Satyajit Ray Penelope Gilliatt - Essay

Penelope Gilliatt

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

"Charulata," Satyajit Ray's most nearly flawless film apart from his great Apu trilogy, is a flowing, opulent tale that seems to be lit from the inside like a velvet-lined carriage with a lantern in it rocked by a hot monsoon wind. The film carries an exquisite period flavor of the eighteen-seventies in Bengal. (p. 48)

The film leaves one with a sense of great things unfulfilled but never of mania. Like Ray's "The Music Room," which has tones of "The Cherry Orchard," it has a style that is songlike, beautiful, sometimes turning into an abrupt and comic rudeness that again seems very Russian. Grapelipped men lapse into English as Chekhovians dreaming of revolution lapse into French.

"Charulata" is gentle to loneliness in the well-off, it is beautifully written, and sometimes it is very funny. The music was written by Ray himself. Along with everything else, the picture is a fascinating fable about the bequest of Empire in India…. Against the gaudy background of the Indian film industry, there may well appear to be something Europeanized about Ray's humor and his low tones. To Europeans or Americans, though, his Forsterish irony seems deeply embedded in his style, and he obviously works from within in his sight of the Indian character. The film is triumphant in its comprehension of a period. (pp. 49-50)

Penelope Gilliatt, "The Great Ray," in The New Yorker (© 1974 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), Vol. L, No. 20, July 8, 1974, pp. 48-51.