What is generally regarded as acclaimed Indian director Satyajit Ray’s most accomplished film, the 1964 masterpiece, Charulata (The Lonely Wife) screened during the OzAsia Festival to a sizeable crowd.
Rich, beautiful and lonely Charulata (Madhabi Mukherjee in the titular role) is sick of life in her gilded cage in turn-of-the-century 1900s Calcutta. Despite the adoration of her husband Bhupati (masterfully played by Shailen Mukherjee), Charulata feels that she is abandoned in favour of his politically-motivated magazine The Sentinel.
But everything changes when Bhupati’s cousin, Amal comes to stay with the married couple before he decides whether to marry or how to occupy his life. Both aspiring writers, Amal and Charu get along famously. Bhupati recognises an opportunity and asks Amal to spend time with and bond with his wife while he puts in long hours at the office. But over time, Charu quickly develops strong feelings for the attractive, carefree Amal, and events are put in motion which mean that the family dynamic will never be the same again.
For those who are not diehard fans of Ray’s work, this film is definitely a slog, filled with pregnant pauses, excessively obscure subtexts and a general snail’s pace. Similarly, it is tempting to say that not much really happens in the film – the whole movie could be dealt with in half the time with twice the emotional power. Having said that, if you are a fan of classic Indian cinema, this is one not to be missed, with a haunting score, strong acting and excellent character development. Unfortunately this is just a film that has not dated well.