A Doll’s House: Remembering Charulata
13.10.2011 - Satyajit Ray's masterly
adaptation of Rabindranath Tagore's 1901 novella,
Nashtanir (The Broken Nest), ranks among his most
accomplished films. Released in 1964, Charulata marked the culmination of 10 years of
dazzling creative fecundity that established Ray as a premier
chronicler and craftsman of stories not just for an Indian
audience, but for a broader international one.
Following such acclaimed films as Pather Panchali (1955,
winner of the Grand Prix at Cannes and the first film of the famous
Apu trilogy), The Music Room (1958) and The
Goddess (1960), Charulata showed Ray in complete
command of his directorial faculties.
Charu, the film's heroine, is an upper-class 1870s Bengali woman
who seems to have everything going for her: a beautiful home, an
affluent lifestyle and a genteel husband who is genuinely fond of
her. But she is like a pretty bird trapped in a gilded cage. True
happiness is a chimera in her ennui-ridden world.
Charulata is about love, longing, loneliness, the
intangibility of true emotions and the effects of betrayal, but
above all, it is about a nest that rests on a shaky foundation.
Here, everything seems in perfect order until a storm hits. The
first seven minutes or so of the film, in which Ray employs a
series of subtle devices and camera movements to establish the void
in the female protagonist's life, are sheer cinematic magic. Charu,
opera glasses in hand, ambles listlessly from one room to another,
from one shuttered window to another, watching as the world outside
passes her by. Various sounds and views reveal themselves, but she
can watch the tableau of life only through the binoculars. She
cannot be a part of it.
The rest of Charulata, replete with equally remarkable
cinematic touches and sparse but incisive dialogue, is no less
exquisite. Ray peels layer after layer off the lonely,
independent-minded and gifted lady's inner yearnings. Confined
within this Bengali equivalent of Ibsen's A Doll's House,
Charu seems condemned to while away her time playing cards or the
piano and doing needlework.
Her amiable but self-absorbed journalist-husband, Bhupati, loves
her, but he adores the "smell of printing ink" even more. His world
revolves around the political newspaper that he publishes from
their opulent mansion. Charu's world brightens up when Bhupati's
younger cousin and budding poet Amal arrives and awakens forbidden
desire in her heart. At first, the expression of Charu's feelings
for the fun-loving Amal is tentative. But in the sun-lit garden in
the mansion's backyard, where the two spend many an afternoon
writing and reciting poetry, the bond grows deeper and more
insistent. But sadly, neither of the men in her life can quite
Charu is a quintessential Tagore heroine: vulnerable but
free-spirited, bound within a traditional role imposed by society
and yet daring to go the extra mile in search of the self.
In Ray's hands, she acquires a resonance that is at once universal
Charulata screens once as part of ADFF's celebration
marking the 150th anniversary of the great Bengali writer
Rabindranath Tagore on Friday, October 14 at 6:30pm at Marina
Mall's VOX Cinemas.