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The Pather Panchali Sketchbook – An Intricately Delicate Entry into a Master’s Creative Mind


Arguably India’s greatest filmmaker Satyajit Ray prepared the script of his first filmPather Panchali in the form of a sketch book in lieu of a traditional screenplay. The sketches were a visual guide to the film maker and one can’t but be astonished to see that there is indeed a very close resemblance between the sketches and the actual film. The resemblance is not only in the narrative progression of the film but also in the composition of its frames.

It so transpires that in the early ’60s, Ray had handed over his Pather Panchalisketch book to the Cinematheque Francaise in Paris (commonly the Paris Cine Museum) on their request. During his final days, Ray wanted to have another look at this sketches and it was then found to be missing from the museum along with the shooting script of Apur Sansar, the final part of the Apu Trilogy.

It was recently taken up by the ‘Society for Preservation of Satyajit Ray Archives’ (popular as ‘Satyajit Ray Society’) in a bid to restore and publish the sketchbook of Ray’s first. This is a highly commendable effort and the society needs a lot of praise for being painstakingly diligent in this achievement. They followed up with Cinematheque Francaise for long and finally obtained a scanned copy of the entire sketch.

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Alongside a lot of missing pieces were collected from across the world and meshed together into a lovely memorabilia that not only includes the 58 page sketchbook (which is no doubt the highlight of the collection) but also reviews, posters, illustrations, memoirs, quotes from the likes of Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson, M F Hussein, Francois Truffaut, Jim Jarmusch, Salman Rushdie and some more.

In the preface, Sandip Ray rightly mentions — “The admirers of Satyajit Ray around the world will get an opportunity to have a look at the entire sketch book, which formed the very foundation on which father made his maiden film.” The book also has scanned copies of letters to Ray from Jean Renoir, Monroe Wheeler, J B Nicholson and Ray Bradbury.

The added attraction of the collectible is the rare and a few unpublished articles on the film and the experience working in it from wife Bijoya Ray, Cinematographer Subrata Mitra, Art Director Bansi Chandragupta, Assistant Cinematographer Soumendu Roy and Editor Dulal Dutta. In addition there are narrations from Uma Dasgupta (Durga) and Subir Banerjee (Apu).

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If one peeks into the sketches one will be mesmerized by the visual details of them which are excellent pieces in their own right. Also interesting to note are the illustrations he did for Aam Antir Bhenpu which is the children’s version of Bibhuti Bhusan Bandyopadhyay’s epic novel Pather Panchali published by Signet Press. It was at this time, while doing the illustrations when the idea of making a film on this narrative dawned on Ray. However one will not miss his artistic sensibilities which made him sketch differently for the children’s book which was predominantly monochromatic in feel and the ones in sketchbook which have a definite depth of field which will help his camera-man not only with the camera angle but also with the light. In the famous rain shot where Durga drags Apu to her shelter the illustrations of sketch book and the children’s book are uncannily similar in terms of viewing angle but they have difference in texture. And if one looks at the actual filmic representation the similarity looks absolutely stunning.

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Or the iconic ‘kash-bon’ sequence where Apu for the first time in his life gets a chance to watch a train – a rural innocent boy’s first encounter with machine. In a series of deft sketches Ray provides the visual-scape that he looks for. His precision is riveting and the final execution in film equally captivating. And it does open up interesting questions. I, for example wanted to understand what prompted Ray to have the train enter the frame from right in the film when his sketch had it from the left.

Much later in his detective film Sonar Kella there is indeed another train sequence in the deserts of Rajasthan. And like Apu, Felu-da also had to run towards the train but in this case in order to stop it. In that sequence Ray did consider the train to enter the frame from the left just like this sketch forPather Panchali.

 The Pather Panchali Sketchbook is published by Harper Collins Publishers India in association with the Satyajit Ray Society. It was launched on the eve of Satyajit Ray’s 95th birth anniversary (on 1 May 2016) at the Satyajit Ray Auditorium, Rabindranath Tagore Centre, ICCR, Kolkata. The book release was followed by a panel discussion where some renowned actors discovered by Ray viz. Paromita, Barun Chanda, Dipankar De and Pradip Mukherjee reminisced about their association with the master director.

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