The realist narrative style of Pather Panchali was influenced by Italian neorealism and the works of French director Jean Renoir. In 1949 Renoir came to Calcutta to shoot his film The River (1951). Ray, a founding member of the Calcutta Film Society (established in 1947), helped him scout for locations in the countryside. When Ray told him about his longstanding wish to film Pather Panchali, Renoir encouraged him to proceed. In 1950 Ray was sent to London by his employer, the advertising agency D.J. Keymer, to work at their headquarters. During his six months in London, he watched about 100 films. Among these, Vittorio De Sica's neorealist film Bicycle Thieves (1948) had a profound impact on him. In a 1982 lecture, Ray said that he had come out of the theatre determined to become a filmmaker. The film made him believe that it was possible to make realistic cinema that was shot on location with an amateur cast.
The international success of Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon (1950) and Bimal Roy's 1953 film Do Bigha Zamin (which was shot partly on location and was about a peasant family) led Ray to believe that Pather Panchali would find an international audience. Ray also had more indigenous influences, such as Bengali literature and the native Indian theatrical tradition, particularly the rasa theory of classical Sanskrit drama. Darius Cooper describes the complicated doctrine of rasa as "center[ed] predominantly on feelings experienced not only by the characters but also conveyed in a certain artistic way to the spectator".