| 1964, India.
117 min, B/W, In Bengali with subtitles.
||RDB & Co (R.D. Bansal
/ (RDB Productions)
|Screenplay & Direction:
||Satyajit Ray form the short
novel "Nastanirh" by Rabindranath Tagore
||Nripen Pal, Atul Chatterjee,
Charulata is based on a story by Rabindranath Tagore, Nastanirh
(The broken Nest) and set in Calcutta in the late nineteenth century.
Bengal Renaissance is at its peak and India is under the British
rule. The film revolves around Charulata / Charu (Madhabi Mukherjee),
the childless, intelligent and beautiful wife of Bhupati (Sailen
Mukherjee). He edits and publishes a political newspaper. Bhupati
is an upper class Bengali intellectual with a keen interest in
politics and the freedom movement.
Charu is interested in the arts, literature and poetry. Though
Bhupati loves his wife, he has no time for her. She has little
to do in the house run by a fleet of servants. Sensing her boredom,
Bhupati invites Charu's elder brother Umapada and wife Manda to
live with them. Umapada helps in running of the magazine and the
printing press. Manda with her silly and crude ways is no company
for the sensitive and intelligent Charulata.
Amal (Soumitra Chatterjee), Bhupati's younger cousin comes on a
visit. Bhupati asks him to encourage Charu's cultural interests.
Amal is young, handsome and is of the same age group as Charu.
He has literary ambitions and shares her interests in poetry. He
provides her with much needed intellectual companionship and attention.
An intimate relationship develops between Charulata and Amal. There
is a hint of rivalry when she publishes a short story on her own
without his knowledge. He realizes that Charulata is in love with
him but is reluctant to reciprocate due to the guilt involved.
Meanwhile, Charu's brother and sister-in-law who were guests in
the house swindle Bhupati of his money and run away. It destroys
Bhupati's newspaper and the press. The episode shatters Bhupati
who admits his hurt to Amal. He tells Amal that now Amal is the
only one he can trust.
Amal is overcome with guilt of betraying his cousin. He is also
uncomfortable with Charu's higher intellect that he has helped
nurture. He leaves unannounced, to marry and go away to England
for higher studies. He leaves behind a letter to Charu.
- Charu is heartbroken but hides her disappointment. Bhupati
accidentally enters her room and finds her crying over Amal.
Bhupati realizes Charu's feelings for Amal. He is broken, shocked
and bewildered by it.
He rushes out of the house, wanders aimlessly in his carriage.
On his return, Charu and Bhupati make a hesitant gesture to reach
out, but their extended hands remain frozen in a tentative gesture.
Charulata (The Lonely Wife) was Ray's twelfth feature film.
It was also the director's favorite. Ray described the film as
the one which has the least defects. In an interview with 'Cineaste'
magazine, when asked about his most satisfying film, Ray said, "Well,
the one film that I would make the same way, if I had to do it
again, is Charulata."
It stands out among Ray's films. After Pather
, it is my most favorite. Ray film.
Certain details, such as references to and use of Bankim Chandra
Chatterjee the most popular Bengali novelist of the period, bits
of songs, literary allusions, etc. may be missed by the western
audience. But the film works on many levels and like most Ray films,
Charulata is universal in its appeal.
In Charulata as in Ghare Baire
and the World, 1984), Satyajit Ray explores the emergence of the
modern woman in the upper-class of colonial India. One can not
help drawing parallels with Ibsen's A Doll's House.
The context is suggested by important details. The opening sequence
is a piece of cinematic poetry. We see the young wife Charulata
moving from one window to another in her house. She observes the
activities of the outside world through the window blinds using
opera glasses. She is like a caged bird in her mansion. We sense
her curiosity and desire to know the outside world.
As she moves to the interior corridor of the house, we see her
intellectual husband. He is too engrossed in a book and walks past
her without even noticing her presence. She watches him as he walks
away and stands reading. Charu raises her opera glasses and looks
again as if he too belongs to the outside world. As Bhupati disappears
from the view, she is expressionless and lets the opera glasses
slip down. The camera is pulled back sharply, "like a flourish
with a pen at the end of an essay ..." in Ray's words. Without
a dialogue being spoken, we know Charulata is condemned to her
loneliness and boredom.
Ray conveys the innermost feelings and thoughts of his characters
without any dazzling technique and with minimal dialog. An another
wonderful sequence is the swing sequence in the garden. In this
scene Charu, who has been resisting her feelings for Amal, gives
in and admits her love to herself. It is about eight-minute long
sequence with almost no dialogue. With innovative camera and narrative
style, Ray depicts Charu's state of mind and her dilemma.
In the final sequence, as Bhupati returns home after wandering
aimlessly, Charu opens the door. Gently and with hesitation, she
asks him to enter. A wavering Bhupati enters the door and reaches
toward her hand. The shot is frozen and is followed with still
images of Charu's half-lit face, Bhupati's half-lit face, a servant
holding a lamp, a mid-shot of Charu and Bhupati and finally a long-shot
of them. As the music rises the words "Nastanirh" (Bengali,
The Broken Nest) fill the screen. It was ray's cinematic answer
to Tagore's original ending in which Bhupati has to go out of town
and Charu asks him to take her with him. He hesitates to which
Charu says "Thak" meaning "Let it be". As Ray
explained later, it was his visual equivalent of the word "Thak". "The
two are about to reconcile and then prevented from doing so."
All the interiors were shot in studio. The sets are meticulously
researched and detailed to create an authentic atmosphere. All
the three major characters - Charulata played by Madhabi, Amal
played Soumitra Chatterjee
Bhupati played by Sailen Mukherjee - have performed brilliantly.
Madhabi Mukherjee appeared in two other films of Ray: Mahanagar
Big City, 1963) and Kapurush
. (The Coward,
The film has an understated background score by Satyajit Ray.
What others say
"...The interplay of sophistication and simplicity is
- Penelope Houston, Sight and Sound, 1965
- President's Gold Medal, New Delhi, 1964
- Silver Bear For Best Direction, Berlin, 1965
- Catholic Award, Berlin, 1965
- Best Film, Acapulco, 1965
Other Online Reviews
- movie clip
Charu (Madhabi Mukherjee) observes the outside world ©Teknica
Bhupati walks past Charu not even noticing her ©Teknica
Charu amuses herself with opera glasses ©Teknica
Amal and Charu ©Teknica
Amal and Bhupati ©Teknica
Bhupati, Amal and Charu ©Teknica
Bhupati finds Charu crying over Amal ©Teknica
Bhupati and Charu ©Teknica