Charulata (1964)

28 10 2008

Definitely my favorite post-Pather Panchali film from Satyajit Ray. Like the other 1960s efforts I’ve seen from him, this isn’t the most formally dazzling movie, but it is a wonderful character-driven story with a nice, relaxed pacing. The first hour or so, in particular, is pretty much perfect, and I might even say they’re as good, if not better than, the best sequences of Ray’s debut. Unfortunately, though, things tend to fall apart towards the end with plenty of Ray’s usual off-kilter indulgent flourishes, such as the overly dramatic “storm” symbolism that shows up whenever the protagonist is in a conflict. For the most part, this is still a wonderful film and certainly one of Ray’s best.

Madhabi Mukherjee, who plays the title character, deserves a lot of credit for making the film, as a whole, work. She’s wonderful in Ray’s Mahanager and even better here. Of course, her role in this case is a lot more demanding but she is equally captivating. I suppose a lot of her “watchability” can be credited to the fact that she’s also physically attractive, but she definitely has a certain way in which she handles herself that is special. I guess all great performers have this indescribable element, but it feels especially promimnent in this film. Again, this is likely because the story itself is so performance driven.

That’s not to say that there isn’t anything “cinematic” to be found here. However, with every film of his I see, I become more and more convinced that the poetic touches of Pather Panchali were a one-time thing for Ray. This film, along with Nayak and Mahanager, is visually, much more natural. Of the three, though, Charulata is by far the one with the most impressive visual flourishes. These flourishes aren’t quite consitent enough to feel like a “style” so to speak, but this do give the film an aesthetic edge over those other two Ray films.

The film’s greatest strength, at least in my mind, is its very natural depiction of a situation that would otherwise be drowning in its own melodrama. Charulata, a stay at home wife, is feeling lonely so her husband invites his brother to give her some company. It’s pretty obvious what follows, at least in a dramatic sense, but the gentle and slow way in which Ray comes to this point is what makes the film so special. The story seemingly tries with all its might to bring the actual film into the realm of the ordinary, but its attentiveness and respect for the characters shines through.

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