A fine example of arthouse cinema from Bengal, this slowly paced but ultimately extremely moving story bears at least some comparison with the work of Satyajit Ray, especially his films “The Music Room” and “Charulata.” The first cinema release from an established TV production company founded by actor Anupam Kher, “The Lady of the House” is a drama about exploitation that cuts deep as it portrays the ruthlessness of a film unit in dealing with a depressed, middle-aged woman. Well-acted pic should snag festival bookings, and only its excessive length will keep it from wider exposure in other territories.Banalata (Kiron Kher) has lived a secluded life in a sprawling old house in the country for many years — ever since her husband-to-be died from a snake bite on the eve of their wedding. Cared for by an elderly retainer (Surya Chatterjee) and a flighty young maid (Sudipta Chakraborty), she never ventures out, has few interests and is obviously very lonely.
Suddenly diversion arrives in the form of a film production company, which rents a wing of the house as a location for a period film. Banalata is overwhelmed by the arrival of these glamorous people, among them the famous, beautiful actress Sudeshna (Rupa Ganguly), and the charismatic director Deepankar (Chiranjeet Chakraborty). Though aware that Deepankar has a wife back in the city, and that Sudeshna has been his mistress in the past (and still carries a torch for him), the lonely woman finds herself charmed by the sort of worldly man she’s never encountered before. He even persuades her to play a small role in the film when the original thesp is taken ill.
But once the film crew leaves, Banalata is isolated again. Her letters to Deepankar go unanswered, and the final disillusion comes when she discovers that her bit part ended up on the cutting-room floor.
Kher gives an emotionally charged portrayal of the woman whose exploitation is as callous as it is casual. Writer-director Rituparno Ghosh makes it clear that the director is barely aware of the damage he is doing to this vulnerable woman — for him, she’s just a useful contact with a house that suits his immediate purposes.
Despite the sometimes inordinate amount of time spent on relatively trivial scenes, the film does, in the end, pay off with a powerful finale. Production values are modest but adequate, with attractive music and songs accompanying the sometimes minimal action.