Charulata 2011 (2012)-Bengali Movie Review

Rituparna Sengupta in Charulata 2011Mar 5, 2012 (Calcutta Tube): Charulata 2011 is a 2012 Bengali movie directed by Agnidev Chatterjee with Rituparna Sengupta, Arjun Chakraborty, Dolon Roy, Koushik Sen and others in the cast. Read the Bengali film review at Calcutta Tube.

CHARULATA 2011 – LYRICAL

Banner: SMS Arts Entertainment Limited

Producer: Bipin Kumar Vohra

Direction: Agnidev Chatterjee

Screenplay: Sudeepa Chatterjee

Cinematography: Shirsa Ray

Music: Indradeep Dasgupta

Cast: Rituparna Sengupta, Arjun Chakraborty, Dolon Roy, Koushik Sen, Sudharshan Chakraborty, Rii, and others

Date of release: March 2, 2012

Rating: 07/10

What would happen if Ray’s interpretation of Tagore’s Nastaneer in Charulata were to happen in 2011? Would Charu and her husband Bhupati pick up the debris of their broken nest to build it again? Or would the relationship be fractured with a chasm forever? Agnidev Chattopadhyay sets up a hypothetical story, places it in the backdrop of Kolkata in 2011 and suggests how time and modernity can play around with a celluloid classic structured and scripted differently.

It is a daring attempt to first take one of Rabindranath Tagore’s most controversial stories of its time, look at it through the lens of the great Satyajit Ray and then invest it with a different and highly individualized texture. In one sense, the challenge is well taken. In another, the ghost of the Ray classic keeps haunting the viewer superimposing the faces of Madhabi and Soumitra on the faces of the beautiful Rituparna Sengupta and the handsome hunk with a seven-o-clock shadow on his chin – Dibyendu. Arjun’s face also is sometimes superimposed with the image of the pained, bearded, pipe-smoking, newspaper-obsessed Sailen Mukherjee as Bhupati.

Ray’s Charulata (1964) is based on Nastaneer (The Broken Nest) a novelette of around 80 pages, written by Tagore in 1901. The story of the film and the original literary piece takes place in 1879, at a time when the Bengal Rennaissance was almost at its peak. Western thoughts of freedom and individuality were just about to ruffle the age-old calm feathers of a feudal society. In Charu of Charulata, Ray probably discovered the crystallization of the Indian woman, poised between tradition and modernity. Intelligent, sensitive, graceful and serene, Charu was a traditional woman whose psyche imbibed unto itself, waves from the world outside. It was changing, and below, in the drawing room, her British-influenced husband Bhupati was celebrating the victory of the Liberals in Britain. Nineteenth Century Western social philosophy and Ram Mohan Roy’s ideas were constantly working towards the liberation of women.

In Charulata 2011, Choiti (Rituparna Sengupta) is a beautiful, sensuous woman who has just gone through a miscarriage and is in a state of depression. Her husband Bikram (Arjun Chakraborty), is the editor of a newspaper and very understanding. But she is lonely. To fill her lonely hours, because of the time-leap and the consequent social changes therein, instead of writing, or looking through a lorgnette at the world outside, she chats up with an unknown man (Dibyendu) through her personal laptop. She creates the identity of ‘Charu’ for herself and addresses the man as ‘Amal.’ Her husband remains Bikram. She creates a fantasy love story between this ‘Amal’ and herself as ‘Charu’ setting up new points of negotiation in keeping with the time she lives in. She does not write, she only writes mails or chats up with this man she has never set eyes on.  The laptop is the bridge between the two.

What happens when they meet? Her loneliness is suddenly sucked into a different world of the mysterious, the adventurous and the dangerous because she is a married woman and an affair with another man is considered adultery. The two indulge in sex in a hotel room and suddenly, Choiti is drained of all desire, is frustrated, whether by her sense of guilt, or whether by the fact that she is disappointed with her ‘Amal’ is not clear. But later, when ‘Amal’ turns up at their home as Bikram’s cousin Sanjay, she feels desire rise in her once again. She tries to restrain herself by avoiding him. But the affair flares up again and ends the way it ended in Ray’s film. Amal in Charulata was not quite aware of Charu’s feelings towards him till it was quite late. But the modern-day ‘Amal’ is charismatic and passionate. His agenda is not hinged purely on the emotional, it is quite tangibly physical.

Yet, the parallels are clearly drawn. Agnidev has no pretensions of doing his own thing or saying that Charulata 2011 has nothing to do with Ray’s film or Tagore’s story. It is this basic honesty that sort of ‘rescues’ the film from becoming a synthetic and forced ‘remake’ or ‘plagiarisation in disguise.’ Choiti’s diabolic brother (Kaushik Sen) and his warm wife (Dolon Roy) who hides the emptiness of a childless marriage with a smile or with stolen telephone calls made at Bikram’s expense are again, relocated modernized versions of Charu’s brother and sister-in-law.

The songs on the soundtrack contribute to the importance of the invisible while Sanjay’s strumming the guitar to belt out lines of lovely Tagore numbers makes the visible both lyrical and believable. Sanjoy/Amal remaining away from the screen for a major slice of the film intensifies the drama and the mystique, heightening Choiti’s awareness of what she cannot see. When she sees it, strangely, it is through a completely different paradigm – the Cinderella story. Agnidev takes another risk by appropriating a Western fairy tale and incorporating it into a Tagore-inspired film. When Sanjay/Amal finally appears, one is not disappointed because he is just the man any beautiful and lonely woman will fall for – and sleep with.

Indradeep Dasgupta’s musical score is haunting and lyrical, specially the way Sanjoy belts out his songs almost without musical accompaniment. Ustad Rashid Khan’s song is a masterly performance slightly dented by his imperfect enunciation of Bengali words. Shirsa Ray’s camera is captivating in the half-lit, shadowy scenes where Choiti and Sanjay make love for the first time and then again, on the terrace of Choiti’s apartment house, the faces semi-lit in the dark. The big close-ups of Rituparna’s face from different angles are a bit overdone in terms of quantity and seem a bit out of balance when placed in perspective against the other characters. The close-up of her face with the eyeliner running soon after the lovemaking, is a bit confusing but realistic. It shows the unpredictability of a married woman suddenly finding herself trapped in a time-warp of values she has been conditioned to. It also points out her shocked reaction when she sees Sanjoy sitting on the sofa in the nude in a casual manner.

Rituparna gives a wonderful performance as Choiti but it is sad to see her sad all the time. Dibyendu as Amal/Sanjay sparkles in an impressive debut. Arjun Chakraborty as Bikram and Koushik Sen as his corrupt brother-in-law are their usual selves. Dolon Roy as Koushik’s wife is subtle, controlled and moving. She brings out the pain of having to surrender to childlessness because her husband is a failure in a touching moment. The closure reminds us of Basu Bhattacharya’s Anubhav, a bit of a compromise showing Choiti getting pregnant. When Bikram attacks her, she insists that the child is his. But is it? This breaks the compromise.

The metaphor of the sea and the waves to underscore Choiti’s restlessness is not necessary. Nor is Bikram’s shock to discover the lack of honesty in people credible since being an editor of a newspaper, the daily headlines are enough to educate the mundane. So how does he remain ignorant? This is  a too verbose and long-drawn scene that does not seem to jell into the story. There is another glitch about the young maid with signs of violence on her body which Choiti comments on. The maid disappears from the script after that. So why was this allegory brought in at all?

The common ground Charulata 2011 shares with Ray’s Charulata is in the way the two films keep away from making value judgments on Charu. But while Charu in Ray’s film is quite brazen about her pull towards Amal and bears no feelings of guilt, Choiti in Charulata 2011 sometimes, unwittingly betrays feelings of guilt. The film also throws up the changes modernization has brought about. The embroidery frame is missing and so is the handkerchief Charu embroidered with that decorative ‘B’ for her husband. The Choitis of today do not do petit point embroidery anymore. Nor do they play at simple card games or work on ornamental notebooks specially made for writing.  The ‘notebook’ has a different frame of reference today. And that is precisely what Charulata 2011 is all about.

– Shoma A. Chatterji

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