Song of the Little Road: A movie that was 3 years in the making on a shoe string Budget
All of us are enthusiastically talking about the magnum opus movies like Baahubali that is in the making for a long time. Long time doesn’t necessarily mean the cost of the movie but the common trait is the passion for producing high quality cinema to the audience. In this week’s Friday Fundas I am going to talk about a well-known personality whose obsession to create great movies changed the landscape of Indian Cinema. The name is Satyajit Ray.
All of us know Satyajit Ray created his debut directorial venture Pather Panchali (Song of the Little Road) that was released in 1955. Do you know when the shooting for the movie started? It started in 27 October 1952. The estimated budget for the production was Rs. 70,000 (around USD 14, 613 during that time). The film took so long to produce due to funding problems and the shoot has to stop and restart many times.
Satyajit Ray had a passion of making cinema for a long time. In the 1940’s when he read the novel Pather Panchali by Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay he wanted to make that into a movie. When the French director Jean Renoir was making his film The River in India, Ray had a chance to assist him. Jean encouraged Ray to make Pather Panchali. Ray then travelled to London on his advertising company assignment. He watched more than 100 films. He started drawing sketches for his movie Pather Panchali. Based on these sketches he created the initial storyboard with details of continuity. Ray altered the story and characters to suit the narrative of a film. In particular the iconic scene where the children run through the field to catch the glimpse of the train is not in the novel.
Ray had casted new faces primarily to reduce the cost of filmmaking. After many auditions for the casting of Apu; Ray was not satisfied with the people he met. His wife spotted a boy in the neighborhood who she thought would fit the role and thus he became Apu on screen. The Technical team also included many new comers. The Cinematographer Subrata Mitra was handling camera for the first time. He had worked with Ray in the sets of The River. Initially he was given the role of assistant director and later he became the cinematographer for the movie. Subrata Mitra and art director Bansi Chandragupta later went on to become very famous in their respective professions.
Ray had funding problems from the starting. He had to work as a graphic designer, pawn the insurance policies, and sell his gramophone records to raise the fund for the movie. Ray’s wife pawned her jewels to contribute to the fund. But halfway through the filming Ray ran out of funds and could not resume it for a year. One of the most influential friends of Ray’s mother had requested the Chief minister of West Bengal Bidhan Chandra Roy to help with funding the film. The Home publicity department saw the footages of the film and helped Ray in completing the film with appropriate funds. The government is said to have misunderstood the nature of the film to be a documentary on rural uplift and recorded the loan as being for “road improvement” based on the title of the movie.
Rest is history where the movie was welcomed with overwhelmed response all over the world and Ray the master mind director for Indian film industry started ruling hearts of the audience for many years to come. He went onto making two sequels to Pather Panchali, Aparajito and Apur Sansar. This is rated as one of the best Trilogy of all times.
Thus the passion and obsession of a man who believed in his dream went on to realizing it. Also a best movie is not about making it on a big budget but narrating a compelling story through visual medium to the audience.
If you liked this article you might also like this article about the legendary director SS Vasan and the making of his magnum opus Chandralekha.