Charulata is one of my favourite classic era Indian films. I love it because it is a real character piece, and also because it is a poignant and unforgettable story of love, emotional connection and loneliness.
Madhabi Mukherjee as Charu. Screenshots by me.
The main reason I love this film so much is due to the heartbreaking and powerful lead performance of Madhabi Mukherjee. She is one of my favourite actresses from all of Indian cinema, she is such an expressive actress and she always manages to convey so much with her eyes alone. In this film Madhabi’s expressions convey everything that her lonely character is feeling.
The film itself is a masterful portrayal of a slowly crumbling marriage, of loneliness, friendship, desire and passion. It is a film about the emotions and desires that we may all have, but that some of us may have to keep hidden away due to the circumstances we find ourselves in at the time these feelings arise.
The film is based upon the 1901 novella The Broken Nest by Rabindranath Tagore, and is directed and written by Satyajit Ray. Charulata(The Lonely Wife)is set in the scorching heat of Victorian era Calcutta. Bhupati(Sailen Mukherjee)is a newspaper publisher and journalist, whose long work hours and dedication to his job means that he ends up neglecting his young wife, Charu(Madhabi Mukherjee). The pair still love each other very much, but they have become more like best friends sharing a house, rather than a loving man and wife.
Charu is lonely, she wants more in her life than merely organising her household, and reading the books and magazines in her home library.
Sensing her loneliness, Bhupati invites his outgoing cousin, Amal(Soumitra Chatterjee)to keep Charu company. Amal shares Charu’s passion for literature and discussing reading.
As the two spend time discussing literature and writing, they become very close and enjoy spending time together. Charu finds herself falling in love with Amal. Does he return her feelings? Will anything come of this growing love?A heartbreaking story of love that at first appears to be unrequited(truly one of the most difficult things to deal with in life), regret and enjoying life.
This is a film which is a slow build, it really takes its time developing the characters and their situations. This is the type of storytelling I like best. We end up feeling like we are there with the characters sharing their lives. If you like films focusing on the characters, and films which let the actors carry the film, then this will be one for you.
Madhabi is superb in the scenes where we see that Charu is falling for Amal, but that he is blind to her growing feelings for him. We see her visibly brighten when he enters a room, or when they read and write in the garden. Her disappointment and longing is evident on her face and in her body language. Both Amal and Bhupati notice Charu’s change of behaviour, but neither one tries to find out what is bothering her. My heart goes out to Charu so much.
My favourite scenes are the following. Amal pushing Charu on the garden swing. Bhupati crying in the carriage when he realises what has happened and that he is partly to blame. Amal writing the letter to Charu. Amal trying to explain his story to Bhupati. Charu and Bhupati on the beach. Amal’s reaction to reading Charu’s story. Charu reading Amal’s letter to her. The storm rushing through the house signalling the arrival of Amal(and symbolising the chaos his stay will cause in this house.)
Strong performances from the lead trio, a moving story, and characters that you can feel for all combine to make this a must see. I also like how Bhupati is not presented as the villain of the piece, you feel for him and like him, just as you do with Amal and Charu. In this respect this film reminds me somewhat of David Lean’s The Passionate Friends.
This one is in my top five Ray films. The other four being The Big City, Nayak: The Hero, The Music Room and The Apu Trilogy.
Any other fans of this one? If you’ve never seen it, I highly recommend it.