Pretty Plant in Arid Soil: Misogyny and Genteel Morality in Satyajit Ray's Charulata
Review by Narasingha P. Sil, December 22, 1998
Like Rabindranath Tagore's novel Nastanir (The Broken Nest), its film version by Satyajit Ray titled Charulata (name of the novella's main character) has been hailed by critics as one of the most outstanding achievements of their creators. A leading film-critic of India has even claimed that in Charulata "Ray's understanding of the character is perfect .... Charulata is observed entirely from the inside."1 My paper argues that Ray not only distorted the story of Nastanir, he totally and brutally caricatured Bhupati's character, neutered Amal's and marginalized Manda's in order to render the novella filmworthy and reflective of his personal preferences. Although it has not been generally recognized, Ray's estimate of the Bengali male was less than perfect and in almost all his films he manifested his contempt for him. On the other hand, bred in the puritanical Brahmo culture of a patriarchal society reinforced by the 19th-century misogynistic dicta against kamini-kanchana, Satyajit betrayed a peculiar ambivalence in his work. On the one hand, he remained under the thrall of a strict code of morality that considered sexuality as barbarous while, on the other hand, as a progressive minded intellectual, he betrayed a curiously gratuitous condescension to women. He in fact believed that "a woman's beauty ... lies in her patience and endurance in a world where men are generally more vulnerable and in need of guidance."2 One critic has called Ray's feminist concern, a la Toril Moi, "feminist ventriloquism" and declared that he is the "perfect spokesperson for... all the Ratans [Ratan is the preteen househelp for Nandalal the postmaster in Postmaster, Ray's movie on Tagore's short story bearing the same title], Charulatas,[and others]... of India." 3
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