Friday, June 24, 2011

The three states of being as filmed by Satyajit Ray

The following scenes are from the film Pather Panchali (1955) of Satyajit Ray that was the first film of the Apu trilogy. I have selected the following scenes because to my mind they emerge as almost archetypes or states of the human evolution and development. Watching these scenes almost feels as if one tastes Proust’s madeleine of remembrance of beauty past. Long lost memories of essential, distilled, pure moments in time transcend the film and somehow create a certain undefined nostalgia. Captured on film is the poetry of a world in balance and the seeds of change that will gradually lead to a transformation of this world and our way of life in it.

The three states of being are:

I see this scene as a depiction of the first state of being. A life in harmony with nature. A pure life. A balanced perception of man’s place as part of the whole and not the dominating force behind all. A storm is coming. The leaves shake in anticipation of the first drops of water carried by the wind. The clothes left out to dry have to be taken in and the children are called back home but they are far away running in the fields towards the water. A drop falls on the head of a man sitting by the river who opens an umbrella. A dog seeks dry shelter and the rain begins to pour down. Apu is cold and calls to his sister. But she is there, out in the open, in the rain, feeling every drop falling on her body and face. She is experiencing a deep feeling of blissful exhilaration and makes fun of Apu shivering in the cold wind. She dances and then feeling also cold runs under the tree hugging her brother. “Rain, rain…go away” 

The second state has to do with human nature. The emotional complexity of the human being is the dominant drive of this scene. The instant change of an emotion from sadness into joy transforms also our perception of nature. The dice are cast and nature now follows. A woman is sitting in sad contemplation thinking of a loved one that is far away. She has been crying. Her train of thought is interrupted by the cries of “letter, letter”. Wiping her eyes and almost trembling in anticipation she grabs the letter from the boy and reads that all is well and that news is good. Everything falls into place, tranquility and beauty are reflected in the insect-hoping dance on the water. The water has become the mirror of the feelings of the woman and her thoughts jump from one thing to another like insects. The dog plays peacefully with the cat, the bird sings and the woman exhausted from this emotional journey feels the heat for the first time and slowly drifts into sweet oblivion.  

There is something wrong in this vast field of agricultural land. Metal constructions and cables divide the screen, the earth and the sky. At first you think that it’s birds sitting on a wire, but it’s not. The girl listens to the constant drone noise coming from the live wires. She walks in water. The two sounds make an uneasy coupling. She puts her ear on a metal column and listens. Apu mimics his sister and then looks for her as she walks in the field. The sound of wind has now drowned the drone noise of the cables. Everything sways as the wind dictates. Apu has lost his sister and calls for her. Hidden, she throws him sugarcane. He sees her sitting down and asks her “Where are we? What are those?” pointing at the cables. She can’t be bothered to explain. And then she stops him because she hears something. A different noise from far away blends with the wind. A train can be seen dividing the scene between sky and land, puffing black smoke. The children run through the fields to meet the train. The sound of the locomotive is now very loud. The children are close. The train runs through the celluloid and becomes the filter that blackens our vision separating us from the children. The train passes and Apu is left in the thick dark smoke. Man's creations have taken center stage.

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