Ultimately its a story of trust, betrayal and loneliness set in the 19th century. The characters consist of Bhupati-- a crusty feudal lord, with liberal views and a fascination with England and all things English. He is distant,aloof and preoccupied with british politics and running his newspaper which like him, is dry and unpopular. But he loves his wife dearly though has trouble expressing his love. Charulata, his wife, is imaginative, young and lonely in a loving through unexpressive marriage. And in the midst of this life comes the Bohemian brother of Bhupati- Amol, a budding author of doubtful literary credentials who comes in like a storm and catches Charulata's imagination and heart. Also coming into the mix is Charulata's evil brother who is out to embezzle Bhupati's money. What follows is a story of how love brings out the best in people, how trust and betrayal walk hand in hand, and of relationships broken and hearts that never heal.
Satyajit Ray is in his elements as one unforgettable scene melts into another-- leaving behind words not spoken, looks of smouldering passion not exchanged and tears that well up in the eyes and yet vanish with a smile....
A masterpiece...a Picasso on film
What more can one say.....
A film is like art in motion, a dynamic canvas trying to create impressions in your mind through the images and sounds that it presents frame-by-frame. And this film accomplishes that task to a superlative degree; right from the start where, over a few scenes, lucid camerawork and adroit focus capture Charu's boredom and solitude with alacrity. Near-flawless compositions with occasional sprinkling of eloquent imagery, dominate the whole film. Some of the most moving images are: 1) A singing Charulata going up and down on a swing, her feet intermittently touching the ground while a contemplative Amol lies at some distance on the ground. The camera covers this shot both from the front when we see only Charulata and also from the side when Amol dominates the frame with Charulata swinging in the background. It produces a dreamlike effect. This is the strongest metaphor of Charulata's yearning for Amol.
2) Charulata's recollection of her childhood which inspires her to write - a brilliant montage of diverse scenes, such as a river, dancing men, a village fair and fire crackers, juxtaposed over a big close up of her face.
3) The final freeze shot, symbolising the indelible fracture in Bhupati and Charulata's marriage.
Music plays a significant role and qualifies most of the scenes. Acting perhaps ceases to be of supreme importance in such a masterful work but the very fact of the film's quality is testimony to good acting, though Amol (Soumitra Chatterjee) appears slightly theatrical in a few scenes and Bhupati's mannerisms a little arcane in the context of contemporary Bengali civility (which is perhaps irrelevant).
Ray himself has talked of 'Charulata' as his most consummate work, and we can understand why. Here he successfully blends picture and music, with his usual fluent style of narration, to create a deft composition, which is both adroit and expressive - adroit in its adaptation of technique and expressive as a work of art.
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