A group of friends of mine must be gathered while I am writing this notes near the Cismigiu garden in Bucharest to watch this film. I tried to organize for myself some kind of synchronous viewing, let us see if our impressions got close.

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0057935/

This is the first film of Satyajit Ray that I have seen, and probably one of the first if not the first non-westernized Indian films. Most of my previous viewings like the wonderful Monsoon Wedding by Mira Nair were made by directors who live and created in Hollywood. This wonderful film made in 1964 is even more a revelation, as its director is a master, contemporary and at the same level as the best directors of his generation.


(video from koriwala)

The setting of the story is in Calcutta’s high society of the end of the 19th century, in a period of social and national conflict that is all the time on the background but is not really the center of the story. Based on a story by Rabindranath Tagore, almost all the conflict happens in the house of the wealthy journalist and newspaper owner Bupathi, which is filmed with refinement in all its details by the master camera of Subrata Mitra. My feeling after the first scenes was that I am watching a play by Ibsen or Chekhov transplanted in a different continent and this feeling was induced not only by the one set staging but also or especially by the strong character of the principal character, Bupathi’s beautiful wife Charulata. We immediately feel her loneliness, her need to connect with people, her emotional capacity which he represses by watching the human landscape of the street. When Buphati brings his younger brother and aspiring poet Amal in the house, the two will become involved, in a never consumed forbidden relationship that is intense and discreet. As proving or acting openly according to sentiments is not part of the culture the characters belong to, Charulata will prove her sentiments by demonstrating her creative and intellectual qualities, in a world and a time dominated by men.  The ending may look like a melodrama, but it’s perfectly plausible.

(video from blackfoliage1)

Charulata is acted by Madhabi Mukherjee in a flawless and sensible performance that reminds Yasujiro Ozu‘s preferred actress Setsuko Hara. It is not however the only aspect that reminded me the Japanese master. The vibration of nature in ‘Charulata’ complements and amplifies the feelings of the heroes, same as in Ozu’s movies. The reliance on actors to describe feelings to the most subtle of the nuances, the delicacy and dignity of the relations, the quite storytelling and the control of story time seem all to belong to the same school of cinema that puts actors and camera work in the center of the art of film making. Ray’s cinema has more of a social and historical context though, at least in this film. There is also a key difference in the camera work approach. While both directors control the art of framing and build beautiful and memorable scenes, there is much more dynamics in Ray’s camera movement, with daring shots that represent much more the characters view of the world than the director’s view as at Ozu.

‘Charulata’ was for me one of these revelations of a new world that happens once in a awhile in the life of a cinema lover. One more proof that good cinema transcends genres and film schools, and succeeds at best when it talks directly to the hearts of the viewers.

More details and reviews of the film can be found at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0057935/