challenge of new ideas is a recurring theme in Ray's films. A hierarchical
society, bound by the caste system and by a rigid adherence to the traditional
way of doing things, comes into conflict with modernity and enlightenment.
In Bengal, toward the end of the last century, even the most enlightened
men did not include the liberation of women in their agenda for change.
"Such is the setting for Charulata. Regarded as Ray's most accomplished
film, Charulata is based on a story by Rabindranath Tagore, doyen of Indian
writers and a great influence on Ray, who studied painting at Tagore's
year is 1879. Charulata is married to Bhupati Dutt, a wealthy intellectual
who edits and publishes an English-language weekly paper. Bhupati is excited
by the ideas of libertarian philosophers. The issue of the moment is an
impending election in faraway Britain, with its prospect of a victory for
Gladstone's Liberal party. He feels strongly for his wife-- but it simply
never occurs to him that such matters could, or should, be of any interest
to her. "Charulata appears to belong to that long line of submissive women
portrayed by Ray in a number of films, from the Apu trilogy [1955-8] onward.
She is trapped by tradition, enclosed within the shuttered rooms of her
husband's house, apparently acquiescent in her role of the compliant wife
who wants nothing from life but her husband's happiness. Ray's camera lingers
on this prison of a house, with its heavy Victorian furniture, its embroidery,
its cameos of Queen Victoria... The tranquility of these early scenes is
soon revealed to be superficial, as Ray gently hints at Charulata's restlessness..."
Survey of Cinema