A tale of one family's struggle to survive in poverty-stricken rural India: the father is an educated but impractical dreamer; the mother is bitter because she has to bear the brunt of the family's care; the daughter has a nasty habit of stealing the neighbor's fruit. Bad luck hounds them until the birth of a son named Apu. Yet even the precious blessing of a boy cannot prevent further tragedy and hardship.
For many Americans, this film is a first harsh look at life amongst the poor of India. Ray's unsparing camera not only exposes the desperation such a tenuous existence creates, but also includes scenes of uplifting beauty and emotion. Rich traditions of India are brought forth through storytelling and music (by Ravi Shankar). This simply told film leaves the viewer enlightened and humbled. "Pather Panchali" was followed by two sequels; together, the films comprise Ray's "Apu Trilogy."