36 chowringhee lane opens with a shot of the cemetery which symbolises a long tedious journey that is going to be followed in the film. 36 chowringhee lane takes us to the life of an Anglo Indian school teacher, Miss Violet Stoneham who lives a monotonous life seeking solitude in the plays of Shakespeare and reading it out to the uninterested students. To her only family attachment, she had a brother who was left to reside in an institution for the old while Miss Stoneham lived in a dilapidated flat with a rundown kitchen and two rooms, sufficient for her and her cat , Sir Tobby, her only flatmate which somewhere depicts her self sufficiency and solitary life.
Miss Stoneham is separated by Her niece Rosemary who has moved to Australia but is still connected through the letters which she writes often and wishes if Stoneham too could join her in Australia. There is an attachment which stoneham feels for the place she lives and breathes in and therefore has always rejected the offer that asks her to leave her homeland which implies that she is not up for further separations. For Miss Stoneham, she loved being a self sufficient woman who was happy enough in talking to her cat and reading romantic fiction novels off to bed.
Miss Stoneham seems to be a woman who doesn’t get estranged with her past even after getting separated which gets obvious by the setting of her flat which adores a gramophone and records of her youth along with a study stable preserved very carefully all through the time. Despite Miss Stoneham had a schedule as a school teacher but she always made a point to visit her only cousin for her and his satisfaction of still sharing togetherness and the mere fact that they haven’t been separated completely from everything.
A change in Miss Stoneham life comes when she gets introduced to her long lost student, Nandita along with her boyfriend Samaresh and gradually develops a friendship over frequent visits at her place by the couple. Samaresh introduces himself to her as a writer seeking a silent and writing friendly space to write in to which he gets offered to write at Stoneham’s place. The couple gets a space for their relationship to grow while Miss Stoneham found a company at home to return to besides just Sir Tobby waiting for her.
Stoneham discovers the couple making love to each other to which she realizes, a part of her space was being used for not just one reason alone. A mixture of emotion runs through the mood of the film which portrays both deceit, selfishness , actual friendship but yet with a pinch of betrayal. Samaresh and Nandita gets married to each other and the frequency of meetings narrows down to almost making Stoneham return to her own usual monotonous schedule of life.
The come and go cycle keeps on repeating in Miss Stoneham’s life but Stoneham has always tried to cling to people as much as she could which we noticed when even after loosing company with the couple, she fulfilled her promise of a Christmas cake for the couple. She wrapped it happily for the couple and thought of surprising them but instead herself got shocked watching the couple make merry and laugh while she could do nothing but return with the cake to only walk alone on the dimly lit streets and find company with a stray dog who tried to have a Christmas feast by fiddling with the cake. There were no complaints but yet again the acceptance of separation which came out if being not deceived but used by the couple for their own selfish motives.
Miss Stoneham lives a journey of being not alone but always of being separated, she keeps finding company in her job as a school teacher, as a friend to the couple or as a family to her cousin or to an interest in teaching Shakespeare but she was detached by everything she was attached to even to the extent of her subject getting converted from literature to language. In the end, she walks alone on the weary streets of 36 Chowinghee Lane like she accepted this is how she’s going to walk the rest of her life. In 36 Chowringhee lane, we don’t watch just the life of an old woman finding her space but also equally Samaresh and Nandita as well Eddie, Violet’s cousin find their individual spaces.
(Maimuna is currently pursuing MA Mass Communication from AJK MCRC, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi)