Director: Aditya Vikram Sengupta | Language: Bengali
Moments after I finished seeing ‘ Asa Jaoar Majhe’ (‘Labour of Love’) I had a strong urge to see it again, possibly the next day. But sadly that was the last show. The point is – it was a singular film viewing experience and like with a good piece of music I wanted to listen to it again. Why did I like it? Because, it engaged me so totally and gave me a meditative experience which is so rare in today’s times, in movies and elsewhere.
I generally see films only in theatres. And much of what I see there is essentially same. They have characters, a plot, some emotions, some humour, some smart lines, music and songs in the background, the same kind of pacing, the same kind of balancing of different elements …and some of them work out better than others. But in the end it all becomes a monotonous blur, without much of an impact. Once in while comes a film like ‘Mad Max: The Fury Road’, which hits you because it throws you off balance with its frenetic energy, fecund production design with every film filled with details neither your eyes nor your mind can register, almost no dialogue, and relentless action. And then comes a film like ‘ As a Jaoar Majhe’, in the opposite end of the spectrum, which has actually no dialogue, no interaction between the two protagonists except for the final ten minutes of fantasy sequence, no plot, no dramatic tension, no final solution. Perfect Zen garden of a film.
The film starts with a black screen and a voice over droning on about recessionary times and working class struggles on the airwaves. This is followed by a shot of the back of a young woman, neatly draped in a saree, manoeuvering her way through serpentine alleys, on her way to work at a handbag factory. Meanwhile, a young man wakes up in a modest home, takes bath, puts out wet clothes for drying, takes out food from the fridge to eat, smokes a cigarette and leaves for work: night shift at a printing press. At one point we realize, that the two are married, forced to work during different hours, only able to meet for a few minutes before she leaves for work again. And we realize that they love each other and long for moments of togetherness. That’s really it.
But there is beauty in every frame…whether it is the wall with peeling paint, or a setting sun captured patiently in real time, or the palpitating gills of a live rohu fish in the market, or a super close up water evaporating on a heated pan, or wet foot prints drying off the floor, or a slab of fish getting thrown into heating oil. Much of the film is so painterly. But these scenes could have ended up just as pretty still photos if these micro-details did not connect the dots of what was happening in the lives of our two protagonists as they sheltered and fanned the flames of their love against their formidable adversary – the hard economic reality. The meticulousness with which they went about their routine …neatly folding the clothes, packing the food in different containers, then in a plastic packet, and then the packet in a cloth bag…shows a certain kind of dignity in their act of survival, and a kind of elegance and intensity in their love. At no point do they let their economic hardship let them slip into slovenliness or tempt them into any kind of cheap escape. They are careful with each action of theirs, cautious in their spending, strict about their saving, interacting very little with others at work. It is as if they are protecting some precious core of their persona so that their love retains its purity and intensity. The lead performers Ritwik Chakraborty and Basabdutta Chatterjee bring out this grace under pressure perfectly, making us care for and love the characters in spite of their boring, event-free life.
Their daily struggle for sanity and dignity is brought forth through the deliberate slow pacing and micro-detailing – as he stretches and curls in his bed trying to find just the right position for some restful sleep, or when he turns the regulator of the fan to get the right degree of cooling. Of course there are moments of joy too which makes this struggle possible … when he examines the live fish in the market, or when she pours the rice, dal, and various condiments into their containers, taking in their varied colours and trexture. The absence of the spoken word makes it possible for us to meditate on all these details.
There is much silence in the film. But it is not devoid of sound. There are ambient sounds like the drumming of the rickety fan, an old film songs floating across, a music teacher teaching Rabindra Sangeet to a girl who sings off-note and hawkers crying their wares on the streets. And I can see the film again and again just to hear Geeta Dutt sing Tumi Je Aamar Ogo or Bismilla Khan play Tilak Kamod on the sehnai against the magical visuals of mundane everyday life that the director-cinematographer Aditya Vikram Sengupta conjures.
Day in and day out, the media tries to drill into our head that films are entertainment. And we forget that cinema is also art. It is good to see a film, not in a festival, but in a regular release, to remind us of that.
- Bajrangi Bhaijaan