Thursday, February 7, 2013

Charulata: the quiet craft.

The most stubborn person I know once told me I was the most stubborn person she knew. I'll admit to it - I am incredibly stubborn, particularly when it comes to the media I consume. I refuse to believe in the concept of classics being films you absolutely must watch, this idea that if you don't plough through them, you're uneducated as a viewer. I think classics are influential films, but that doesn't mean one has to sit through them just because they are classics - rather, I adamantly only watch films when I'm interested in them, regardless of their status or influence on later films. 

It was because of this stubborn attitude that I didn't watch a single Satyajit Ray film until I wanted to. At heart, I am a populist - I will watch something loud and outrageous before I'll watch anything quiet and contemplative, even though I respect the latter style of film-making enormously. But luckily things took a turn when Beth began obsessing over old Bengali films. I got curious, and from that curiosity an honest interest was born.

So I watched Charulata, the 1964 Satyajit Ray film based on a novel of another Bengali cultural giant, Rabindra Tagore.  

The film's international title, "The Lonely Wife" pretty much captures the plot. Charu (Madhabi Mukherjee) is the wife of busy newspaper man Bhupati (Shaileen Mukherjee) who submerges herself in the world of Bengali novels. Bhupati arranges his cousin Amal (Soumitra Chatterjee) to live with them and keep Charu company, and get her to foster her talents in writing. 

Amal and Charu's relationship develops in a very subtle manner, and Ray's style gives a lot of potent, metaphorical visual themes, like the cage-like bars on the windows. As a very irregular viewer of this type of cinema, I appreciated the fact the film felt very accessible - I did not need to read three brick-heavy books on Bengal society, history or gender relations to catch what was happening on the screen. It was all clearly there for me to view and interpret. 

The performances were all-around solid. Madhabi Mukherjee carries the film with ease - we watch Charu figure herself out and understand her own emotions just in time to realise there isn't a way to go back. Soumitra Chatterjee was good as well, but there is slightly less to say about his character, really. Amal arrives practically bouncing with infectious energy, but leaves almost on a mysterious note - I wondered whether I actually knew the character, or his inner workings at all. 

I could draw a parallel between my own stubborn nature and that of Charu - she too seems to do what she wants precisely how and when she wants to - but that might be a little too forced. The film didn't make my favourites, but it made sure I'll be checking out more of Ray and more old Bengali cinema.

Regardless, if you're like me and looking for a film to begin your journey into Ray's filmography or the Bengali cinema in general, this is a good place to start. It's gorgeous to watch as it is a thoughtfully crafted piece of cinema. 


Stuart Martin said...

I share your sentiment about not watching classics because they are considered must watch. An hour of Pather Panchali was an hour more than I could stand, and the idea of sitting through 2 and half more films in the trilogy made a Celine Dion marathon look appealing. I'm going to give Shatranj ki Khiladi a go, and now thatyou've added your voice to the chorus singing the praises of Charulata I might have give it a look as well.

veracious said...

I'll probably check out the Apu trilogy eventually, but for now I'll watch other Ray films before I check it.

I don't wanna overhype Charulata! It's a good film, but like I said, didn't make my favourites.

yves said...

Hi, well I don't mind saying I have almost an opposite point of view when it comes to classics (I love watching them), but perhaps it boils down to the same idea, because I do it, like you, out of a sheer wilful desire to follow my own track. I feel that very few people today actually leave the beaten track of watching nothing but what comes out at the theatres, and that's why I can't really be bothered to do the same. Well, I do occasionally watch a contemporary flick, but I know (or I think I know) the treasure is in the classics. And Ray, well, that's a treasure! If you've enjoyed Charulata somewhat, perhaps you'd want to try (hm... let's see...) Home and the world, or Asani Sanket... But then of course I'm partial. I could sit in front of hours of Pather Panchali!!
cheers, yves

Karthik said...

What I can say about this man Soumitra Chatterjee!!!... No one can deny his contributions to Indian Cinema. As a person, he is very good at heart and has got a lot of talents. Recently I also came across this video, where the superstar is unveiling his new skill