The Lonely Wife (Charulata)

lonely wife



Released in 1964, Satyajit Ray’s, arguably of one of India’s most influential filmmakers, tale of longing and loneliness is widely regarded as one of his finest films. Set in the  confines of late nineteenth century, Ray takes a look back through India’s history to the time the country is seeking its independence from England.


Based on a popular Indian novel, (Madhabi Mukherjee), lives a privileged but lonely existence (As the title suggests) as her busy husband Bhupati (Shailen Mukherjee), who runs a political newspaper is rarely available. She spends her days observing others, often with a delicate pair of binoculars, reading, sewing and playing music. Her husband is encouraging but unable to engage with her as his preoccupation with political affairs leaves no room for poetry or music. To abate her solitude, he invites his brother and wife to stay and shortly after his playful younger cousin Amal arrives on a break from university. Amal and Charu grow closer over their shared passion for literature and writing but before long Charu begins to develop feelings for him and dreads the day his sojurn may come to an end. Ray had expressed concerns that many cultural nuances would be lost in translation but the performances are excellent and the consequences of forbidden love and cultural constraints are timeless. 



At just under two hours the pacing can be quite slow so do not expect any spontaneous Bollywood dance routines but rather a gradually burning passion unfolding as the story progresses into something deeper. There is however a beautiful score of Ray’s own composing, sung by the characters which effectively builds romantic tension and evokes the characters repressed desires with elegance.

 The black and white cinematography and exquisite sets are truly brought to life with the Blu-ray release and some of the extreme close-ups are just stunning in particular the frames where Charu is reminiscing about her hometown and looks directly into the camera; her eyes are piercing.

Charulata is shot in a beautifully restrained way with stirring performances which go beyond the superficial and though a period piece in Bengali certainly won’t appeal to everyone and admittedly though I am not particularly knowledgeable on Indian cinema, I found the story very touching and inevitably far more restrained than modern cinema for both cultural and censorship reasons (with it being released in the 60’s). The story told has the power to cross the cultural divide if you have the patience for it.



 Verdict: ***1/2

2 Responses to “The Lonely Wife (Charulata)”
  1. ninagrandiose says:

    Because India holds such a prominent place in my heart, I am always delighted when an “outsider” appreciates the art and culture of India. Of course, I’m a huge fan of Ray. If you haven’t already seen the Apu Trilogy, I’m sure that you will be touched by it on many different levels.

  2. Thanks for your comment. Yes I will definitely try to get hold of some more of Ray’s films, I have heard great things about the Apu Trilogy, thank you for the recommendation!

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