On his 109th birth anniversary (he was born on 12 July 1909), we look at Roy's first film Udayer Pathey, which, like his other films, has become a source of reference for filmmakers and scholars of cultural studies over the years.
Revisiting Bimal Roy's Udayer Pathey and Do Bigha Zamin — birth anniversary special
Kolkata - 12 Jul 2018 17:17 IST
Updated : 20:56 IST
One of the most successful storytellers of Indian cinema, Bimal Roy was born on this day in 1909. Being a director and cinematographer, he had his films entirely under his control. He was the product of the New Theatres film studio which made sure to tell good stories with well-crafted dialogues.
Roy not only continued with the tradition, but added to it by adapting to the contemporary scenario as well. His films are considered to be precursors in realistic films. They became popular and delivered content that has been a source of inspiration, intensely observed, discussed and referred to by filmmakers and scholars of cultural studies over the years.
Former professor of film studies, department of Jadavpur University, Sanjay Mukhopadhyay said, “Roy’s first film Udayer Pathey (1944) is still looked up for dialogue writing references. In fact, Udayer Pathey became one of the most important films before Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali (1955) for many reasons. One of the foremost socially conscious films, Udayer Pathey first featured the portrait of Karl Marx in a peasant leader’s home. The traditional formula of a rich son and a poor daughter or vice-versa in a story also commenced with Udayer Pathe."
Udayer Pathey was later made into Hindi film Hamrahi in 1945. Sumita S Chakravarty, in her essay, 'National Identity and the Realistic Aesthetic' wrote, “Satyajit Ray comments that the Bengali version (Udayer Pathey) ‘was widely regarded in its time as a milestone in Indian cinema. Timely in its theme, bold in its use of unknown amateurs in leading roles, and admirable in its moral stance, it was a step in the right direction, though not a big one.’”
Chakravarty also discussed in her essay the reasons behind Udayer Pathey’s enormous impact, “I shall suggest that, within the parameters of a very conventional narrative (poor boy-meets-rich girl), we have a realist idiom struggling to break through, an idiom that draws upon the cadence and patterns of everyday speech for moral effect. The film sought to apprehend the contemporary mood and moment through evolution in language, literalizing the rise of subaltern (working class and colonized) consciousness in the power of common speech.”
Udayer Pathe stormed the box office and for many, it was a kind of film that one had seen before. However, Roy was increasingly getting affected by the disintegration in the New Theatres and felt the pressure created by the demand of the box office. He went for a short visit to Bombay and ended up makings films such as Maa (1952) and Parineeta (1953) with the Bombay Talkies.
Mukhopadhay said, “Around 1952, we first came across films such as Bicycle Thieves (1948), and Rome, Open City (1945) in an international film festival in Bombay organised by the government of India. Those films introduced us to neo-realist films that brought real-life raw footage on screen.”
In an article for daily DNA in 2016, film critic Manisha Lakhe wrote that Roy watched Bicycle Thieves at the film festival in Bombay and discovered what a chronicler of despair Vittorio de Sica was. "Bimal Roy was just as observant of human frailty. The film inspired him to make Do Bigha Zamin," Lakhe wrote.
Mukhopadhyay added, "The most popular belief is Bengali films ushered a new era in Indian cinema; however, I believe it started with Roy’s Hindi film Do Bigha Zamin (1953). In that film, Roy made Balraj Sahni walk and ride a cycle barefoot in front of Victoria Memorial and other places around the city to bring the realism on screen for the first time.”
From casting the very smart and western looking Sahni as the Kisan and Nirupa Roy as his wife in tattered clothes, to achieving the realism in every dramatic sequence of the film prove the excellence of Roy as an intuitive and progressive filmmaker. Do Bigha Zamin eventually established him as one of the unprecedented talents of Indian cinema and he never left Bombay.