Charulata (1964)

Now this one worked a lot better for me for some reason (apparently it was Ray’s own favourite among his films too). We’re back somewhat further in time here, 1879 to be precise, though Ray is still in proto-feminist territory and Madhabi Mukherjee is still the female lead; in this particular case, she’s the wife of  Bengali newspaper publisher, Bhupati, who’s probably not a bad man as such, but he has rather more interest in the newspaper than his wife, who’s finding life pretty much alone at home pretty crushing. He’s only interested in politics, she’s more interested in literature. A couple of family members come to provide both company for her and assistance with the newspaper, but it’s when Bhupati’s cousin Amal joins the gathering (arriving abruptly, and somewhat portentously, in the middle of a storm) that things will really start changing for Charulata; finally she has someone who’s working on her level. As this Senses of Cinema piece notes, Charulata is on one level really about the hypocrisies of the Bengali Renaissance when the sort of Western liberal-humanist ideals Bhupati’s paper espouses led to a cultural revival but women didn’t get to share in it, and the film makes some comments on the difference between “conservative woman” and “modern woman”, and Charu’s own vacillation between the two. Also, that piece highlights the interesting paradox between the slowness with which the story unfolds and the liveliness of the visual handling of same; the comparatively ditchwater style of Mahanagar gives way to a hugely mobile camera. Maybe that was at least part of why this film did it for me; it is slow to unfold just like that film was, as I said, but it’s markedly more interesting to look at while it’s unfolding in a way that the previous film wasn’t.

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