Monday, September 2, 2013
It was unlikely that Charulata would impress me as much as The Big City did, but ultimately these are two very different movies, despite sharing a star and a director. Madhari Mukherjee here plays a woman totally separated from her character in The Big City. Although the two films share Ray's sympathetic perspective on the female condition, Mukherjee's character here is more akin to the titular character of The Earrings of Madame de..., secure in her wealth, but trapped in her life. Ray's work here is flashier, too - though of course nowhere near Ophüls level excess - most obviously in the film's enigmatic and stylized final moments meant to pay tribute to the source material's open ending.
Despite the beautiful and lyrical direction, Charulata is ultimately less satisfying for me than The Big City because of its overwhelming melodrama. The climax seems so overblown that I had a hard time reaching the emotional epiphany Mukherjee's character does, unlike the similar moments in The Big City. It's important, too, to note the similarities between this film and The Music Room. Like that early Ray masterpiece, Charulata uses a palace as a prison, deftly winding his way through its rooms and slowly but forcefully demonstrating the inevitable doom of the ruling classes of India's past. The main character in each film is very different, but both are perfectly calibrated for what each film wants to say.
I think Charulata might grow on me with subsequent viewings, but for now it ranks a notch below the other two Ray films currently in the Collection. Of course, I continue to anticipate many more films being added from this master, just as I hope Ray is not the only Indian to receive such attention.