Choker Bali: A Passion Play (2003)


Choker Bali: A Passion Play Storyline

The book, Binodini, is the story of a young woman, who is left to her own devices when her sickly husband dies soon after they are married. She returns to her village and lives there for a couple of months until she sees one of her relations passing by there on her way to somewhere else. Binodini hails the woman and the two soon agree that it would be best if Binodini came to live with the woman and her son, Mahendra (who, by the way, was one of the first to see Binodini’s photo when she was unwed and up for grabs yet refused her on account of his being “unready for marriage”). Now, when the two arrive the woman’s son and his new bride are in the throes of passion, constantly sneaking off to be alone together; this infatuation does not last long, however, when Mahendra begins to see that his wife’s friend, Binodini, is more his type. The story details the lives of these three and Mahendra’s best friend as they deal with certain issues as distrust, adultery, lies, and numerous fallings-out between them. The movie correctly depicts what Tagore so skillfully wrote and is a sad, stirring tale of the deceit and sorrow that come from being unsatisfied and unhappy.—gavin (

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Choker Bali: A Passion Play Movie Reviews

at DC Filmfest 2005

Chokher Bali was shown at the (Washington) DC Filmfest April 15, 2005. The director, Rituparno Ghosh, was there to give a short introduction and answer questions afterwards.

As always, I think Aishwarya did a fantastic job. I can understand those who think she should be been more aggressive or more bitchy, but would that really be realistic in 1904? Possible, maybe; realistic, I’m not so sure. I think her interpretation was valid, although there could certainly be other ways to do it.

I hate to use the word, but this was the most “inaccessible” of the Indian movies I have seen so far. I know a fair amount of Indian history, Hindu religion, etc., but the level of detail here was far beyond me. Clearly you would have a much better understanding of the movie if you were intimately familiar with Hinduism and its customs, esp. as they were c. 1904. I missed a lot of things–one of them being the fact that the mother-in-law would want Binodini in the house as sort of a counter-weight to her daughter-in-law Ashalata.

*spoilers* Ghosh had several things to say that explained the movie much better for me. First, the original Bengali version was 20+ minutes longer. So what was left out? Apparently three main things: a beginning segment where Binodini (Aishwarya) leaves E. Bengal for Calcutta. According to the director, different characters are speaking W. Bengali vs. E. Bengali–setting up some of the political comments later. Of course all of this is lost in the Hindi version, and certainly to a non-Indian like me, it wouldn’t have mattered anyway–but a set-up of the Bengali situation sure would have. Next, there was a segment where Binodini was writing a poem–a sign of her independence, etc. Finally, some more business about the jewellery. So, although some people think it was too long, I think the original, longer version would have been clearer.

The women’s hair was apparently another sign (Ghosh again)–the mother-in-law had short hair (short hair for Hindu widows), her sister–also a widow–had longer hair (more modern!), and of course Binodini/Aishwarya had extremely long waist-length hair (rejection of status of widowhood).

The ending really threw me–all of a sudden Binodini, who had never had a political thought, is writing a political manifesto? Whoa! Ghosh explained that he was in Locarno, at a film festival, when the subtitles were done. The subtitles use the word “country” throughout Binodini’s letter. Gosh said a more appropriate word would have been (I forget his exact word) something like “self” or “independence”–she was talking about her own liberation and “finding herself”–not about Bengal, India, and the British. So why does Binodini just disappear the day after finding Behari again? Apparently because during her stay on the Ganges she realizes that she doesn’t need a man–any man–to define/complete her. She can just be herself. So she rejects Behari, who she threw herself at a few months (?) before, and just goes off. Of course I’m not sure how she buys her next meal, but that’s another question.

The red shawl (Ghosh again)she buys represents “revolution” as well as “passion.” I’m not 100% sure why she puts the shawl on the dying woman, but perhaps she is rejecting passion/revolution? The binoculars, which Binodini uses throughout the movie (to watch Mahendra and Ashalata, the boat on the Ganges, etc.). She is being a voyeur to see a life she yearns for but can’t have. At the end (I missed this!) she leaves the binoculars on the table with the letter, showing that she doesn’t need them any more–she’s going off to lead her own life.

Finally, the Tagore quote at the beginning saying how he apologized for the ending… Apparently Tagore wrote this as a serial, hooking his readers with the sexy widow bits. But at the end he sold out to conservatism and had Binodini kneel down at the feet of Mahendra and Behari, begging their forgiveness. One of his students (?) wrote to Tagore taking him to task for his sell-out ending…and Tagore replied with his apology for the ending. In the movie, of course, Ghosh goes in the other direction.

Choker Bali : A reminiscent of our past

I saw 2 hour version of Choker Bali. I cannot say that is long. The movie has a certain natural pace to it and does not seem to lag at any time. The costume and the set are reminiscent of what we would see in old movies.

Aishwarya Rai has done a good job of acting. It is indeed a mature role with enough scope for acting within the story. The script also supports the story very well. Aishwarys acts as the unfortunate widow whose husband dies in the first year of marriage. The movie is about the passions and desires of such a character and the conflict she faces with the downtrodden condition of widows in those times.

Her best friend in this movie is played by Raima Sen has also been well-handled. Her innocence and her admiration of Aishwarya’s capability to speak English and act educated has been done very well. These are indeed some of the prevailing mindsets of those times. We can see how far we have come from such an era!

The movie speaks of womens liberation as subtle line of the story. I found the development of the story very similar to Ghare Bahire also written by Tagore. It does rope in some action from the independence struggle and puts in contrast the struggle for Indian Independence against the silent struggle for womens rights.

A well made movie definitely worth watching. Aishwarya’s acting: par excellence. Rituparna has handled the story with great care. Yet another classic from Rabindranath Tagore.

Just what the doctor ordered…For Aishwarya!

What do you do if you’re Aishwarya Rai, coming off of a blockbuster film like ‘Devdas’, with some skeptical critics still relentlessly unsatisfied with your astounding performance or convinced by your strong screen presence and stellar acting skills, what do you do? Go home, sit down and pout? No. If you’re Aishwarya Rai, you sign yourself up for the next strong period piece that comes along and continue to prove yourself worthy of all the praise, kudos, great scripts and equally great roles. And that’s just what she did with and in ‘Chokher Bali – a passion play’ where she stars and shines as Binodini, a young widow who causes controversy way ahead of her time. Directed by Rituparno Ghosh {who later goes on to direct her in the equally stellar ‘Raincoat’}, Prasenjit Chatterjee {Devdas in Bengali} costars.