Movie Review – Charulatha

Posted: May 26, 2013 in Movie Reviews
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Making a simple film is never an easy task. Making a complex film simple is an even more herculean task. Ray amazes me by doing it every single time. What amazes me more is so many people have found out that what they see on screen is just microscopic to what they actually get out of the film. Ray has managed to achieve this much so long ago. And he made the whole world turn and notice Indian cinema. Charulata too is a definitive masterpiece in his array of masterpieces.


Before watching the film I thought this movie too had my favorite actress Sharmila Tagore. I was mislead by the most famous “reversal of gaze” poster of the movie thinking it was Sharmila Tagore who there in it. Only while watching the movie I realized it was Madhabhi Mukherjee who is Charulata and not Sharmila Tagore. I would have loved to have Sharmila Tagore in that role. She looks best in black and white. May be Ray considered Madhabhi owing to her maturity but Sharmila Tagore was only seventeen when she acted in The World of Apu yet she displayed much needed maturity. I guess Ray wanted a real matured woman rather than someone who could act like a matured woman. He even had to undergo the Paan eating addiction of Madhabi for the film.

The loneliness of a secluded house wife is captured very well in very first scene itself where a lonely wife, Charulata looks through the windows in search of some activity. She sees a fortune teller through a binocular follows him through every window and stops to follow him as he goes out of her sight. There is no other window in her house for her to continue watching his activities. But she can’t really be tagged as a caged bird. She’s a bird who is in the cage and thinks that’s how she should be. We see a hint of disappointment when she couldn’t follow the fortune teller but it soon vanishes. That’s how ambitious the housewives were during those years. Always within the limits which certain someone had drawn.

On the other hand Bhupathi (Shailen Mukherjee) is a naïve yet intelligent guy who focuses all the while on his newspaper. In fact obsessed with improving the standard of quality of newspapers. The conversations in English between him and his brother Amal (Soumitra Chatterjee) shows how good a writer Rabindranth Tagore and Satyajit Ray are. Their conversations are a listener’s delight. Especially when an art loving Amal tries to explain a poem but isn’t allowed to tell more than a line by Bhupathi was treat to watch. In the end they continue with their normal talks keeping in mind they are brothers. Their argument stops then and there with no winners.

Having said that Bhupathi is a naïve man he asks Amal to keep Charulata occupied with his writing works and asks him to make her write which Amal does. Even though Bhupathi looks like a workaholic he’s definitely not an uncaring husband. He cares about his wife so much that he doesn’t realize she’s unhappy. Without having known about her wife well how he could have known that she has writing talent.

Amal is a simple guy with no ambitions. A guy who’d be loved by all. The rift between his two sister-in-laws gives this woman centric film a much needed feminine touch. Not only that, the background score when it stops gives us a hollow feeling. We could hear Charulata’s thoughts echoing all around. We could see her seclusion. Charulata being a typical wife of those times is not brave enough to get his husband into the bedroom like how Shabana Azmi does in Shatranj Ki Khilari. Instead she likes spending time with her brother-in-law who showers attention to her.

I like the term brother-in-law. Especially in English it sounds even more apt. Like saying brother by chance or a forced brother. The relationships between brother-in-laws and sister-in-laws have always fascinated me. The period between they start to mingle and have sexual fondness between them in films have always been my cup of tea. Good thing here is the whole film happens in this period. We neither see the initial skepticism between them not the aftermath of their sexual discovery.

All the three main leads undergo torment in their life. But of all its Bhupathi’s torment which affected more. A guy who doesn’t read between the lines, a guy who trusts all gets cheated by his brother, his wife and the world. When he realizes that he should spend more time with his wife and says it to her she doesn’t reply instead picks a grey hair from his moustache in a way stating that it’s too late. (A scene pointed out by my father)

Till the end Bhupathi doesn’t know what’s really happening at home but once when he comes home early he overhears by chance the talks between Amal and his wife which breaks his heart and leaves the family as a broken nest. Instead of the end I liked when the titles displayed “The Broken Nest.” The title of Rabindranth Tagore’s novella from which the film is made of. Satyajit Ray has used this title to the best extent my flashing it at the end and thus making it to be in our memory for everlasting time. If this had been made as the title it’d have faded by the time the film had ended. May be he employed a much simpler name not because of having a simple title but to have the protagonist name. Thought this movie primarily deals with the story of Charultha the entire family goes to shambles because she has crossed the line. Though she can’t be completely blamed when we search for that one reason it’s the lonely wife, Charulata. 

The more concerning fact is their life doesn’t get over when the movie ends. It certainly continues but we don’t see that. That’s why it’s “The Broken Nest” instead of “The End”. The title “The Lonely Wife” is more apt than Charulata but literal translation of it would have spoilt the essence. Anyways I’m not that degenerate to decrease a star for such a well made film just for the title.


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