Writing such detailed accounts of films is not entirely within my forte but I am making an exception this time for the sake of ‘Kaahon’. Hence, let me begin with the clichés. It is a wonderful film, exquisitely designed and amazingly detailed. The sound designing (much of its pre-designed) is brilliant, both the cinematography (the camera movements as well as the lights) and the editing devoid of any showy flourishes. The costume designing is good (though it does raise questions like: do young women today wear Sarees even when they are at home? And the men? Men do not usually wear underwear with their pyjamas when they are at home. Or do they?). Add to this an entire plethora of images: old songs, the Shehnai, North Calcutta, Bapuji cakes, ticket stubs tucked into the wristwatch, nostalgia, recession, lock-out, bicycles, the bed with the untouched pillow (the one that remains untouched throughout), dream-sequence, etc. What is even more beautiful is how these images are then used to deftly weave together the lives of the two protagonists with the psyche of the audience. Both Ritwik and Basabdutta deliver exquisitely understated performences. The final scene, so beautiful and poignant – and yet the two central characters never speak in the film. We are more attuned to seeing this sort of a treatment in foreign films (e.g. ‘Adventure of a Married Couple’, 15 minutes, 2013, Iran) and not in Bengali cinema. Instead, contemporary Bengali cinema (and here I specifically refer to the original screenplays) is populated by characters who spend their evenings in their balconies drinking scotch, singing reverbed Tagore songs and playing odd sexual scenes, or who conduct botched detective investigations. In this context, ‘Asha Jaoar Majhe’ (Labour of Love) is an exceptional film.
It is a beautifully crafted yet simple film. I will not go into a detailed discussion of the story but it is quite evident that this simplicity belies an immense amount of expertise on the part of the director and screenwriter. Any film-maker would agree that creating simplicity is perhaps the most difficult task along with understanding the pace of a film. In this case it is quite evident that the director has been preparing himself for a long time. Since I have already mentioned how this is a singularly exceptional film, let me not waste time on repeating already cited eulogies. Instead let me talk about some of other things that have struck me outside the ambit of our discussion.
Firstly, it is perhaps not entirely possible for a lower middle-class family to lead such an uncluttered life; there is no one to intrude into their private space. There are no people about them and consequently the characters tend to appear rootless after a point of time. The sound design of course has tried to create the world around them but even that does not seem enough at times.
I have spoken about how well-designed the film is. It is wonderfully detailed (the director has a keen eye for observation). And this is also perhaps the film’s biggest drawback. Due to dire financial circumstances, their work hours are such that the two protagonists never get to meet each other throughout the day except at dawn. Production is ceaseless, surrounded by threats of recession and lock-out. And yet the characters are never angry, never uncertain, having silently given themselves up to the director’s mercy they go on about their daily lives as the camera captures hard close-ups of their mundane chores. It is almost as if the director has built, brick by brick, a beautifully exotic portrait of a lower middle-class family or the owner of a corporate company has funded a documentary on love with his employees as the subjects.
The characters so appear as if they have been teleported to 2015 from the 80s and who are vividly waiting till the end of the film for the sacred dream-sequence – an uncomplicated, romantic, smooth, non-argumentative, emotional, poetic, melancholic film.
Despite this, one must accept that ‘Labour of Love’ is an important film in contemporary Bengali cinema and congratulations to the director for that. Make more films; we are waiting.
In conclusion, therefore, I too find myself facing a set of questions. What remains baffling is how many of us, when we make our films, fail to step out of our comfort zones (be it the evening scotch or the pennies saved in earthen jars) in this day and age. Why are we attacked by nostalgia on a regular basis? Why do we not ask questions? When we are struck we have learnt to absorb the shock and never hit back. Everything in life (the political, the social, the economic, joy, sorrow, pain, fear, anxiety, depression, etc.) finds itself easily translated into a narrative of love (and here I am talking about my own film too). Is this our strength, our weakness or something else entirely? The critics will perhaps be able to better answer this. For now, this is enough…rest is personal (Bakita Byaktigato).
(Director, Bakita Byaktigato)