36, Chowringee Lane: a movie review
…… so we’ll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news; and we’ll talk with them too.
Who loses and who wins; who’s in, who’s out;
And take upon the mystery of things . . . [ King Lear]
As an independent form of art a movie acquires a distinct status and it contains a language of its own. A movie is not necessarily in need of a plinth of a story, a story with some sharp and smart dramatic turns. A movie’s worth is built up on the artistically proportionate chemistry of a good number of forms of art that a few artist can create and we are fortunate that Aparna Sen has establish this in her debut film named “36, Chowringhee Lane” ( 1981 version ) though she has inserted the theme of devaluation of values in the post-English rule, a theme that has been favored by her predecessor film-makers of Bengal. Still one should add that she had added to it a very delicate fragrance what we find in the wonderful presentation of elegant indifference of one elderly person receiving wounds of negligence despite a loving soul she has in her possession.
Birth of the film
‘It started as a short story, and then it just kept growing’, thus said Aparna Sen. She said that it was ‘a small human tale’. Satyajit Ray, the master film-maker, wanted it to be developed as a very good film. Finally one day Shashi Kapoor and Jennifer Kendel and Govind Nihalani were charged with the synopsis of the idea and Shashi Kapoor volunteered to accept the responsibility of its Producer.
There is very little element in the story. A very simple tale of a school-teacher, an old Anglo-Indian, Violet Stoneham by name. This film presents her lonely life and incidental contact with Nandita and Nandita’s lover Samaresh. The old teacher invites them in her one bed-room house which allures the two young persons who has so long been discovering shades of taxi and different public places to share emotions.. Samaresh, claimed as a growing author, finds a lone place to write his novel as Violet Stoneham allows them to use her home when she will be in her school. The Lonely woman this way seems to feel fresh air and the three have been shown as happy friends visiting shops and sipping gins and relaxing in the house of miss Stoneham. Samaresh and Nandita utilize the shelter as a resort to make love wildly and one day they marry. The film ends when the old woman returns from the dwelling of Samaresh and Nandita with the X-mas cake that she has baked for them as they have taken lie as a means not to allow her to be present in one of their occasions of joy.
Really a film of unusual content
This is a film of the loneliness of a woman who has been made lone in many ways. She does not leave India even after the exit of the Empire. She is indeed lone after the marriage of Rosemary, her niece. She recollects the past and her brother Eddie meets her once in a week. She is demoted to the position of a grammar teacher from that of one who had once taught Shakespeare and in her working place she is not warmly accepted. Her is a slow life, monotonous and with a cat as her pet she does live.
Is she really lonely? Not exactly. Her pastries and prawns and brandy and letters to Rosemerry tell some more things. She has loved her environment from the core of her heart.This makes her joyful when she is close even to a vegetables-seller. A very simple soul she is.
And this is why we are touched when Nandita and Samaresh show her what ingratitude does mean.They have ignored her and managed to forget what services they have had from this woman a few days ago. Samaresh has liked her old record-player and she, simply out of affection, presented him that one. And it is her great grace that she has anyway learned to face the odds boldly and calmly.
Performance of the artists is really great. Jennifer Kendel (Miss Violet Stoneham) is simply unbelievable. She takes the camera from the back or from the front as if she does not feel doing anything save what Violet Stoneham does. She walks slowly and when she is within the frame and even when she is away from the frame surprisingly she leaves enough space for us so that we too move with her, yes, silently as she does, and so that we too share the suppressed agony of her. Her looks and her small smiles, her face bewildered now and now gradually preparing to accept the injury and humiliation, her little gestures and indifference which has been forced upon her — these all and many more intrigue us and occupy us with that rare touch what the great artists call magic. Dhritiman Chatterjee (Samaresh) is a very brilliant actor and he has determined never to loose his natural sense of proportion when the doll-faced Debashree Roy(Nandita) reflects faithfully a representative of the well-to-do Calcutta family.
Screenplay of the film deserves great ovation. It has been neatly prepared, smooth and smart and free from extra starch carefully and it has helped the actors and the actresses immensely. Music has been found not to be such innovative. Still the consideration of the use of the Western instruments only is noticeable and praiseworthy. Camera is excellent and it has played an almost deterministic role and the language of the film it has splendidly developed. Editing of this film is also exceptional as it has been successful in blending the different media of art with such seriousness that every shot and all the shots together have become meaningful. On Direction it must be remembered that it is a Director’s Movie. Aparna Sen’s debut film has become a new feather in her crown and she has left her mark of confidence and talent in every details of the film. This film declares that a director of genius has stepped into the filmdom of the world. The dream scene and the scene when Jennifer shares her lovingly baked X-mass cake slowly leading to recite Shakespeare will last in our sweet memory to tell sad tales of life and living.
Sen’s use of a cat ( Sir Toby ) takes us to Shakespeare again. This cat is a black one and is like an omen and always to disturb the environment as if, as if this cat is present there to remind us that all is not well beneath the sun.
Jennifer Kendal … Miss Violet Stoneham
Dhritiman Chatterjee … Samaresh Moitra
Debashree Roy … Nandita Roy
Geoffrey Kendal … Eddie Stoneham
Soni Razdan … Rosemary Stoneham
Sanjana Kapoor … Young Violet (as Sanjna Kapoor)
Karan Kapoor … Davie
Ruma Guha Thakurta … Nandita’s Mother
Munmun Kapoor … Bijoya
Dina Ardeshir … Mrs.Wendy McGowen
Fae Soares … Mrs.Berger
Renu Roy … Miss Mazumdar
Sylvia Philips … Mrs.Roy Chowdhury
Kamalini Sen Sharma 1st School Girl
Music Vanraj Bhatia
Cinematography Ashok Mehta
Editor Bhanudas Divakar
Art Direction Bansi Chandragupta
Producer Shashi Kapoor
The film has been written and directed by Aparna Sen.
1982 Cinemanila International Film Festival (Philippines):
Golden Eagle – Best Feature Film
1982 National Film Awards (India)
Golden Lotus Award – Best Director
Silver Lotus Award – Best Cinematography – Ashok Mehta
Silver Lotus Award – Best Regional Film
1983 BAFTA Awards (UK)
Best Actress – Jennifer Kendal
1983 Evening Standard British Film Awards
Best Actress – Jennifer Kendal