“Choker Bali” is a novel by Rabindranath Tagore. Chokher Bali literally means “Sand in eye”… just like sand is irritant and not desirable to eyes, the story unveils how two best friends turn into “sand” of each other’s eyes for the matter of love. Since I haven’t read the novel by myself I wouldn’t judge the movie and the Netflix series by how strictly or loosely the story has been followed.
“Chokher Bali” is a Bengali Novel written in the context of pre-independent India. Consider India a 150 years back! The main characters are Binodini, Ashalata, Mahendra and Bihari.
In nutshell the story is something like this-
Binodini a beautiful young girl, who could read, write and speak in English when women were barely allowed to study. Mahendra was a young handsome guy who was studying medical and belonged to an affluent family. Mahendra’s mother wanted to marry her son with Binodini but Mahendra turned down the proposal without even looking at her picture. Bihari was a close fried of Mahendra. Mahendra and Behari went to meet Ashalata’s family formally for Ashalata and Bihari’s marriage. Soon after seeing Asha for the first time Mahendra fell in love with her and married her.
On the other hand, Binodini had great hopes to marry Mahendra… After Mahendra rejected her, Mahendra’s mother found another match for her. They too got married. But unfortunately her husband passed away within a year of their marriage.
Young and beautiful Binodini’s life was shattered in to million pieces. She was crushed under the strict rules that were expected to be followed by the widows. Forget about the basic needs, widows were deprived of every little happiness of life. Binodini was young and educated, she couldn’t help but questioning the irrational things, her body and mind was still looking for the love she never got to experience.
Mahendra’s old mother was widow too. When she met Binodini at her native place, they kind of developed a bond of mutual empathy and she brought Binodini to the place where her son and daughter-in-law (Mahendra and Ashalata) lived. Binodini was tasting the bitterness in her mouth every time she saw Asha and Mahendra together. They were so much in love, they had no care about the world.
Mahendra’s childhood friend Bihari was still a bachelor, studying medical.
Binodini and Ashalata became good friends and they used to call each other “Chokher Bali”. Binodini was still interested in Mahendra and eventually they both got involved into an extra-marital affair. After learning this truth, Asha could not hold herself together and she left without fighting.
Binodini and Bihari had a special place for each other but because of all that happened, Bihari was disgusted with Binodini. He confronted her for ruining her friend’s happy married life and left. Binodini loved Bihari and wanted him to accept her, marry her and give her all the happiness… Mahendra wasn’t her true love at all… it all ended in a while. Binodini kept on searching for Bihari and finally met with him after long time as lovers. This time Bihari was wanting to marry her but Binodini left for the unknown again as she no more felt worthy of Bihari’s love. Mahendra and Asha re-united and started living together again.
The main storyline was same for both the movie and the netflix short-film, yet there were certain differences the way they were adpated.
Since I came across the Netflix adaptation first, let me tell you the first impression I had. This is one of the 45 minutes long episode in the series called “Stories by Rabindranath Tagore”, directed by Anurag Basu.
I think it came around 2014-15. The series is in Hindi with English subtitles. The characters were still Bengali, the place was shown as Darjeeling (the north part of West Bengal, it’s situated at the feet of Himalayan mountains). I could recognize only Radhika Apte and Sumit Vyas who played the roles of Binodini and Bihari in the series. Everything was so fresh…
Most of the time when entertainment industry adapts a Bengali drama or a Bengali character, they sort of over-do it and kill the charm. Their dresses, their make-up, the small talks, the sentiments- everything had that subtle touch which made me connected to the story. It also had one Rabindranath sangeet (song composed by Rabindranath) in Bengali. The background cores were notes of different Rabindra-sangeet to add extra feels… One small thing is, the actors were carrying the Bengali names but couldn’t pronounce the names in the way they are supposed to be pronounced. That’s okay… That’s completely fine. At least they were not forcing to speak some Bengali words and ruin it for all who speak the language.
Coming to the story… I didn’t really understand the relation between Binodini and Bihari. Why did they adore each other so much? And if yes, why there was Binodini and Mahendra again? For understanding Tagore’s intention I must read the novel but as a viewer I should have got some idea about this.
The ending part is little bit differently reached in Netflix… After Asha left her husband and Bihari left Binodini… Binodini asked Mahendra to start a new life with her in new place. At the back of her mind she was still searching for Bihari. She convinced Mahendra to go to Kashi as she got to know that Bihari was there. Everyday she used to go looking for him after Mahendra went to work. Eventually Mahendra met Bihari before Binodini could and told him she was dead. Mahendra came home and confronted Binodini and left her. Binodini continued her search and finally met love of her life only to spend a night with him talking with him and leave him again without any clue. Where I can understand Binodini’s feelings for Mahendra which disturbed his happy married life, I did not feel it right when Binodini used Mahendra to reach Bihari. It’s not about money or fame… I’m just confused, what does she want?
If she had to leave Bihari again, why she spent six years of her searching for him everywhere?
It’s easy to frown upon Binodini’s character… But what about Mahendra, he didn’t think twice before going after Binodini.
And Mr. Bihari, he loved Binodini but couldn’t accept her at the right time before everything fell apart… I am amazed by the character of Ashalata and the bond between Asha and Binodini…Asha was illiterate, innocent girl. All she knew was to keep her husband happy, when she found out him cheating on her. She left without a fight- it’s like silent rebel. She didn’t hate Binodini too… She might have fought for her marriage or done something drastic but I loved her anyway!
I have always heard about Netflix adaptations ruining the charm but my personal experience says otherwise in this context.
The movie “Chokher Bali” was directed by renowned director, artist and writer Rituparno Ghosh. Except Aishwarya Rai (who played the role of Binodini), all the characters were played by Bengali actors(Ashslata – Raima Sen, Mahendra- Prasenjit, Bihari – Tota Roy Choudhury). It’s a Bengali movie. So the creator didn’t have to try to fit the people in their native culture.
As I told earlier, the ending was a little bit… In the movie, when Mahendra came to meet Binodini after Ashalata and Bihari were gone, Binodini took a promise from Mahendra to help her reach Bihari. She traveled with him but kept herself distant. Mahendra too respected her decision and helped her out…
They went to Kashi in search of Bihari. Ashalata was expecting a child when she was staying in Kashi, when Binodini found this out… she cried on the shoulder of Mahendra but didn’t get carried away this time… She understood, those happiness wern’t in her destiny. After meeting Binodini, Bihari finally proposed her only to find her gone on the very next day.
Just a small change in the story made so much difference…
I am not supporting Binodini for her affair with Mahendra. But when she understood whom her heart truly belonged to, she played no game.
I was hoping against hope that Binodini would stay with Bihari , at least in the movie but no luck!
I heard about the movie when I was in middle school for all the wrong reasons… Young audience go with the visuals more rather than trying to understand the deeper meaning behind it. I am glad that I watched the movie when I matured enough to understand life and message behind it a little better.
Both the movies are good in their own places. Morality wise the movie ending won my heart but I can’t appreciate less the Netflix adaptation either for bringing out Bengali Culture so gracefully. Both are movies are available with English subtitles, give it a watch to experience something new!
Edit : Finally I read the book. Find my summary here.