I'm a big Satyajit Ray fan. From 'The Music Room' to 'The Apu Trilogy' to this amazing film, 'Charulata', Ray made innovative and entertaining movies from his first in 1955 to his last in 1992 before his death. Some people believe that 'Charulata' is his best work, even saying that this is his masterpiece. Though I love 'The Music Room' a lot, this film is among his top three. Ray took his cues from a book titled 'The Broken Nest' by Rabindranath Tagore. Even more recently, it was selected to show at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival as part of their classic series. Oddly enough, 'Charulata' was refused at the Cannes Festival back in 1965.
Set in 1870s Calcutta, a beautiful woman named Charulata (Madhabi Mukherjee) lives in a luxurious estate with her husband Bhupati (Shailen Mukherjee), who runs a newspaper outlet. Charulata is lonely woman though, as her husband is a severe workaholic who spends more time at the job than with his beautiful wife. He even refers to his job as his second wife, which Charulata does not find funny.
But trying to be a good man, Bhupati sends for his cousin Amal (Soumitra Chatterjee) to accompany Charulata and help her with her writing, as he is a writer himself, while he is off at work. Amal obliges and comes to stay with Charulata and Bhupati. He is a very charming man who always seems to be in a happy place, which infects Charulata. She begins to have more than just family-friendly feelings for Amal, and begins to fall in love with him.
Bhupati is unaware of this and suggests that Amal marry the daughter of a wealthy friend. However the truth comes out and Amal is unwilling to compromise his cousin's relationship with his wife, which has already been sullied by Bhupati's brother before. Unfortunately for Charulata, Amal exits without warning, which leaves Charulata to spend her life alone once again.
Ray draws a parallel between Charulata herself and 1870s India. Both were going through a sensitive time, where both India and Charulata were products of others actions that put them in a place they didn't necessarily want to be. Both wanted to feel a sense of freedom, which was not always the case, and could have resulted in some devastating consequences. However, Ray chose not show the social and political sides of India in this film, but rather show a lady living in this time period, having to deal with a husband who takes her for granted, where all she wants to do is feel loved and alive.
The acting is amazing from start to finish as Ray's camera captures each important moment between Charulata and her family with grace. It's no wonder that of all his films, this was Ray's personal favorite.
Criterion has given 'Charulata' an impressive 1080p HD transfer presented in 1.33:1 aspect ratio. According to Criterion's booklet, this is a new digital master transfer produced under the supervision of Kamal and Varsha Bansal. The restoration was created in 2K from the original 35mm negative. There were a few severe warps in several sections, which were replaced using an original 35mm safety fine grain.
That being said, this video presentation is the best this has ever looked. The detail here is amazing and showcases some of the actors' wrinkles and stitching in their costumes. The luxurious home where Charulata lives has great depth, and with the clarity of this image, you can make out every object in the home. The B/W color looks great too. The balance between them is even and good on the eyes, with most scenes coming in very sharp.
In a few instances, the sharpness tends to fluctuate, but it seems to be a source issue more than anything. There were a couple of instances where some dirt popped up, but most of it has been removed, which was a great feat with this particular film. This is an impressive video presentation from criterion.
This release comes with a Bengali LPCM 1.0 audio mix. Now, I usually prefer audio presentations in 5.1 or at least 2.0, but Criterion is always set on staying true to the source. There is really nothing to write home about this audio presentation, other than it sounds great for what it is. The dialogue is always crystal clear with all of the pops, cracks, and hissing removed.
The score adds to the overall drama of the film, but since this a 1.0 mix, the feeling and emotion of the music doesn't have as big an effect. Don't expect much from this audio presentation, other than the fact that it's been cleaned up nicely and remains true to the the original source.
Criterion has knocked it out of the park yet again with Satyajit Ray's 'Charulata'. The film is recognized as his greatest achievement in film. The film itself is beautiful and wonderfully acted. The video is top notch, Audio is true to the original source. The extras are amazing. This is a film you should see. It looks incredible on Blu-ray. Highly recommended.