This is a film I love so much, mainly due to the heartbreaking lead performance of Madhabi Mukherjee. She is one of my favourite actresses from all of Indian cinema, she is such an expressive actress and conveys so much with her eyes alone. In this film her expressions convey everything that her lonely character is feeling.
The film itself a masterful portrayal of a slowly crumbling marriage, of loneliness, friendship and desire. It is a film about the emotions and desires that we may have, but that we may have to keep hidden away due to the circumstances we find ourselves in at the time the feelings arise.
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 journalist whose long work hours and dedication to his job mean he ends up neglecting his young wife, Charu(Madhabi Mukherjee). The pair still love each other, but they have become more like best friends sharing a house, than a man and wife.
Charu is lonely, she wants more in her life than organising her household, and reading the books and magazines in her home library. Sensing her loneliness, Bhupati invites his sister and outgoing brother-in-law, Amal(Soumitra Chatterjee)to keep her company. Amal shares Charu’s passion for literature and discussing reading.
As the two spend time discussing literature and writing, they become 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 with developing the characters and situations. We end up feeling like we are there with the characters sharing their lives. If you like films focusing on the characters, and films that let the actors carry the film, then this will be for you.
Madhabi is superb in the scenes where we see Charu is falling for Amal but he is blind to her behaviour towards 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 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 and 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. I also like how Bhupati is not presented as the villain of the piece, you feel for him and like him as you do Amal and Charu. In this respect it 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 Stranger.
Any other fans of this one? If you’ve never seen it, I highly recommend it.