The Secret Behind The Poetry Of The Train Sequence

The secret behind the 'poetry of the train' sequence

Chandi Mukherjee08 May 2008

Not getting any producer for his first film, Ray decided to start shooting with his own money. The intention was to convince the would-be producer showing them edited footage. So the shooting of 'Pather Panchali' began on 27th October 1952 in the fields. According to Andrew Robinson, Ray's biographer, "…Ray felt that the scene in which Apu chases Durga through a field of white kash and sees a train for a first time, would make a fine come out for a producer."

Not getting any producer for his first film Ray decided to start shooting with his own money. The intention was to convince the would-be producer showing them edited footage. So the shooting of Pather Panchalibegan on 27th October 1952 in the fields. According to Andrew Robinson, Rays biographer, “…Ray felt that the scene in which Apu chases Durga through a field of white kash and sees a train for a first time, would make a fine come out for a producer.”

This train sequence is one of the most talked about sequences Ray had ever produced. But till date no body was analysed why this sequence is still remembers even after 56 years of making. Where exactly lies the magic of this sequence? Why it looks like poetry.

If we try to dissect the sequence we would find the magic lies in the three aspects. A) Camera and Characters position. B)Dimension of the Characters. C) Length of the shot. When these three aspects are combined together in a proper measure the result is such a path breaking ever lasting sequence. The length of the shot determines the pace of the sequence, and the different dimensions of the images create a unique situation in the eyes of the spectator. Creating such a sequence is a trademark of Rays work. This editing pattern remained exactly the same from his first film to the last one. The editing pattern of Ray did not emerge suddenly on the editing table, every time it was developed in the scripting stage. He always used to divide the shots while writing the dialogues with little but of sketches and lens size of every frame. So not a single frame in Rays film was by chance.The length of every shot was also pre-determined to provide the exact pace ofthe entire sequence. The length of each shot was pre-determined to provide the exact pace of background music. He used to hum the back ground music while shooting to get the desired length of the shot. It was possible because he already had designed the background music prior to shooting. Once Ray told to some one that he could not see the entire film (with all its effects and music)even before the first day of shooting.

This also happened in Pather Panchali. He drew every frame of the entire film much before the shooting; only the music part of Pather Panchali was created later by Ravi Shankar. But only 10- 15 % of the recorded music was used in the actual film. As he could not control the famous musicians to create a specific length of music, later in his career he used to design music for his films himself.

Now let us examine how Ray did achieve the magical quality of the train sequence of Pather Panchali.

Thereare altogether 26 shots in this sequence:

Shot No.

Description

Dimension

Duration

1

Toppish shot of Apu and Durga through bamboo forest

Mid long Shot

11 Secs

2(mixes form1)

Toppish shot of Apu and Durga through the forest. {During these two shots we only hear the theme music of Pather Panchali. After there two shots there comes the a small two shot scene of Sarbojoya and Indra Thakur to show the time lapse}

Mid Long Shot

32 Secs

3

Low angle shot of Durga. She is chewing cane stick. Apu appears from back. Durga leaves the frame in left. Apu turns and follows Durga.

{Again there are two shots of Sarbojoya and Indra Thakur to show the time lapse}

Mid Close Up

22 Secs

4

Tilt up shot of Telegraph Post

Close up

7 Secs

5

Durga listens to something. Durga frames out in left. (Sound of Telegraph post)

Mid Close up

12 Secs

6

Toppish shot of Apu coming towards the camera

Mid Long Shot

4 Secs

7

Durga listens and move camera pans with her. Durga places her ear in the post

Close up

22 Secs

8

Toppish shot of Apu

Close up

6 Secs

9

Toppish shot: Durga turns and leaves the frame in the right.

Close up

3 Secs

10

Little toppish shot of Apu comes to the post. He listens to the post and turns and runs.

Mid Close

12 Secs

11

Through the kash jungle we see Durga proceeding towards the camera; she comes and moves the left and camera pans. Durga goes in the jungle

Mid long shot to mid close to mid long shot

21 Secs

12

Apu comes from the right diagonally towards the camera. Camera in toppish position and then tilts down and then pans Apus movement. Apu back to camera moves in the jungle of kash.

Mid long shot to mid close to mid long shot

12 Secs

13 (mixes from 12)

Toppish shot Apu in kash jungle. He moves towards camera

Mid long shot

15 Secs

14 (mixes from 13)

Apu back to camera, moves away

Close shot to mid long shot

12 Secs

15

Apu facing camera leaves the frame in right

Close shot

6 Secs

16

The kash jungle, Toppish shot Apu moving in the jungle back to camera

Long shot

6 Secs

17

Apu and Durga. Both in two shot. But Apu is back to camera, Durga facing camera

Mid close shot

4 Secs

18

Apu facing camera

Close shot

5 Secs

19

Durga in profile

Close shot

2 Secs

20

Apu facing camera

Close shot

2 Secs

21

Durga in profile, but suddenly she moves left (we hear the sound of train-engine)

Close Shot

12 Secs

22

Apu and Durga pops up from below, behind them we see the black smoke of the train through the kash jungle in a distance. They leave the frame in right

Close shot

12 Secs

23

Toppish shot. The train coming from right of the frame. Durga and Apu running through the jungle

Mid long shot

8 Secs

24

Eye leveled shot. Train moves from right to left, sharp pan in the left we see only Apu is running fast through the jungle

Mid long shot - long shot

8 Secs

25

Slow pan to the right: camera in eye level: train wheel moving from left to right - we see through the wheels - Apu comes to see the train

Close shot

20 Secs

26

Black smoke in the left of the frame, and white kash flower in the distance

Long shot

6 Secs

The shot no.26 in the coda of the entire sequence,which means sign off from the sequence. Ray always used a coda at the end of every dramatic sequence of his every film.

If we study the above chart very carefully we wouldfind that no similar kind comes after the previous shot.

In shot no. 14 & 15 both are close dimension shot of Apu. But in shot no.14, we see Apu back to camera and moves away and in no.15, we see Apu facing camera.

The different dimension, different camera position, different movement of characters and different duration of each shot create a typical poetic and rhythmic and pace. This is the signature of Rays edit pattern which makes him great.

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