Triumph of Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali

1955, A huge success

A few months later, on August 26, 1955, Pather Panchali was finally released in Calcutta. Using his advertising experience, ray had designed five billboards including a full-sized 8ftX20ft. one. It had Apu and Durga running in vast landscape of dark monsoon clouds with Pather Panchali being the only legend. The film did only moderately well in the first two weeks. By third week however, the word spread and it was running packed at three cinema houses. The cinema house, however, had only booked for six weeks. It was then shown in another chain for seven more weeks. It was a box-office success.

Ray and his crew were feted at numerous functions. Dr. B.C. Roy, who had seen the film earlier, organised a screening for Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the Prime Minister of India who was on a visit to Calcutta. Nehru was moved by the film and ensured that Pather Panchali was entered in the Cannes Films festival, 1956, despite a move by some to oppose the entry.

The screening at Cannes took place on one of the festival holidays at midnight. As result, most of the jury members did not turn up. On the insistence of a few film critics and Ray’s friends, Lindsay Anderson and Andre Bazin among them, another screening was held with the full jury. The film won the special jury prize for “the Best Human Document”. Pather Panchali went on to win a dozen odd prizes at home and film festivals abroad, including Best Actress for Chunibala for her role as Indir Thakrun at Manila.

The recognition persuaded him to take the plunge. He decided to give up advertising and turn to film making as a full time career. And thus began a long and illustrious career. His first film, Pather Panchali had established Satyajit Ray as a world-class director.

Next: A Film a Year, 1956-1981

A scene from Pather Panchali, Sarbajaya, Durga and Apu
A scene from Pather Panchali, Sarbajaya, Durga and Apu ©Government of West Bengal