I wanted to watch Muhaganar but again, I could find it nowhere. Instead I managed to get my hands on Charulata.
Satyajit Ray (1964)
There it goes. My Ray virginity. Puff, just like that. Well, it did take two hours, which some people would find impressive I guess. I don't know. It was sort of easy. Nothing to it really. Just put it in, sit back, and relax.
Discovering a foreign director from forty years ago is, not to be overly obvious, a displacing experience. There were times when I perceived the red flags that, in a contemporary American movie would have meant the film was going to go into one specific direction, or that a character was going to turn out to be a certain way. When we first meet Bhudapi he all but ignores Charulata, who is right there. In a "regular movie" he would have been a distant, cold husband who cared not a fig for his wife except as a possession. But Bhudapi is a warm, loving spouse, who does neglect his wife but is sorry to do so. Later, when Amal starts writing in his new notebook, I imagined a montage of him writing more and better under Charulata's encouragement as the days passed. How wonderful it is to watch a movie that subverts one's expectations.
One of the best scenes of the movie is when Bhudapi tells Amal about the embezzling. The entire nature of the movie is in that scene. Bhudapi grieves the paper he has to give up, his passion, while deploring the lows of a humanity he has become disillusioned about - though, probably, not for long. So honest, so trustful, he is oblivious to Amal's own inner turmoil. The latter comes to a silent realisation: he cannot betray his cousin. There will be no words to his decision, no heartbroken exchange, no grand gesture. If you want to understand the movie you must pay close attention. It's in the eyes that it really takes place, in the little expressions of hurt or wonderment. Nothing is ever said. Watch it while you tweet and you may as well put in one of those romances with airport climaxes instead.
It truly is a marvellous story. Or rather, no, not that. It is a story that is marvellously told ; with close-ups, with inserts, with splendidly restrained acting...There is that montage when Charulata decides what she is going to write about, her anger when Amal appears with his publication confirmation, the symbolic use of the slippers. One lingers for an outburst of some kind for over an hour, some confrontation, closure, but the film is ruthless. Or maybe I am just too used to Western movies.
The second the movie started talking about newspapers and politics I wanted to know more. What year is this? What about all those issues Bhudapi keeps on listing? Just how much say did the Indians have in the governing of their own country? Why are none of the notables arguing for revolution? Even the first scenes of the movie are an invitation into an alien world of customs I would gladly be told more about. Charulata is said to be a modern woman because she reads and thinks. How repressed are other women? How much can Charulata actually do? Is her publishing a story scandalous? Unremarkable? Bhudapi is such a supportive husband we get no hints about his; his friends all seem rather liberal too. Movies that relegate women to some submissive role always bother me a bit (unless leather is involved), even when they are about couples in the fifties or families in Iran. Charulata feels rather female-empowering in a thrilling way.
She is such a likeable character you cannot bur root for her. Unfortunately, that means rooting against Bhudapi in a way, which is quite unthinkable because he is at least as likeable. There is only a rogue in the film and he barely matters at all. The characters are good people who you empathise for, even when that means they will end up hurting each other. Bhudapi's gaze at the end of the movie is devastating.
I was going to comment on the opening but Martin spent an entire review doing that, and apparently so did the Criterion collection, so thanks Martin, really making it easy for me...
Oh, by the way, she is exactly as gorgeous as you say.