Song of the Little Road (Pather Panchali)
While it may not be true that Song of the Little Road first placed India on the international filmmaking map - that accolade probably belongs to Chetan Anand's Neecha Nagar (Lowly City), a winner at Cannes in 1946 - Satyajit Ray's directorial debut from 1955 can nevertheless be credited with being the one film that transformed the then mainstream perception of India being home to nothing but Bollywood entertainment.
Made with a meagre budget, an inexperienced technical team and a cast of non-professional actors, Song of the Little Road appeared at Cannes in 1956 and subsequently garnered rave reviews around the world. Critics were floored by the way the then 34-year-old director adapted a Bengali novel about a destitute family's taxing life in a village in the 1920s - and the rite of passage of the boy Apu (played by Subir Banerjee, below) - into a vividly authentic yet cinematic classic.
While detractors demurred on the film's ethos - some Indians accused the film of exporting images of poverty as cultural exotica - Ray's subtlety and empathy for his characters is obvious enough to stave off such criticism. The film was the first of the Apu trilogy - the next two films being The Unvanquished and The World of Apu. Song of the Little Road - will be shown at the Film Archive on January 2 at 2pm.