“I have always regretted the ending” said Rabindranath Tagore of his classic novel - Chokher Bali.
Set in the 1900’s, director Rituparno Ghosh illustrates Tagore’s characters beautifully on screen in this dramatic and luscious tale of deception and relationship manipulation.
We are introduced to Binodini (Aishwarya Rai) who becomes a widow within a year of her marriage. Binodini is an educated and liberated woman - who refuses to conform to her expected widow status - something completely taboo in that era.
In search of a new lifestyle she moves to Kolkatta into the rich family of Mahindra (Prosinjeet Chatterji), Ashalata (Raima Sen) and Behari. Binodini manipulates the female folk of the house so she can draw closer to the men. Ashalata and Binodini refer to each other as Chokher Bali, which loosely translates to “sand in the eyes”.
The admirable part about Tagore’s story and Ghosh’s direction is that despite her crafty schemes, we are empathetic for Binodini’s behaviour and she doesn’t come across as a clichéd negative character.
Chokher Bali is a strong film that can be viewed as an illustration of several issues:
Now to the characterizations:
Aishwarya, as the manipulative Binodini, is as always picture perfect. She seems to have put in all her effort in illustrating Bindoni on the silver screen. Her bold and rebellious portrayal is effective to a large extent. Having said that, Aishwarya is heavily limited by her pre-conceived image of a rather helpless and compromising woman (as seen in her characters in films such as Taal, Mohabbatein and Devdas). As a result, she does not completely live up to Binodini’s strong ideologies.
However it is Raima Sen that completely steals the show. She brings life into Ashalata’s rather dull and underdeveloped character. Her innocence and naivety is very much underplayed. Miles ahead of her bimbette sister, Riya Sen, Raima completely succumbs to Ashalata’s character.
Prosinjeet Chatterji is competent and doesn’t go overboard.
Technically, the film is sound: The cinematography is beautiful. Set in 1900’s Kolkatta, Chokher Bali is at times reminiscent of the recent Devdas with its royal settings - although on a much smaller scale!
The background score by Debajyoti Mishra is suitable to the tone of the film. It’s also a pleasure to witness no songs lip synched as this would only disturb the story’s flow.
However, the dubbing leaves much to be desired. The film would have definitely been technically perfect if remade in Hindi by an aesthetic director like Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Vidhu Vinod Chopra or even Ghosh himself.
The film is definitely offbeat and will only appeal to a niche audience due to its periodic settings and ideologies. So if you’re after the clichéd, run-of-the-mill, commercial Bollywood flicks, this one is not for you. But if you’re into passionate, liberated and meaningful cinema, do check out Chokher Bali.
Here’s looking forward to Raincoat (also from the innovative Rituparno Ghosh) out later this year.