Halfway through filming, Ray ran out of funds. The Government of West Bengal loaned him the rest, allowing him to complete the film. This loan is listed in public records at the time as "roads improvement", a nod to the film's translated title.
Legend has it that on the first day of shooting, Satyajit Ray had never directed a scene, his cameraman Subrata Mitra had never photographed one and none of his child actors had even been screentested for their roles.
Because of all the many delays in this film's nearly three-year production, director Satyajit Ray became increasingly apprehensive that some event might occur to prevent his finishing it. In fact, he attributed his success in that regard to three miraculous occurrences (or rather non-occurrences), referring to his cast by their character names: "One, Apu's voice did not break. Two, Durga did not grow up. Three, Indir Thakrun did not die."
After the film's great success, Ray was able to obtain a grant from the West Bengal government and he was able to complete his projected trilogy at the behest of the then Prime Minister of India.
The international success of "Panther Panchali" allowed Ray to quit his job at the advertising agency he had been working at, and devote himself to film-making, literature and art.
The film never had a complete screenplay. The cast took most of their cues from Ray's drawings and notes.
Made on a shoestring budget, even to the extent that Satyajit Ray sold some of his beloved LPs as well as his life insurance policy while his wife Bijoya was convinced to pawn her jewels.
"Panther Panchali" is the first film from independent India to attract major international critical attention. It not only won India's "National Film Award for Best Feature Film" in 1955; but, also, the "Best Human Document" award at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival, and several other awards and accolades.
The original negative for the film was burned in a fire in 1993. Amazingly, the damaged film was restored as the negative was rehydrated, repaired and scanned in 4K resolution.
A rough cut was seen by John Huston who brought the film to the attention of Hollywood.
Most of the music for the film was composed by Ravi Shankar. While composing the score, Shankar was only able to see about half the film. He ended up recording most of the music for the film in one 11 hour session. The film's cinematographer, Subrata Mitra, who like Shankar played the sitar, provided additional music for the remaining score.
Satyajit Ray, although he allegedly received a verbal promise of payment for his work as director from the Government of West Bengal after it took over production of this film, in fact received absolutely no compensation of any kind, despite having worked on it (often at his own expense) for almost three years. Ray was philosophical about this, as he much preferred the international fame the film brought him to any monetary reward.
Cinematographer Subrata Mitra was originally a stills photographer whose work Ray had admired. Mitra learned his craft on photographing for films by borrowing a 16mm camera.
Satyajit Ray first became involved with Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay's source novel in 1945 when he was commissioned to illustrate a children's edition of the book.
As Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay had passed way, Satyajit Ray had to get permission to make the film from his widow.
Oddly enough, the films premiere actually took place at New York's Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) on May 3, 1955 - in conjunction with the museum's "Textiles and Ornamental Arts of India" exhibition. It was then released later that same year in Calcutta, India. It was not released to a wide audience in the USA, until three years later, on September 22, 1958.
From the extras on the disk, the Mother "Sarbojaya Ray" - Karuna Bannerjee (as Karuna Bandopadhyay) and the younger "Durga" - Runki (Shampa) Banerjee (as Runki Bandopadhyay) are actual mother and daughter.
Included in the Toronto International Film Festival's Essential 100, movies every cinephile should see.
This film was shot piecewise over five years; often, production was halted due to lack of funds. Eventually, the West Bengal Government provided enough money for Satyajit Ray to complete the film.
Ray's adaptation of Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay's semi-autobiographical novel differs significantly from its source. Ray restructured the entire story and threw out elements that he felt were unnecessary.