Apparently, there are as many as 880 spoken languages in India, out of which 31 languages have been given an official status. To hear, decode, process, understand, speak, wait for the next person to decode your message, process, understand and then reply is to have a conversation. Conversations are an essential part of our daily lives. One cannot imagine life without talking or hearing. But somewhere between the hearing and saying part lies the beautiful silence.
Before talkies did all the talking, Cinema enjoyed silence too. Of course it’s hard to find movies without dialogues that convey every minute feeling anymore. Or is it?
When I watched Michel Hazanavicius’ 2011 French film The Artist, I was spellbound and wondered if such an attempt would ever be made in India. Dialogues and songs being such an important part of our movie making culture. And then suddenly in 2015 I was spellbound once again, to watch a little gem of a film called Asha Jaoar Majhe, popularly known as Labour or love, made on my very soil. Asha Jaoar Majhe (Labour of love) is my recommendation for this week.
Aditya Vikram Sengupta’s directorial debut is an hour and 22 minutes long and rates 8.0 on the IMDB. The film travelled to several prestigious film festivals around the world, premiering at the 71st Venice Film festival, where it won best director for a debut film as well. Later the film won the 62nd National Film Award in the Indira Gandhi award for best first film and (the very well deserved) best audiography categories.
The film is one of the many regional films available on the pocket friendly Amazon Prime. Although the language selected for the film is “Bengali” the film is one of those rarest kind where language doesn’t matter.
The title Asha Jaoar Majhe literally means in between the meetings or briefly put an exchange. An exchange of so many unsaid feelings. The film starts with Basabdutta Chatterjee, let’s call her the woman, leaving her house in the morning and going to work. She gets onto a tram, then a bus and eventually reaches a factory where she works. We then see Ritwick Chakroborty, the man, waking up at home, take bath, draw cash from the bank, have lunch, put the washed clothes to dry and then go off to sleep again.
What’s so exciting about this? Nothing. And that’s the best part. To watch two individuals do absolutely nothing special in their course of the day but the regular chores. Yet as an audience you want to watch them and without your own knowledge you become a part of their world. This couple have odd job timings with the woman working during the day and the man working during the night. Their working class stature doesn’t allow them to chat on phone or text all day, yet they share a realm, where only they live, they exist together. In today’s world and age, where relationships have an easy access to Skype and Facebook, this film leaves you wondering if such wordless love and understanding can still exist.
Except the opening radio announcement in Bengali about recession and lack of job opportunities, the film has no dialogues, although there’s indistinct conversations in the ambience. The sound design of the film, by Anish John, is the soul of this dialogue-less movie. It’s like the sound of Tanpura without the instruments, non intrusive. The creaking sound of the wooden floors, vendor shouting in the lazy Kolkata neighbourhood, frying fish, evening prayer with conch shell being blown against the setting sun to kids learning Hindustani classical vocal in the distant is just appropriate and doesn’t seek your attention. The visuals of the films too deserve top marks. Mahendra J Shetty and (director) Aditya Vikram Sengupta capture spectacular images of the daily, ordinary life of the protagonists. Shot mostly in natural light, the cinematography allows the audience to live in the characters’ world, to feel the sweaty Kurta or to taste the morsel in the man’s hand, understand the woman’s duty at the factory, or be mesmerized by several other magical moments.
Basabdutta Chatterjee and Ritwick Chakroborty completely embody their characters and deserve a standing ovation for their effortless performances!This is not a titillating film, it has no sex, no rape, no violence, no songs, not even colourful clothes, so don’t expect to be ‘entertained’ Yet, this is one of the better films made in recent times in our country. Asha Jaoar Majhe is warm chicken soup for the hungry movie buff soul.
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(Shweta Basu Prasad is a National Award winning actress, famed for Makdee, Iqbal and her TV show Chandra Nandini. Shweta is a graduate in mass media and journalism.)