Satyajit Ray considered Charulata (India, 1964) his masterpiece.
An historical piece about the forces of modernity in 19th century India, the story focuses on young Charu (Madhabi Mukherjee), the gifted and sensitive wife of an idealistic newspaper editor, Bhupati (Shaileen Mukherjee) who gives lip service to women’s rights yet neglects Charu (both emotionally and artistically) in his single-minded focus on his failing political paper. That neglect encourages her playful flirtations with her husband’s witty cousin Amal (Soumitra Chatterjee), a charming young man fresh from college, full of himself and ready to conquer the world as a writer.
Charu is a virtual prisoner of her social world, watching the life outside of the walls of her lavish prison longingly through opera glasses, like a performance she’s not allowed to become a part of. With her husband virtually absent, Amal becomes her everything: someone with whom she can exchange ideas, talk, flirt, feed, give presents, and finally fall in love.
Set in 1879, the tension between Western ideas and Eastern tradition is strong, grounded in everything from the dialogue to the déco. The poetic naturalism that made the Apu Trilogy so successful is more finely honed here, the frame carefully designed to observe the social and political boundaries through the personal experiences and interlaced relationships, mapped through the knowing exchange of glances and gestures. And Ray’s sensitivity is not limited to Charu, who feels betrayed by both men. As we see through Bhupati, even an intellectual is not beyond learning a little something about himself and the woman he professes to love.
Black and white, in Bengali with English subtitles
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Charulata (Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
Charulata (Criterion Collection) [DVD]
On Blu-ray and DVD from the Criterion Collection, mastered from a 2k digital restoration from RDB Entertainments in India, in Bengali with a new English subtitle translation. It features new interviews with actors Madhabi Mukherjee and Soumitra Chatterjee, the interview featurette “Adapting Tagore” with Indian film scholar Moinak Biswas and Bengali literature historian Supriya Chaudhuri, an archival audio interview with director Satyajit Ray by film historian Gideon Bachmann, and booklet with an essay by critic Philip Kemp and a 1980s interview with Ray by his biographer Andrew Robinson.