Sangeeta Padmanabhan, also in my friend’s list of film makers, has just canned her debut film, Charulata encore. I forget the exact name of the film but I think that it is just called Charulata, implying that Satyajit Ray’s masterpiece Charulata has been revisited and also reinterpreted. Ray’s Charulata does not occupy the Bengali minds and its imagination in the same way as it does for film students across the country. Ray has never been a popular film maker and the Bengali film viewer has never aligned her personal journey with films of this Oscar winning director. But for film makers who wish to make a difference especially the auteur kinds like Sangeeta, Charulata stands out as the lode star providing directorial inspiration and guidance.
Charulatha, Sangeeta’s film is about a young woman who is talented, self-willed, educated and enjoys freedom of movement and of association. She is an award winning poet, has a boyfriend and yet is up as a prospective bride of a rich and well-to-do groom from a family that can match hers. The film shows how even an apparently empowered young girl falls to the pressures of a conventional marriage. The jewellery shop, the maid’s gossip about marriages in the neighbourhood, the condescending and the ultimate male chauvinism of her boyfriend, a woman has no place in society until and unless she conforms to one institution or the other that has the will of the man at its centre.
The film is shot in the rhythm of the swing, the trope in Ray’s film. Sangeeta’s shots of an empty swing rocking and swaying in the garden set against the sharp contrast of a similar scene from Ray’s film in which Charulata is seen to be swinging and singing conveys to us the central mood of the film. Charulata is rediscovered and reconstituted in each frame, with a mild sway of the body, the tilt of the head, the way she looks up, and most importantly her gaze. Sangeetha uses the pace of Ray’s film to dictate her own rhythm and the uses very similar dimensions of objects in the sets, placed in rather similar geometry as in the original film. The placement of the characters, the timing of their appearances, the spacing of lone shots of the protagonist are aligned to Ray’s film. But the major difference lies in the motif; while in Ray’s film the primary sense one got through the celluloid reels was that a woman was peering out into the world; in Sangeetha’s film, one gets an idea that the woman on the swing is the central moment and hence the overriding feeling. It is an interesting piece of cinematography especially when revisiting and reconstituting a classic film and its protagonist.