In post-independence India an Anglo-Indian teacher, Violet Stoneham (Jennifer Kendal), lives a quiet and uneventful life at 36 Chowringhee Lane in Calcutta, now Kolkata. Her brother Eddie (Geoffrey Kendal, Jennifer's father in real life) is senile and ailing in a nursing home. After the marriage of her niece Rosemary (Soni Razdan), she is alone except for her cat, Sir Toby. Her only joy in life is teaching Shakespeare, despite the lack of interest from her students. Returning home from church on a Christmas Day, Violet runs into a former student, Nandita (Debashree Roy), and her author-boyfriend Samaresh (Dhritiman Chatterjee), and invites them over for coffee. They accept her invitation after some initial hesitation. However, they quickly realize that Violet's apartment would be convenient for their tête-à-têtes while she is away at work. When Samaresh requests Violet for the use of her apartment during school hours, saying that he would like to work on his novel, she agrees. For some time, this arrangement works to the benefit of all. Samaresh and Nandita get the privacy they desperately seek, and Violet has company when she returns home from work. Over time, she grows very fond of them, and begins to look upon them as her friends. Her old friends die or go away, she isn't appreciated at her job, and they are the only friends she has - the only people who can make her laugh. Eventually Samaresh and Nandita get married, and move on with their lives. Violet wants to meet them on Christmas Day, and bake them a cake. They have a party organized at home, however, and think she would be 'a fish out of water' if invited. So they lie about not being in town during Christmas. Violet comes over, any way, to drop off the cake on Christmas Day, and finally sees that she has been deceived by them. She walks home to her lonely life, slowly. The final scene of the film shows Violet reciting aloud from King Lear, with her only audience being a stray dog.