March 14, 2020
A lonely wife in Kolkata and a bachelor in London have a virtual affair, but are forced to re-think their relationship when they discover he is her brother-in-law. Charulata 2011 is an ingenious post-millennial adaptation of Tagore’s novella, Nastanir (The Broken Nest, 1901), already immortalized by Satyajit Ray in his classic Charulata (1964). This intertextuality, especially with Ray, lends an added dimension to the film, allowing Chatterjee to contrast two modernities in Bengal – the colonial and glocal – over the course of a century. Both these women gain temporary respite from their suffocating marriage through an affair, but their circumstances are vastly different. While Tagore/Ray’s heroine (like Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary and Lady Chatterley) could only bond with a man she knew, technology expands Charulata’s choice in 2011. She romances the strange and the unknown – an unseen tall dark stranger with a gift for words. While the nineteenth century Bengali heroine had to reign in her erotic impulse, her twenty-first century counterpart submits to it, though with an overwhelming sense of guilt. But there are similarities too – both are childless homemakers; have a literary sensibility; and though a 100 years apart, in both their cases, the lover eventually departs, and duty ultimately wins over passion, bringing back the duly chastened wife to the wronged husband. Charulata 2011 thus dramatizes a glocalized South Asian narrative, where the protagonist negotiates an uneasy juxtaposition of a globalized outlook on the world with the entrapment of age-old social obligations in her self.