builds, rages and spends itself outside. While we witness the essential tragedy as it happens, we will get to see the wider devastation it has caused only the next morning.

Both literally and symbolically, the plot of this scene is an account of Sarbojaya being overwhelmed and overtaken by the fury of the storm. The window curtain is first to come off and just as she reaches out to tuck it, the old creaking door gives way. Then, while she struggles with managing the door, the lamp flame begins to flicker, the girl begins to moan, and idol begins to rock. It’s in the midst of this slipping situation that Durga raises her arms for mother’s embrace. And while the two embrace—with Apu sleeping completely unawares beside—the lightening and thunder spend themselves out on Ganesh’s idol.

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Ray’s cinema, particularly in its early black-and-while phase, evolved a style where direct simplicity is the name of the game. It seems to be even unaware of any kind of theories, principles of aesthetics, or even wider practice of the medium in India or abroad. That the flickering flame and rocking gods are staple images done to death by Indian commercial cinema does not deter him from using them. The source of light in that dilapidation is after all an oil lamp, the porous house with all kinds of insufficiencies is where they live and it would have to be foolhardiness to ignore the telltale signs of the storm—rain, wind and lightening—penetrating this dwelling in all kinds of ways. Ray simply trains his camera to see and examine this multilayered reality against which Sarbojaya is fighting a losing battle.

Notice that Durga’s death is not conclusively established in this scene. That she is no more becomes clear only with Nilmoni’s wife’s visit next morning. But even then its emotional discharge is held back through Sarbojaya’s stunned (and stoned) looks, then as well as subsequently through the days until Harihar’s return. That’s how her final breakdown has the effect of an emotional dam-burst, both on her as well as the spectator. Harihar, on the other hand, purges himself then and there. Apu, as is famously commented upon, has neither cried nor suffered a choke on account of his sister’s death; he has just grown from the experience.

The chapter fades out with the sound and fury of nature still beating over the idol.

Some concluding observations. The children’s room has been seen before on a number of occasions. It’s the room with the flame beside which Sarbojaya sits mending clothes as children sleep. Through repeated use that frontal view has been established as the main visual association with the room. For the first time during the storm sequence does the camera cut to a reverse angle—Durga’s subjective view—to show the opposite side and that is when Durga suddenly raises her arms for mother’s embrace.

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We get to see more of this angle next morning at the time of Nilmoni’s wife’s visit: It’s nothing more than the washing hanging on improvised points, presumably transferred inside because of rains. By itself it doesn’t make an extra contribution to the story but as a progression of the motif, it is there for those who would care to see.

Also, the lighting of the room does not attempt to reproduce the flicker of the flame as would be almost imperative today. Only the flame flickers, not its corresponding visual effect through the room. Given the film speeds of the day—the degree of its sensitivity to light—maybe such a facility wasn’t available then but ultimately it’s a question of the elements that you choose to deploy. Ray constructs the effect through progressive build-up of lightening over objects in the frame.

What’s remarkable is that one doesn’t miss that effect today.

[To be continued]

Book PP /Chapter 8

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Fade to fade, this is the briefest sequence of the film at 2 minutes and 45 seconds.

Even before the view opens, the band music—in complete contrast to the earlier tar shehnai theme music—firmly foregrounds itself. And then fades in the substantiation of it, the players.

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We see the back of the conductor, his uniform frayed, as the view begins to track back. Notice the geometry of the shot. It’s a low-angle camera with pan and tilt locked, simply pulled back at a steady revealing pace. And indeed there is a lot for us to see in multiple planes. The conductor, the row of players facing him (and us), a high compound wall behind, over which a corner of the parapet of the roof converges. There is commotion on the roof as a group of girls goes across. Washing, associated with this roof from the opening scene, is again prominently hanging in stripes.

Ranu’s marriage, you mutter.

From this low angle, first to contrasting top angle view, panning with an old man joining the group around the band. Then, an eye-level close view of the bespectacled old man. From back view of the group, the frontal of the individual.

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Return to another back view of another group. This time a child runs down the static shot to join the group. This is Apu but we do not know until—

Front close of a few boys watching intently. Soon comes a push from behind and Apu emerges to join in front. One boy does a genuine, authentic double take.

Wonder how he was directed for the shot.

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Notice the cut. It’s not a match cut, not quite. The delay—followed by the push—brings forth the humour.

The man the children watch—a loose-bearded, old musician working a horn. Another instrument is poking into the clutter of the frame.

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Old men, a row of them, comment excitedly as they watch—unheard as well as unable to hear each other. The view pans from close-up to close-up, pausing on each, recalling a similar use during delivery scene in Chapter 1.

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These three and the first one who came to watch, incidentally, are some of the recognisable faces who constitute the ‘villagers’ in the film and appear off and on.

Notice that there is no audio component of the old men’s shouting provided in the sound channels at all. It’s not as if their voices are played very low, they are simply not accounted for. The band music, too, is not heard at its usual high decibels. While in live situations such music can be actually painful to the ear, here it’s merely the fact being reported—in a humorous vein—rather than reproduced at a realistic level. And certainly during shooting the band has been actually played, off screen and pretty close, in order to get the right expressions for this shot.

Another old musician, in big close-up, as the view slides down to see, first one boy watching from close quarters and then, still lower, Apu. Momentarily you thought the first boy was Apu, until you discovered it was the second one after him. It’s more than a little visual witticism—equivalent of ‘smaller still’. Variations of this pun are going to be used shortly in a variety of contexts.

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Remarkably, the whole of this ‘outside view’ of marriage consists entirely of old men and children. Even musicians chosen to emphasise are old. There are no girls, no women, and no young men either. The shots too are taken to emphasise conflict. Conflict of high and low angles, back long views cut with frontal close ones, relating wrinkled old faces with fresh young ones, the all-submerging loud music conflicted with impossible-to-hear shouts.

The brass band music continues as the view switches indoors for the ‘inside view’ of celebrations.

This, again, is in total contrast to what we have seen of the marriage so far—and how we have seen it. The focus outside was on loud music and how old and young are attracted to it; inside it’s on food. Food not being eaten, or even cooked, but being readied for cooking. Outside it was many shots; here it is one continuous track visiting ‘stalls’ where cutting action is going on. Outside it was men; here it’s all women. And all middle-aged.

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Two things are noteworthy. One, the opening fish-cutting action has been synchronised with a screeching long note on music, associating it with the sharp-tongued Sejo-bou who we find bossing as the view tilts up. (We have earlier noted similar associations worked in with Sejo-bou.) Two, at the end of the longish track Sarbojaya is discovered as the second woman in the background, just as in the immediately preceding shot Apu was the second child watching the musician. In both cases, we had expected the first person seen to be our characters.

The third woman kneeling vaguely in the background turns out to be Sejo-bou eyeing Sarbojaya. This would be a tie-up of sorts to the lengthy shot where we started as well as ended up with the supervising foul-mouth Sejo-bou.

Notice the efficient vegetable cutting that is going on—of the fish, the pumpkin, the brinjals. These truly are ‘professionals’ got for the job, not just extras for the shot. As elsewhere, these apparently minor details breathe credibility into a Ray image.

Music changes from brash brass to the somber shehnai as the scene shifts further indoors to the solemnity of the marriage ceremony.

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This is depicted in two sections, the bridal make up over day—perhaps evening—while the ceremony itself takes place at night. And in both there are only girls present, mostly playmates from the earlier outdoor cooking scene in the jungle. There are no women, no other men, not even the bride’s father. Nor indeed even the groom! The old priest is the only exception—once again an echo of the other old men seen watching the band players earlier on. A rounding off of the chapter as a whole a la Satyajit Ray.

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Consistent with the rest of the portrayal of Ranu’s marriage, only two essential characters, Ranu and Durga are singled out for showing here. One being the bride and the other the bride not-to-be. Indeed, that’s the principal value of the scene in the film; otherwise why should the marriage of a minor character be of interest to us? Durga is not destined to experience such happiness, we understand.

The wistful look on Durga’s face in both sections is achieved largely through lighting. And camera movement.

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To begin with, in both situations she has been sitting in a similar, facing left position, smiling in the first but pensive in the second, asked to swallow as expression of emotion. Finally we can see even glisten of a tear. Additionally in the second, the light source being a lamp on the floor, she’s lit from below. This is of course no ‘slave’ realism—the lamp itself has been placed on the floor for this lighting effect. This along with a prominent rim of light on the hair creates the necessary magic—a caress, if you like—which is further underlined through a high-angle, characteristic pan-tilt locked camera tracking.

Over these two stages another factor heightening Durga’s remoteness is the ‘loss’ of a close friend to marriage. While during make up Rano glances at Durga, it’s no coincidence that there is no exchange of looks between the two girls during the actual ceremony. Rano already belongs to the other world.

Notice that such lighting treatment in various ways is given only to Durga and Pishi in the entire film. These two are the marked ones, for death.

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Interestingly, the chapter had started with a pan-tilt locked tracking back from the band conductor. Here it tracks forward in a similar fashion to Durga. Another bracketing, another rounding off.

In conclusion, a word on what the band has been playing. This is a familiar ceremonial march piece associated with British infantry from the times. While today the marriage bands would have an unlimited choice of Bollywood songs to play, this piece would be apt for PP’s turn of the century period. Even today this music has a familiar ring from being played by the Indian army bands.

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In the mise-en-scene of the film, however, this piece of music would represent one of the colonial influences reaching this remote village; steam engine and telegraph being others. Doctor’s stethoscope should be yet another. As well as a single safety pin that Durga’s lifeless hand wears with her bangles; that too should be serving the same purpose.

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Secondly, it’s interesting to note that the age of the girls surrounding the bride tends to average towards being children. (A chubby girl behind Ranu looks straight from the 18-19th century European paintings.) While this would be authentic for the times—kids were married off early back then—notice how in the present context the social issue of child marriage does not end up highjacking the point of the story.

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To this end Ranu’s casting too helps to a large extent.Even though she couldn’t be older than early teens, as bride she looks more mature. Given her face and general demeanour, she seems only waiting to get into the bridal fineries.

Ray was known to have an uncanny eye for casting. Fifty per cent of the job of acting is casting; the other fifty is what you ask them to do, he told us in one of his visits to the Institute.

[To be continued]

 

Book PP /Chapter 7

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An opening similar to that of the preceding chapter: with drum beat.

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From a grim, death scene to the lively call for fun. From the intense, personal, “depth” experience involving Pishi’s death, back to the call of the wider world, the “width” experience. “Dilli dekho…

Notice how the children have been organized to run from all directions. You can be sure there are assistants releasing them to a pre-worked, though not perhaps rehearsed, random order from various directions.

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Again, as earlier towards the sweetmeat seller, Durga and Apu look wistfully from the distance.

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Notice again that they have been given the task of chewing at a straw to help them ‘act’.

Harihar is leaving, hoping to find work in another village. Once again, in a way, it’s a reassertion of the “width experience”, a more specific one.

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Notice first of all the cut from the children to the veranda. Harihar and Sarbojaya are both caught in mid-action, drawing immediate attention to the activity at hand, namely his departure. Normally a static moment is chosen to start such shots.

The simplicity of the scene is striking. Just two shots, first a full-figure in the veranda where all elements of departure can be seen in one glance and the second a tighter view indoors. He’s forgetting something; goes inside to take it—it’s an umbrella. Returning he bows to the Ganesh idol and re-emerges to his luggage and Sarbojaya. Then, collects everything and is simply gone. No goodbyes, no farewell.

All these elements are going to be referred to in various ways later on.

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And finally, just as he had a moment back bowed, so does she after him. In apprehension.

Back to “Dilli dekho…” and the children as before.

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The “Dilli dekho…” soundtrack has been simmering all along. And again as once before, Durga having spotted father, asks Apu to go and ask coins—it’s always him.

Harihar has just bowed passing in front of a temple when Apu runs up to him. And once again the view remains in the long shot waiting as Durga watches.

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On the earlier occasion she had already known they were not getting the coins, here the bliss on her face says it all.

Notice that we are not shown what the children see inside the bioscope box. Instead the view dissolves to the courtyard, perhaps in the suggestion that while children amuse themselves with bioscope, ‘bio’ itself unrolls under its own dynamics.

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Now for some observations. Three bows in succession, all in silent prayer, and all three in the context of his departure, serve to plant an anxiety in the mind of the viewer. Will he return? Bring money? Will the family sail through in his absence? All the earlier prayers in the film were nonspecific—Sejo-bou’s as the film began, Sarbojaya and Pishi’s at the tulsi plant in the courtyard as an evening routine. But these bows are specific to his departure.

Also Ganesh idol—any idol for that matter—has been first introduced at the point of Harihar’s departure. This is the idol that would dramatically shake and be lit up by lightening as Durga lies dying that stormy night at the end. That’s the idol’s “resolution” in the film. In a way, from idol to idol, this is the beginning of Durga’s death. Just after Pishi dies, Durga begins to die too. Those are the two ‘natural halves’ of the story that Ray spoke about after all.

Notice the overall richness of the scene in terms of associations carried forward from the past and those planted for the future. For one, it’s a series of parallel cuttings, big and small, as has been the pattern so far. Essentially a “departure scene”, it begins with the children outdoors, comes home for the specific departure and resumes on the children where they spot the father and are this time lucky to get the coins.

In a way this larger pattern has already been introduced at home in a “micro” way. Harihar is in the veranda, goes in for the umbrella and returns to the same veranda composition before leaving.

Harihar leaving with an umbrella is also a plant for future when after Durga’s death, Apu too does the same with breathtaking levels of meaning and implications.

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Finally, notice that Harihar’s departure as portrayed here is viewed from inside the veranda.

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His return, at the end of the film, especially its pay-off would also be played out and viewed from the same veranda, through the same camera viewpoint.

And indeed the same viewpoint repeats for the family’s departure at the end of the film, signified by a snake crawling across towards the room. All of which had been foreshadowed by a similar composition down Pishi’s already deserted veranda as she left home for the last time.

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Dissolve to spread of food in the courtyard for sunning. Another coin changes hands as Sarbojaya sends Durga to get gur.

Again, Durga has been given a cat to carry, which helps her performance. Notice that she was headed for the living unit of the house when mother called her from the kitchen veranda. After taking the coin she drops the cat and adjusts the plate towards a patch of sun, thereby establishing the sun for a more definitive use soon after.

Both are simple devices to incorporate in the action and both greatly help Durga to go through the shot with ease and natural charm.

This is how her movements look in the ground plan of the shot.

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A word about the deployment of cats in PP. From a number of kitten at the beginning—echoing little Durga—there are none seen after Apu’s birth. A grown up cat followed Durga as she entered the courtyard with the milk early in chapter 2. After that we see Durga carrying one now. The last cat seen in the film would be playing with a dog in the montage after Harihar’s letter. After that there is no cat.

Notice the way the arrival of the letter is handled. Simply holding it up, Apu has been asked to run a specific path before dropping it.

Notice how Sarbojaya moves under shade as she reads the disappointing letter. Again it’s her acting that is helped in the process! Notice Durga’s quiet return from her errand. Lit up by the sun, she enters the frame at the back, reading her mother just as Sarbojaya reads the letter. Thanks to lighting, the two are in different worlds—Harihar’s voice-over is after all not meant for Durga. And yet seeing the effect it has on mother, she knows what it has.

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Check out deployment of sunlight in the mise-en-scene of this scene, as indeed the film as a whole. Deployment as well as its absence—after Durga’s death everything of the film was shot in the overcast monsoon skies.

A mendicant comes asking alms. Durga substitutes for the mother and is blessed with riches…

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Mark the concept of this single shot. And its geometry. It looks like a very casually placed camera as we see the mendicant approaching, then we notice that it has been positioned for a through-the-door composition of sitting Sarbojaya and standing Apu. (Just their posture acts for both of them.) Finally, as the mendicant waits, after a trifle too long appears Durga bringing the flour. The camera’s line of view and Durga’s path from the kitchen intersect critically at just about 20 degrees to create the required tension.

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Another example of a similar ‘teasing’ geometry is in Aparajito where Sarbojaya comes descending the staircase and spotting Apu refreshing the chillum, takes an instant decision to leave Benares.

Dissolve to night. Sarbojaya sits mending clothes by the flame as children sleep.

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Sarbojaya at needlework has echoes from an earlier scene where listening to her Harihar had dozed off in the other room. In both situations anxiety overhangs Sarbojaya, specific to Sejo-bou’s raid then and in general to the gone Harihar now. There it was a static composition with a child’s arm in suggestion as she talked to Harihar; now it’s only her and the children, and the view pans to show the two of them. Sleep is common to both references, as is the night train, and both heighten Sarbojaya’s loneliness.

Note also the children’s position on the bed. Apu lies right next to her, whom she kisses but for Durga on the other side only checking on the forehead is possible. This is to be seen as a part of the general contact pattern between children and grown-ups. Both contact, as well as the lack of it.

Sarbojaya picks up the flame and goes to the next room.

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A witty concept, to be sure. Static long shot, while it’s the lighting that ‘pans’ with the oil lamp across the screen.

Sarbojaya comes to her dowry box, takes out shining new utensils, goes out with them and returns with grains which she stores in pitchers.

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Notice how gradually we come to know what she has decided. Motivated by the distant night train, she picks up the lamp, comes to the other room, sits in front of a vague, diagonal, dark outline, taking out a key from a bunch. (Somehow, the poorer you are, the more keys you tend to have.) The outline was that of a cane box which when opened reveals shining new utensils—which she takes out one by one. (Also, the keys are not heard, but the cane box opening is.)

This is the same cane box from which we saw her sunning things in the verandah before.

Dissolve to early morning, elaborately closed courtyard door—a laugh in itself—which she opens and goes through stealthily. Dissolve to the same door, by now wider open, and with sun patches on the ground, as Sarbojaya returns. This time she doesn’t close the door behind her.

Dissolve to indoors where she pours grains in a pitcher.

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Fade out.

There is a trail of little questions left behind in the wake of Sarbojaya’s decisive action. Has she gone and sold the utensils? Or just mortgaged them? We’d never know. Secondly, why should the door, just ajar when she left, be wider open by the time she returns? No reason, it just is. Continuity mistake? No way.

[To be continued]

Book PP /Chapter 6 (b)

….as Pishi has been driven out at home, children are far away playing, learning, growing…and discovering the train

Perhaps the best known scene of the film, as it happens, it was also the earliest to shoot. In fact a shot taken on the very first day of shooting, which Ray describes at some length in one of his articles, is here in the finished film. Also, as one of the thinnest scenes on plot progression, it has—perhaps for that reason—a strong impact when the train goes chugging past. But even so there is a lot of “general” to happen before you can arrive at the “specific” of the train.

How do you conceive a scene like this?

You refer to the book, of course, to pick up elements that can be used. But you are not obliged to use everything of the book; you are free to modify or even invent. As Ray taught a whole generation of Indian critics and makers, adaptation is more interpreting the book than illustrating it.

Pather Panchali’s story takes place in a Bengal village, which in the film plays out in 2-3 households, their immediate exteriors within and around the village, and one far exterior by the rail line where children once go and discover the train. All exteriors within the village are characterised by wild, dense foliage blocking the sky overhead: the bamboo thicket where Durga hides from the mother, a mix of bamboo and regular trees by the pond where sweet seller passes through (also under which Pishi later dies), regular jungle where girls play cooking and eating, windy outdoors where Apu and Durga get wet in the rains, and the rest. As a contrast, for far exterior of the rail line Ray decides to have a bare sky. To my mind having a clear bare expanse of the sky is one major factor which gives the feel of distance to this present outdoor location.

A landscape of wild kaash flowers, highly seasonal but common in north Indian countryside, just fits the bill. Seen against open skies its tall fluffy tops swaying in the wind provide just the right combination of the real and the magical.

Furthermore, Ray seems to have decided that prior to seeing the train, the “general” can be built around the telegraph lines, with attendant implications of messages humming through them from far and wide. Telegraph poles, apart from being a common fact along rail lines until as recently as 60’s and 70’s (rail travel experience in those days invariably came with endless rising and plunging lines between telegraph poles) also extend the theme of Apu’s curious nature through the trilogy. Keeping in mind the unique experience that Apu has to have, Ray decides to have him briefly lose track of his sister and experience being on his own—an echo, by the way, of what is eventually coming. When Durga dies, he is lost and rudderless.

Notice the first two shots of the scene. The view tilts up to the crisscross on the telegraph post and cuts to Durga looking up.

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In the running film, one never quite notices that both Apu and Durga are present as small figures before the view starts tilting up. But they are lost in the high contrast details of a backlit composition. Obviously the original intention was to first establish the children and then (rather tamely) to follow their lead to show what they were seeing. The way it now works—and works better—is instead to follow the transmission hum (it grows as we go up) and then come to Durga listening in rapt attention. Which amounts to launching the scene bang on with its key component, the magic of discovery.

Notice the introduction of water puddles around the spot. And the cattle.

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The brief presence of cattle in the scene is a visual reminder of the purpose of the children’s outing. Then the water, heard more through footsteps than visually seen, adds a dimension of edginess (if not real danger) when seen next to ‘electricity’ poles—the technical distinction between electric and telegraph poles is not too widely known.

Also sown here are seeds of Apu’s walk through rainwater puddles when at the end he brings Nilmoni’s wife to see Durga.

The sugarcane twig that Durga chews helps her enormously to “act” the expressions. Later when Apu gets the sugarcane stick, he too looks convincing biting into it. They both have something at hand to do. (As city bred, both children are actually strangers to cane chewing and they really look it on close inspection!)

The camera viewpoint generally maintains the same height for both children. This enables us to see the horizon line (characterised by the telegraph poles running through the landscape) when seeing Durga but none while on the smaller boy. Thus only Durga comes to have a somewhat assured point of reference in the landscape whereas Apu looks (and feels to us) quite lost as he is supposed to. This, coupled with the general pattern of Apu following Durga in everything she does, is the key to the visual scheme of this sequence.

That’s how, none of the shots comprising the brief sequence when Apu is lost, whether low angle or toppish, shows the telegraph line.

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Only when he spots the sister and smiles does the view re-establish the locale with telegraph poles running along the horizon line.

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The shots depicting lost Apu are the ones that Ray describes in his article. Most likely it’s the one in which Apu keeps looking back uncertainly as he goes walking, the view panning right to left. In fact you can almost ‘hear’ Ray’s instructions from outside the frame.

They are both sitting under the tuft as Durga asks Apu to chew the cane. She is picking out straw thorns from her dress as she does so. Again the little exchange between the two would look quite empty without Durga given to do this innocuous piece of action.

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When she hears the train, Durga’s voice is withdrawn. “Quiet!” and “The train!” is what we only lip-read before they both get up.

Already in the first long shot when they begin running towards the train, Durga falls down while Apu disappears in the tall grass. If you can get over the excitement of the train and look on at the fallen Durga, you notice she stands up and tries to hide behind a growth even as the shot continues.

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An obvious clumsiness, this would normally be unacceptable and reshot or certainly trimmed during editing. But here it is retained in spite of the flaw.

On the few occasions that this has happened in Ray’s body of work, it’s interesting to note that he is not afraid of keeping a shooting mistake—microphone dipping in the frame, matte-box being visible, a camera jerk—if the alternative was to damage the concept he was developing or even the pace was going to suffer. That to him would be making two mistakes.

The next shot is again the charging train, along the same axis and more or less the same image size. This is normally not done. Text books ask you to either change the image size or the camera angle substantially in order to make a smooth cut. And Ray has observed this principle everywhere else. Except here.

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Why does he do this? Again it has to be for reasons of a concept that he is developing. Over the first three shots he is building up the train’s momentum as going from right to left, so that he can counter it in the fourth as entering—unexpectedly—from the left. This is his filmic strategy to convey the “impact” of the train as experienced by the little boy. Simultaneously he’s also developing a time-barred urgency (again from Apu’s point of view) to “catch” the train. So even the narrative has come to be infected with the same urgency and has no time, so to speak, for “observing niceties”. So even though the next shot may actually have been taken on another day, narrative stance is that the camera has had to be quickly shifted for this next shot while the train was speeding.

Rather than a chance discovery, if the children had come to simply watch the train, they would have made it to the tracks ahead of time and waited until it came and thundered past. That would be a different experience; this one is an experience on the run and altogether more thrilling.

The train finally passing in the unexpected, opposite direction has sometimes been thought of—mistakenly—as violation of the principle of Imaginary Line. This comes from the mistaken assumption that somehow railway line is the imaginary line and to jump it is violating the line.

Note that the crown on Apu’s head has fallen off somewhere as he gets to see the train.

The sky full of black smoke.

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As the sound of the train trails off, a large cloud of black smoke hangs over the landscape swaying with fluff. Interestingly, that’s how the train experience ends and not, say, with Apu’s close up, howsoever tempting and justifiable it may seem. Why?

Two reasons. One, having “accounted for” Apu through a close up, it would be imperative to also explain Durga’s response at her failure to make it to the line. And two, another intense experience has to follow immediately after this, Pishi’s death. The children’s reaction there has to be nuanced along totally different lines. As it happens, the close ups have been saved for that occasion.

Children are returning with the calf as the view tracks to find Pishi, dozing.

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Your first reaction on seeing Pishi is that of relief—it may still not be too late to undo the damage. The timing of Pishi’s heaving movement at the end of the shot is critical. Over the longish track we are beginning to have doubts over what state we would find her in and whether she would be alive or dead. What we find verges on the humorous—she is sitting slumped but breathing. The subsequent narration promptly begins to build on this humour.

The track also introduces the topography of the terrain, which is going to be integral to the action that follows. Throughout the scene the children climb up and down the slopes, at first playfully, then mischievously and finally in shock. Also the shot introduces the photographic idiom that the scene is going to build on, namely different planes of focus. Unlike the train discovery prior to this, out-focus background progressively comes to be deployed as part of compositions in this scene.

The bell music begins synchronous with the calf being led by Apu, as though it were a normal incidental sound. But then it continues over the scene until slightly before Pishi rolls over. Does the stopping of bells signify the moment of Pishi’s death?

Durga takes the lead as she always does—she spotted the train first a while back—to discover and approach Pishi. Even when they are on the spot, Apu takes a position underneath while Durga climbs the slope to kneel opposite the slumped old woman.

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Apu watches from below, both before as well as after Pishi’s death. Both are static compositions, but notice pictorial elements of each.

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The before-death frame, apart from being a little looser, composes him against the soft focus lota in the foreground. The after-death composition however shows a shocked Apu composed prominently against a young, sharp-focus spike of a bamboo shoot just out of the ground. On the one hand this should be reminiscent—howsoever subconsciously—of Durga as she sat hiding behind a baby leaf at the beginning of the film. But in the present situation this should additionally work as a stab that the boy experiences.

Pishi slumps, her head hitting the ground with a thud.

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In both frames Pishi and Durga are together while Apu is an isolated onlooker. It would be a mistake to think that they are together because they happen to be physically closer. They have been brought physically closer and Apu kept at a distance through the mise-en-scene worked out for this situation. Which in turn has been dictated by the mise-en-scene of the film as a whole.

The thud. Notice that of all things associated with Pishi—old, fragile, unsteady—the thud of head is sudden and decisive at once. For sure the woman is dead, we say. Alive a moment ago and now dead. We experience as though a cruel breach of trust delivered by nature!

Notice a progressively softer and softer focus of the background as the narration moves toward the death and immediately after as the moments stretch, right until Durga rises in shock—as though she herself has been touched by death.

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That’s when the moment peaks. Notice the effect added to her performance by a knot of hair sticking out.

Unwinding from the high peak, the resolution. As Durga steps back, the lota gets kicked and the spell is broken. The pot roles down the slope, splashing in a puddle of water as children too splash and run off.

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Notice that instead of showing kicking of lota, its final splash is the one shown. The initial upset is only heard, but heard loud and clear. Again, howsoever subtly, the lota sound is a reminder of the utensils spilling down the steps to the pond a while ago during one of Sarbojaya-Pishi showdowns.

Notice too the sudden clash of image sizes to reinforce the tragedy. To further enhance its experience. To extract its last drops. “Conflict of Volumes,” is what Eisenstein would call this usage of sharply conflicting image sizes.

The final assertion of conflict of volumes with yet another variation happens in the last shot of the scene where the children struggle with the frightened calf in the long shot and the view tilts down to a close up of the dead Pishi.

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Unlike the previous example, the conflict here is not taking place across a cut but within the same shot across a tilt. And the whole thing is tinted with twirls of smoke in the background—not represented in my sketches—created specially for this concept.

This last shot of the scene is in a way similar to the first shot. In both the view moves from the children to Pishi, in the first sideways while she is alive and here vertically while she lies dead. Likewise, the scene begins with Apu and Durga singing a frolicking children’s song and it ends with recalling a folk song associated with Pishi. A bracketing of sorts, which Ray was very fond of.

While we held the shot for sketching, we noticed that even the texture of the fabric of the shawl was for once visible and have tried to represent it here. As well as a fly. While the shawl is important for the misery it brought her, the fly is but one in a bewildering chain of animals incorporated in the film if you like. Which is perhaps the sub-text of the film: living in the midst of nature is after all living with its flora and fauna.

Notice too the composition of the close up. Apart from the bamboo leaf, which often gets mistaken for the fold of the shawl, Pishi lies as though wearing a crown of thorns. These are presumably old bamboo stubs, not necessarily present where the actress lay dead for the initial shot but cheated. Cheated by either shifting them to the actress or more likely shifting the actress to them for the present shot.

You don’t shoot what you find; you build shots, you compose them, each on its own merit, in order to pack them with resonances of meaning, at first locally within a scene but later also across the length and breadth of the whole film. This death scene for example is rich with help from the bamboo motif—the stab of a young shoot next to Apu is bamboo, as is the jagged silhouette of a stub around Pishi’s head, as well as the soft focus stems and foliage behind the shocked Durga.

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Two unique experiences on a single afternoon being over, it may be worth reflecting upon both in comparative terms. To my mind it’s the ultimate achievement of the filmmaker that the two so close together never seem implausible or melodramatic or stretching credibility in any way.

The trick lies in treating the two portrayals in completely contrasting terms. The train sequence on the whole is an idyllic, magical adventure culminating with receiving the biggest blast of air that that little body had ever experienced. Its implications are all outbound, of travel, of communication, altogether of the world getting smaller. Pishi’s death on the other hand is introspective, spiritual and ultimately telling you that no mode of travel, contemporary or futuristic, can ever take you away from the mortality of it all. Since experientially the two ideas are diametrically opposite, they are also filmed in diametrically opposite idioms. One under open skies, the other under canopy of dense foliage. One shot with largely wide angle lenses, the other using more the telephoto range, both with a number of other implications that go with the decision. One using fewer shots, the other indulging in dramatic cutting. One has Apu seeing the train upfront while the other has Durga almost rubbing her nose against death. While both have water splashes, only one uses music and song. And so on.

A note of caution before we move on. Given that Ray has used them in this manner, it would be wrong—stupid—to conclude that train impact shoots better with wide angle lenses and death better with the telephotos. There are any number of opposite examples available in the cinema. Lens deployment such as this has been developed by Ray for this film. A palette of sorts. Such scales work in relative terms, never absolute. Red is not always anger…

The three-shot montage after Pishi’s death.

First of all, that Pishi’s death should be wound up in just three shots is itself taking a position. There’s no cremation, no social gatherings, no religious rituals. In fact, there is no reference to Pishi ever again, in this film or the trilogy as a whole. By comparison, Durga’s death later in the film has been “fussed about” over a long stretch of happenings.

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First shot of the montage is four pall bearers carrying the body with one in front and one following. That constitutes Pishi’s meager funeral ‘procession’. Harihar would be expected to be here but seen from the back there is no evidence of that. (There is no chant of “Ram naam satya hai” heard, no funeral pyre. Would you like them in your version? It’s realistic, it’s Indian, after all!) But more noteworthy is the location where this shot has been taken. The only time this location has been used before is when Durga is taking Apu to school.

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The thrust of this location-composition combine is outward bound, as though you were going out of the village settlement, towards open sky. Subsequent references to similar outdoors, as in rain sequence, is more expanded and over a number of shots. But it’s interesting to note that tree plantations are never far in each of those usages. As per this film’s palette, no outdoors can ever be allowed to ‘muddle’ the unique tree-less character of the far exterior of the rail line.

Next shot after the open exterior is deep interior of Pishi’s home, its ‘capital’, the veranda where most of her living took place. Durga has now ‘graduated’ to where Pishi used to be, and Apu sits by Durga’s post. This was also the view where she was shown before leaving the house.

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And finally Harihar and Sarbojaya by the pond. Another location with deep running associations. Sarbojaya stands ‘weighing heavy’ with her charge, the bunch of keys. (Two others shown similarly ‘wearing’ the keys at different times are Sejo-bou and Nilmoni’s wife.) Pointing out in a sense that her struggle against the old woman arose not from malice but from being a housewife in charge of running a household.

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To conclude, some observations on the chapter as a whole.

It being mainly about two contrasting experiences, indoor-outdoor dialectic has been introduced right at the beginning. Mother asks Durga to go looking for calf; Durga comes asking Apu to come looking for Pishi. Mother sends them both for the calf. The railway tracks is the farthest that both children go in the film and within the same sequence both end up having, one, an experience of “breadth” and the other one of “depth”. As it happens, Apu is the main witness to the train experience, while Durga sees Pishi’s death up front and close—through physical contact. Both experiences are crucial to each child’s characterisation, both foreshadowing the growth and development of each in this film, as indeed through the trilogy.

Also, the last shot of this sequence—Harihar and Sarbojaya by the pond, wherein Harihar gets up and leaves frame while Sarbojaya stays on—in a way fore-shadows Harihar’s departure from the village for better prospects in the immediate next scene.

Lastly, Pishi’s helping herself with taking water from the pitcher is a variation on Durga pouring milk for the kitten in the opening sequence of the film.

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Both actions take place in the kitchen veranda, both through rolling a larger pot to pour into a smaller one and both involving characters whose destiny is in many ways linked.

[To be continued]

Book PP /Chapter 6 (a)

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Durga pooja, the festival montage.

There have been two references to Durga pooja so far. Harihar had promised a new wrapper to Pishi at the festive season and the children had been asking each other about it. “Twenty one days,” Durga had told Apu the day she got the beating. Finally the day has arrived.

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The last chapter ended with Pishi landing up at Raju’s door for shelter—a personal tragedy, underlined by the rustic folk melody associated with that ‘ancient’ character. Over the fade the music changes to a complete switch of mood—from soft, solo, individual-associated, bowed instrument to a loud, orchestral, festival-associated, percussion. From personal to public, so to speak.

Notice the structure of the montage.

The first two shots not only establish that it is the festival of Durga pooja but also its ‘beckoning’ tone. Literally on the beat of the drum, you might say. What they do not readily establish is that the call is being issued from Sejo-bou’s courtyard and duly reaching Apu and Durga’s. That is gradually introduced by the momentum of what follows and is in due course confirmed with her distributing sweets.

As in many ways before, even the festival is a reiteration of the one way traffic between the two households.

Notice the dynamics of mise-en-scene of this third shot where children rush out to join the fun.

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It’s a low angle static through the courtyard door, a familiar view wherein Sarbojaya sits adjusting Apu’s clothes. The instructions to Durga are to enter the frame running from inside, going past Apu and rushing out through the door. The task assigned to Apu is to look out for Durga and just follow her. It’s entirely for the mother to convey the festive cheer through rising after him trying to tuck in whatever part of his new dress and come laughing up to the threshold. The camera has to just tilt up to adjust for Sarbojaya. That’s the shot.

Given these broad parameters and one rehearsal, there’s no way the shot would not work in just the first take. Like many other shots, which finally are used silent, this one too has been staged and taken with full sound component to ensure the ease and facility of the actors. Almost certainly, Sarbojaya has been asked to independently work out with Apu as to what of his dress she has to be tucking and Ray only asks modifications if necessary after watching the rehearsal.

Talking less is the trick, it would seem. Trying to describe elaborately in words, as new directors tend to do—the expression, motivation and what not—gets to be a nuisance for the actor. Done aloud or quietly, such an approach must essentially betray lack of confidence on the part of the director.

Even otherwise, Ray does not direct the world, he merely directs his own way of looking at it.

The next shot also is a low angle, through a wider and more affluent door—presumably Sejo-bou’s—but with the camera pan and tilt firmly locked.

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This ensures a more generalised rendition of the children, of whom now Apu and Durga are merely one part. Also, the shot is slightly under-cranked—16 frames or so per second—for another degree of abstraction through a mild caricature. (This should not be mistaken as a casual thing to do; in pre-digital times such a shot would need a change of motor of the camera.)

Normally under or over-cranking is used for broad effects of the slapstick variety or of the dream-like, floating movements, both of which Ray used extensively in his filmmaking. In addition he also used a whole range of middle shades of camera speeds for more nuanced effects. The present case of under cranking, for example, would be a rather unorthodox use of the device to slightly pep-up the sequence, just to add a touch of the sprint to it. A more noticed and commented upon use of the other variety, over cranking, is to be found in his 1984 Ghare Bahire where early on in the film Bimala sets aside tradition and steps out among the men in the parlour.

Notice, too, that Apu and Durga appear in the shot after a clear break. This enables us to see and recognize them from afar. There was no such chance if they had been among the first group of children.

Sejo-bou is distributing sweets.

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Once again the children have been collected on the promise of distribution of sweets, which have been actually brought in once the camera and microphone are ready for the shot. Only Sejo-bou, Durga and Apu’s positions have been fixed and care has been taken to have all the children taller and bigger than Apu so that he’s lost among them in the first shot in order to necessitate the second. It’s quite possible that Apu was held back from the first shot altogether.

A touch of embarrassment on Durga’s face while collecting sweets actually comes from her having to join smaller children for the shot rather than from having to collect them from Sejo-bou.

Back to the drummer.

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With this shot the montage comes round a full circle back to the drummer.

Like any other recurrence in Ray, this too is one with a difference. While both are low angle shots, the opening shot of the montage has a longish track alongside the drummer—the much decorated chest and all—whereas in the last shot the drummer comes over showing his beating drum to a static camera and finally occupies the whole screen. Through what lies ‘bracketed’ between these two shots, the montage starts with introducing the fact of the festival and ends with giving a feel of its overwhelming quality.

The jatra performance.

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The drums over, note that the opening shot of the performance establishes the principal characters, the essential conflict, visual motifs and the general range of image sizes going to be deployed in this staging.

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The audience is already in evidence in the first shot but the second shot picks out Apu watching from behind the barricade. Also introduced through exaggerated movements is the level of audience participation as well as the boy’s up front position.

With these two shots, all the visual elements of the theatrical act have been introduced.

The piece being staged is a remote sub-plot from the tail end of Ramayana and involves the younger son of Lord Rama, Kusha, who is dressed here in white. Though the episode itself is highly unfamiliar, the pitch, the scale and the manner of presentation is widely known and enjoyed all over the sub-continent. The issue presented here is the dharma of a woman who is torn between her love of the father and duty towards her husband. (Or is it the other way round?) Eventually she passes the husband a sword and urges him to defend himself again her father and brother.

The next round of compositions are a closer view of the high players—the valiant Kusha with his painted side burns, the fair wife who is clearly a man and her evil brother who makes a thundering entry from the sides. Apu clutches at the barricade and sit up sucked into the action.

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While Ray is having a go examining a folk play with the tools of the cinema, it’s touching to visualise how innocently and with what dedication each of these actors—in 1954—were trying to help, literally putting their best foot forward for “film shooting”. And they certainly aren’t caricaturing either—jatra acting seen through the cinema’s photographic realism is caricature.

On the other hand, the joke would be upon Ray if the rest of his depiction of the story would be anything but stark realistic.

Notice that all the shots of the players are generally taken from the low angle viewpoint of the spectators and those of the spectators from the high angle of the players. The only exception is the toppish angle of the wife clutching at her father’s feet, which, since it is in response to an intense address by the husband, takes on his subjective view.

Where exactly is Apu sitting in relation to the performance?

On a casual viewing the impression comes that he is perhaps among that section of the audience who we first see at the end of the establishing shot and that the second shot showing him behind the bamboo barricade is most likely a match cut along the same axis. But a close scrutiny of his direction of looks vis-à-vis the evil brother’s entry reveals a bit of a mix up. And probing deeper you notice it to be a forced matching. The humour of the inter-cut helps to tide over what is inherently a problematic situation.

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Apu is in fact sitting facing the action and even though a jatra performance is addressed to audience sitting all around the stage, for this scene Ray has conceived it to be played for Apu. Thus the performance we see in the film is all from Apu’s viewpoint because ultimately the value of the scene is purely in terms of the effect it has on him. Therefore the quality of his involvement is a key consideration in realising this scene.

The principle of Imaginary Line tells us that as long as the camera positions are kept on one side of the line, the shots will all cut well and the relative geography of the scene would be faithfully represented on the screen. This would be too bland a formula to be artistic by itself. But a more nuanced application can throw up immense creative possibilities and at extremes it can even pose serious artistic dilemmas. For example, in portraying an interaction between the two given stationary positions three sets of camera angles represent the broad range of possibilities: AA’ which would cover the action from the over-shoulder position, BB’ which will present an interaction of pure profiles and CC’ which will provide a near frontal, least mediated and most intensely subjective view of the characters vis-à-vis the situation.

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What will happen if CC’ camera positions are shifted to be actually on the Imaginary Line? Being on the line is strictly speaking not observing the line but that is the position where both the participating subjects are optimally oriented to each other, looking into the lens in order to be looking at each other. Furthermore, being on the line in this situation provides yet another expressive dimension to Ray—since Apu is supposed to be sitting right in front, his switching from player to player can be realistically exaggerated for a valid touch of humour. This he does by making him look screen left to screen right in order to represent his turning attention from the speaking noble Kush on the right to the thundering villain entering from the left.

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The resulting mix up in screen direction has to be the inevitable consequence of violating the line but Ray chooses to pay the price for gaining uncompromised authenticity on Apu’s involvement in the performance. By staying on the “right” side of the line, there would have been no confusion whatsoever on the geography but Apu would certainly not look all that submerged and absorbed in that grand spectacle.

Straining and stretching the Imaginary Line in this manner occurs in Satyajit Ray again and again. Sometimes he adds other elements making the application further complex. Always, as it must, geographic clarity takes the beating but he is always ready to pay the price.

In Shatranj Ke Khiladi (1977), he has the two players playing chess throughout the film. The last game is played in the open and in the falling light of the evening and for that the camera is again on the line and a little high so that each player comes to have an obliquely lit bare ground immediately behind him. Furthermore, each composition has the player in the middle of the frame and both of equal size. And the shots inter-cut at the peak moments without variation and for quite a while.

As can be seen, it’s against all principles of good cutting but Ray is fascinated with the concept and pushes it regardless. And on his graduated scale of application this defiance charges the image with a level of abstraction not otherwise possible to achieve.

For the third and final round of treatment of the performance, the view cuts to the longest shot of the situation and holds uncut until the end of the sequence.

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Essentially this view provides a more objective look at the activity as a whole, giving equal emphasis to the players as well as the spectators, making it look even more absurd with everybody holding a sword and fighting everybody else. Not only is it a winding up of the scene, it’s passing a judgment as well.

Is jatra a new idiom being introduced for the first time in the film?

To be sure, nothing new is ever introduced in good narrative cinema until so late: it has to be a variation of one or the other strands introduced earlier. Jatra has been talked about by Harihar in terms of writing an original piece right at the end of chapter I. Next the subject is taken up in the grocer-teacher scene at the level of organising a performance in chapter 2. And again in chapter 4 Harihar mentions a new plot buzzing in his head. As it happens, it’s another mythological Vibru-bahan, a sub-plot this time from Mahabharata.

On another plane, jatra performance is a growth of Pishi’s story telling—both are performances and both have a strong appeal for the children. In the same way, all other kinds of entertainment integrated in the film, standard or improvised, would fall on this plane.

Secondly, notice certain structural details from the mise-en-scene.

One important component of jatra is the presence of live musicians who provide their highlighters and under liners from a position below the stage. But they have not been visually represented in Ray’s treatment here. The scene being principally about the impact it makes on Apu, showing musicians would have been a digression, a distraction. The music, however, is heard simmering and swelling at appropriate points.

And finally, note the visual “pegs” used in the scene, namely the hanging lamp and the horizontal barricade.

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Both these had been first established at the end of the opening shot as visual motifs in an otherwise sparse setting, and both continue to be used as visual references throughout the rest of the scene. These essentially have the effect of “binding” the scene together.

The jatra over, home, Apu dons the moustache and the crown.

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Notice the clumsiness of the operation in a firmly composed and clearly established mirror shot. Again, the child actor has been given a whole task to do—fix the moustache and tie the crown—without abandoning half way through. Thus when the moustache slips by the time he gets to the crown, it passes off as a typical childlike gesture.

Mother returns home calling children, Durga returns from her wandering and after their three-way scuffle in and out of the house, both children are sent off to look for the missing calf.

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Most shot compositions are “recalls” from earlier usage, from the Durga-beating scene. The reason probably is to neutralise those grim associations in this humorous context and in the process also blend the patched porous corner securely into the house set. Mother returns calling Apu and Durga just as we saw her doing the day he was sent to school. (The two shots may well have been taken one after the other.) The shot of mother doing Apu’s crown uses the same through-the-door idiom as used when he had approached father, asking coins in the sweetmeat seller sequence. Durga’s entry into the house remains through the same arch as seen in the earlier scene just before being thrashed and so does the children’s chase through the same structures as had been used to show her being beaten and thrown out of the house. Even the vertical telephoto tilt from the scuffle to the oncoming mother is familiar from the earlier mother-Pishi tiff from the last chapter.

Likewise there is an interesting reversal. Having so far been followed everywhere by Apu, Durga is for once chasing him in and out of the house. This temporary reversal only serves to emphasise the normal, which both children return to as they patch up and go looking for the calf.

Setting up the chase, children have been given the task to really run and catch each other while the camera stays firmly composed. Reasonably the shot would have to be repeated twice or thrice until Apu gets pinned down at the desired spot outside. Considering further development of the scene, anywhere else would be NG, no good.

The children going away looking for the calf is suddenly an extended treatment covered over three, rather lengthy, long shots.

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It’s quite a while since the story came upon a leisurely stretch and coupled with the theme music takes on a contemplative complexion. Also, it provides for a momentary relief before resuming on another dark passage.

Notice the path that the children take while running away from the camera in the final shot. Whereas the tilt up is an uninterrupted continuous action, following the field’s embankment the children take a brief left turn before resuming straight. If he meant to avoid this, another stretch could be chosen that provided for a continuous straight run or else the camera could be instructed to “follow” them, but neither option has been exercised. Again as many times before, camera is not a slave of the action but rather an ‘input’ to bring out the complexity of the moment.

From the children going “outward”, Pishi approaching to enter. Inward.

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From open air, clear day, outdoors—dissolve to—an age ravaged, see-through, courtyard door. A new sound announces the arrival of an old, familiar character. It’s Pishi, now using a stick to walk. And the door, not only does it look old, it also rattles; which is what Sarbojaya hears of Pishi entering.

Most likely it’s a specially treated door for this shot. Or else, the shot may even be cheated from another location. The decay of the door is important since it echoes the decaying old woman besides much else. The rest of the scene too deploys many other devices to enrich this on-the-brink image of Pishi.

Examine Pishi’s entry after clearing the door.

She walks past the shrubbery before taking the bamboo post. The action is covered in two shots, wherein she exits left in the first shot and enters right in the second.

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Technically this should cut smooth and it does, but action wise her turning round the corner has remained unaccounted for. Pishi’s entry in the bamboo post composition, therefore, appears for a moment amiss. A match cut needs to account for the turn around the corner whereas a clear entry into the frame can imply that turn.

Under the circumstances, Ray had two options. Either build in another of Sarbojaya’s shots in between the two shots—a cut away—or at the time of shooting go for a tighter composition for the bamboo post shot, taking care to exclude the corner, so that making her enter the frame would imply the corner cleared. (Simply panning the camera left to have an off-center composition would look forced and not belong to this film.)

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To my mind, Ray chooses to retain this momentary infirmity for schematic reasons. Once Sarbojaya has been introduced eating in the kitchen, the scene stays with Pishi through her misery and visually comes to the housewife only when the old woman approaches her for water. Bringing in Sarbojaya too often would dilute Pishi’s misery.

Likewise, the reason that the composition is not tighter in the bamboo post shot is again for schematic reasons. In view of the unique importance of Pishi’s veranda at this stage of the story and its comprehensive portrayal—this is after all her final departure from this house—the view is going only successively closer. The first shot of the place therefore has to be a wider, introductory view rather than a tight one, which has been kept reserved for later. Also the visual impact of her worldly belongings as she drops them on the veranda, would go missing in a tighter composition.

A one-shot cut away to the children.

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Notice the highly unusual composition in the static frame. Against clear sky, Durga sits chewing a sugarcane stick as Apu appears at the bottom of the frame. Seeing him Durga exits while the boy hurries to take the same space and goes after her. This is the regular Durga-leading-Apu-following idiom.

Notice the deployment of burnt out patches of sun over the courtyard floor.

It is hot sun as the scene is taking place and that adds to the misery of the old woman. In contrast Sarbojaya sits in the shade of the interior, her kitchen.

The sun patches peak in the shot where Pishi breaks into a smile, looking at Sarbojaya.

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The beauty of the shot defies description. An ancient, bronze look contrasted against featureless burnt out patch of sun. She already resembles the ghost of her narration to the children a while back. Music beginning here underlines the moment.

Soon after, another play on the patchy sun occurs when Pishi pats water on her head.

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The fine spray is seen against a shaded area in the long shot. Cutting to a closer view for emphasis would be ruinous and is avoided.

Notice the extent of Sarbojaya’s help towards letting her have the water—she just takes the lid off the pitcher, leaving the rest for Pishi to do. This gesture of ever so slight softening on her part serves as a bridge between her cold indifference so far to her expression of remorse a shot later as Pishi finally leaves. This range of emotions, even though looking a bit forced, sums up Sarbojaya’s attitude towards Pishi in Pather Panchali.

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In one of his articles Ray says that he was fascinated by these two contrasting aspects of Sarbojaya’s character from the book, the cruel and the compassionate. But the two emotions cannot remain going parallel all the time; for them to be convincing in a character, there has to be a moment where the two meet and merge for a switchover. Remorse on the housewife’s part as Pishi is turned away is that moment of merger, followed by the switchover to clear sorrow when she eventually dies.

The only other time Sarbojaya ‘helps’ Pishi is upon Apu’s birth. Eyes welling with emotion, the old woman asks her to show the baby’s face and Sarbojaya obliges. Notice the extent of that help—minimal—in terms of Sarbojaya’s action of adjusting the quilt around the infant’s face.

Notice that after all that struggle, Pishi drinks much less water than she pours on the plant.

Notice too that Pishi’s final departure is not shown through the courtyard door but down her veranda.

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This has been a key composition associated with her life in this house—she cooking, Durga sitting by the post, Sarbojaya fuming. In place of all that liveliness, already there is neglect and decay; already a dog is sniffing around. This is Pishi signing off, so to speak.

A word about the pattern of intercut between developments at home and the exploits of the children. Seeds of such an intercut had been sown early in the film when an angry Pishi had first walked out of the house. Durga had then returned just in time and tried to stop her. Again in between Sarbojaya drove her out on the issue of the wrapper and the children then were playing picnic under the trees. This time round as Sarbojaya is again being cruel to the defenceless woman we miss the children, Durga in particular. That is what the first cut away shows in the present sequence—a carefree Durga chewing sugarcane far, far away.

On the strength of that cut away, a whole scene has now been developed. As Pishi has been driven out at home, children are far away playing, learning, growing…

[To be continued]

Book PP /Chapter 5

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The chapter begins with two brief streams of action intercut with each other—children playing at cooking and Pishi moving around showing off her new wrapper—before the narration settles down to an extended exchange between Sarbojaya and Pishi. As before we can group the individual progressions together for study.

First the children.

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The view fades in with a track back on the essentials of the play, cooking outdoors. Durga and another girl are first to register. They are trying to light a fire. Durga calls out to Apu for dry wood. A third girl joins from behind. By the time the tracking stops a certain lack of order associated with this fun activity is introduced.

Next time we return to the spot, the view begins with Apu, who in a loose long shot joins the group through a pan. Fire we can see is by now lit.

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A boy is spotted sitting monkey-like on a branch, from where he drops to join. The view doesn’t tilt up to find the boy—he’s been there all along, camouflaged. (Real monkeys, by the way, are brought in in the next film of the trilogy Aparajito.)

The third time round, it’s Ranu coming to join the fun. While Apu had been led to the group through a pan, Ranu joins through a series of static compositions—three of them, cut one after another at a brisk pace—disorienting, even confusing on the geography. The idea is to recreate the thrill of escape to join this fun while keeping her arrival different from Apu’s. Traditionally some restrictions are imposed upon girls ahead of marriage and this is Ranu’s happy, girlish escape. (Static cutting is also reminiscent of Apu getting oil from the shelf at Durga’s instance earlier on.)

All the dramatis personae of the children’s picnic are now gathered. The light, playful sitar music, which has been running continuously over both streams, fades out as the scene settles with Durga checking the cooking ingredients they have collected. But disorder breaks out all over again for the missing oil until Ranu offers to go and get it.

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Notice that counting of ingredients, the quarrel and its ready resolution, all take place in one uncut full-figure shot. There is no effort to recompose the frame even when girls get up excited. Ranu’s offer is not even heard; instead it is implied through her prompt departure, which puts the cacophony to silence.

Ranu’s visit is a stolen one, the same as her gesture of giving a sweet to Durga earlier was. (And to think Sarbojaya was earlier citing her instance of model behavior to Durga in the kitchen veranda scene!)

Since the children’s games are modelled after what they see of grown ups—that indeed is the sub-text of this picnic scene—all their actions can be traced back to one or the other aspect of the adult world, including fighting.

Notice the tomboyish character of Durga who orders everybody about and runs the show. This is in complete contrast to Ranu’s easy and smiling disposition—ever accommodating, non-confrontational—headed straight for marriage, so to speak.

Collecting firewood had earlier been associated with Sarbojaya at the beginning which we see Apu now doing. Likewise, the other adult activity introduced here, slicing vegetable on the foot-blade, is soon going to be seen more in detail in the forthcoming Ranu’s marriage scene. With Ray, details are constantly being introduced and developed throughout the film.

Now the second stream of action, Pishi and her wrapper.

Alternating with the three segments of the children are two shots of Pishi going about the village in a new wrapper.

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In the first shot she gets a mischievous comment from a little girl as from an equal, while in the second it’s a kindly, more direct compliment from a housewife. (Indeed the girl could be a Durga and the housewife a Sarbojaya!) In fact, we do not notice the new shawl in the first shot, nor does the girl’s comment help very much; it’s only from the housewife’s comment we know that Pishi is high on a new wrapper.

The third time this shawl is noticed would be by Sarbojaya and her reaction would be explosive.

Both these shots—or rather the two segments split of the same single shot—may appear to be somewhat casually taken but their conceptual firmness is never in doubt. The location has two specific traits: one, the other houses of the village and two, the pond. This is the first time that Pishi has been associated with a pond and its water. We’ll soon find her standing by the pond when she is homeless at the end of the chapter. And when she is dead, Harihar and Sarbojaya stand by the pond in remembrance.

 Even when Durga dies towards the end of the film, as if through “sympathetic” extension, the pond figures in such a telling way. Thus, in a sense, this shot by the pond is the beginning of Pishi’s death and the association continues right up to Durga’s death, after which there is no pond in the film.

 And likewise for the minor characters that appear in the two shots and the lines that they speak. The characters may seem miscellaneous, their lines may appear general, but they are both not inexact.

From quarrelling children, dissolve to Sarbojaya at home where Pishi and she are going to begin to battle.

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Already as Pishi enters, Sarbojaya is handling metal utensils. Shortly this metal is going to be rattling and eventually spilling on the steps of the pond.

The composite shot of the two women doesn’t hold for long and immediately cuts to a sharp reverse angle of Sarbojaya as she begins her inquisition. Unlike us, she has instantly noticed the shawl and already Pishi has begun to cringe and hide.

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Notice that in all these introductory shots, Sarbojaya’s compositions remain the same suggesting her firm, dominant and unrelenting position while Pishi’s keeps changing, now from this side of the curtain and now that. (This is the opposite of how it happened between Sejo-bou and Sarbojaya when the former came complaining about the necklace.) In addition, the sharply receding lines—in fact the whole plane—of the quilt-curtain, which is again taken in wide angle shots, converge to pin down an already frightened, childlike Pishi.

Indeed we are familiar with sharp convergence of lines in compositions from the opening sequence of the film at Sejo-bou’s terrace.

As Pishi begins to move against the curtain, notice the choice of quilts, their order, design, shades and variety and manner even of their worn out look.

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There’s an un-patched hole as well as a patch of matching material, not a contrasting, “shouting” one for dramatic effect. It’ll not be a poor woman using contrasting material but a stupid one; or rather a stupid Art Director!

There are no gaps in this curtain. Apart from the fact that wind can’t disturb such heavy material and that no one will normally leave unused line space, gaps would also mean temporary release for Pishi. As it happens, she doesn’t find a release even at the end of the track and stops short of the last quilt on the line.

This is the second prominent deployment of the clothesline in the film and the two usages call for comparison. While clearly the washing before worked as a curtain, this time it is more like a panel; the earlier was a daily use of the line while this one is seasonal. Both scenes are violent in nature and Sarbojaya is the perpetrator in both while those at the receiving end—Durga in the first scene and Pishi here—also have a kinship of sorts between them. Both scenes have victims thrown out of the house but only the first one has a retrieval at the end. No less, there were witnesses the first time while here there is none.

Interestingly—and most appropriately in design terms—while the use of the clothes line in the first usage lay spread thin over the whole scene, this second time round the panel has been rather densely used over just a part of the scene and then set aside. This as stance would interpret as a discreet allusion to the earlier use and not something carried like an obligation, a burden all over again.

Next, the second phase of conflict.

So far Sarbojaya had been stationary and Pishi was moving in and about the quilt panel. Now in the second phase, the pattern reverses. Pishi settles down to pounding grains in her veranda while Sarbojaya is constantly on the move until finally the trunk in her hand falls and she has a fit of coughing. The subject of their argument continues to develop uninterrupted—it’s indeed aided and embellished by associated sounds and images of violence.

Again since it’s an intercut between the two women, let’s first consider Sarbojaya’s shots over this progression.

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Notice that the pace of cutting has speeded up. Hence rather brief snatches of her determined walk through the courtyard door, behind the guava tree and round the corner at the back of the house. Secondly, the direction of her movement is constantly varying. It’s frontal in the first shot, going right to left in the second and left to right in the third shot.

The third shot also blur-pans from Sarbojaya to the pounding Pishi seen through Durga’s bedside window.

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This would be a very critically executed shot by the first timer cameraman Subroto Mitra. Table examination of the shot from the original print shows that this is a single continuous take. Only an interesting light-number change is executed over the blur frames.

Such sharp pan (of about 90 degrees) has so far been associated with Sejo-bou’s temper. To use it here on Sarbojaya is a reversal as well as advancement of that application. Much like the converging lines above, using blur pan here would sub-consciously suggest that Sarbojaya has at this stage acquired Sejo-bou’s kind of bitterness, her low of meanness.

But where was Sarbojaya going? And what was she going to the pond for? Only broad hints have been thrown in. The kind of work she has spread about her this afternoon, her telling expressions on whatever she saw in that trunk—a cockroach for sure—and the fact that she had to carry the whole thing outside. The purpose of her going is revealed through her failure to achieve it. In any case, there was an unthinking rashness about the whole act. That some kind of mishap was afoot was hinted at by her momentary entanglement with that cage overhead which we had never seen before.

Incidentally, no bird has been identified in that cage—no sound on being suddenly disturbed has been heard.

And now for Pishi’s shots that are intercut with Sarbojaya.

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Notice sudden jumps—almost like skip-frames—in Pishi’s progress with beginning a rather complicated operation. Barely have we seen the frail old woman bent over at the steps when, after a brief absence, she is sitting with the paraphernalia, and by the time we are back to her a third time, she’s already pounding away. She is supposed to have gone all this far in the time that Sarbojaya took at an angry stride to leave her veranda and come around to the pond behind the house.

As earlier observed, parallel developments in filmic narration are designed to work as a twine, never individually.

There has been an unexplained folk song going on somewhere nearby for the whole of the first and the second phase of Sarbojaya-Pishi conflict, which comes to an end with the fall of utensils along the pond steps. In the silence that follows Pishi hears Sarbojaya’s coughing and decides to act. This for sure must have been used primarily to bridge over dead stretches of sound track between specific effects and then creatively withdrawn during the crash of utensils to underline Sarbojaya’s coughing bout.

Finally, the third phase of conflict.

And again the pattern of character movement reverses. Sarbojaya is now back to stationary and Pishi hobbles all the way to try and comfort her.

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Note the corresponding reversal of the characters’ strength and vulnerability. Doddering Pishi is now in a position to help the grounded Sarbojaya and tries, childlike as only she can, by blowing over Sarbojaya’s head.

Again there are the conflicting screen directions of Pishi’s movements. When she reacts to Sarbojaya’s coughing, it’s left to right, when she goes through the courtyard door, it’s right to left and finally when she joins Sarbojaya, it’s again left to right.

And likewise for the camera height—the first is an eye-level shot, while the second and third are high and low angles respectively.

Notice finally how the resolution of the conflict comes sudden and square. Such a genuine and touching gesture on the old woman’s part—Apu and Durga-like in its forgiving-and-forgetting quality—but Sarbojaya dismisses it all in one decisive blow. Pishi has to leave. The scene itself is as though ‘beheaded’.

Notice on the macro level that the moment Sarbojaya saw Pishi in the new shawl—in a composite, wide angle shot right at the beginning—the two “fell out” in separate shots and stayed that way throughout the scene until both come together once again—for the final breach, ironically—in the very last shot. This was a mise-en-scene decision and was diligently followed in each single shot of each of the three phases of the conflict. One opportunity where they could have ‘naturally’ shared a frame was when walking along the quilts Pishi approaches Sarbojaya but it was clearly avoided for this reason of form and at considerable risk of credibility. As it stands, it’s not fully clear how Sarbojaya can directly see Pishi at her final position though it’s implied she does.

To conclude comment on this rich scene, compare the first and the last composite shots.

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The first shot is indoor and toppish angle, while the last is outdoors and low angle. In the first Sarbojaya sits facing left while in the last she is facing right, coughing away. In one Pishi enters facing Sarbojaya, in the other she approaches her from behind; in the first she tries to avoid her, while in this last shot she comes to her, even seeking to touch her.

Durga and Ranu, eating.

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Notice that the shot is a straight static composition—there is no tilt up, say, from their “exotic” banana plates from which presumably they are eating. (And what have they cooked anyway?) Also there is no reference to the other children, not even Apu. Nobody even crosses the frame at the back.

The framing of the two girls at such close quarters amounts to almost a joint close up. And yet they don’t seem crowded in the frame.

Pishi by the pond, homeless.

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Notice the transition from the previous shot. Ranu and Durga have been eating and talking when at the end a noise of children is heard. The girls react by a turn of head and the view cuts to the present shot with the children coming on. The transition once made, there is no reference in the rest of the shot—panning with the children to finally come to Pishi standing bent by the pond—of any possible proximity between the two locations. The two may or may not have been within each other’s earshot.

In a way this transition is of the same type as the one in the previous chapter when the view switches from Sarbojaya and Harihar in the kitchen to the two children seen climbing the steps and going to their bed.

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There it was clear that Sarbojaya actually saw them, whereas here there is a doubt—or rather, it’s irrelevant. On the other extreme, but in the same type, is that other famous cut in Aparajito when Harihar dies and the view cuts to the pigeons suddenly taking off. There is absolutely no physical cause and effect relationship between what happens in the two shots and yet the timing of the cut is on that precise calculation—it’s as though the pigeons flew in response to the thud of Harihar’s head.

Secondly, notice the staging of the action in relation to the camera position.

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When the oncoming children are first seen, it’s just in the background of the general foliage. Then the view begins to pan with the children and soon two new elements enter the frame: one, the pond itself and two, another stream of children running on the other side of it. Also since this other stream is seen reflected in water as well, it becomes an altogether rich and multiplied effect. And then in the midst of this saturated image of rushing children, you notice a completely still figure of Pishi.

Two more observations.

Notice that when the frame settles on Pishi, she breaks the stillness of the posture by a deliberate movement of the body. Although strictly speaking this movement is by itself unnecessary in the present context, as a concept this is remarkable since later on just before her death when the children discover her sitting with her head between the knees, she again registers a similar movement and we know she is still alive. The first time we see it, like so much else in Ray, it’s just the idiom gently slipped in, whereas its actual fruition takes place later on.

Secondly, notice that this left-to-right pan balances the first right-to-left one with Pishi at the beginning of this chapter. In both the shots, the view pans to include the pond. But this time there are no houses or people, suggesting complete isolation. She is homeless…

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Pishi takes shelter in Raju’s house.

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Notice that altogether it’s a highly stylized concept of the shot, much more so than is immediately apparent.

It’s obvious that Raju is never seen, but Pishi too does nothing more than continuously walk towards the camera and generally speak her lines—she doesn’t even look in the direction of where Raju might be. Also, it’s a single shot scene with a generally static frame where we just see the courtyard door and surmise that the rest of the house might be similar to that of Harihar, which we are familiar with.

What “homogenizes” this otherwise very formal shot with the rest, is the presence of the little girl who follows Pishi? At first it seems that she may be carrying Pishi’s things just as Durga had once done when she brought her back on Apu’s birth. But then the two split and we notice that the girl has been carrying a bucket and washing, and keeps looking back at Pishi all the way until she exits. Also what softens the stiffness of the shot is the gentle adjustment of the frame—slight tilt down—as Pishi keeps advancing…into the fade out.

Notice too that the first and the last shots of this chapter are both track backs of sorts.

[To be continued]