It is hard to not be touched by a pandemic that lurks not only in our physical, albeit social areas, but also psychological and emotional spaces. The state of our times, observed, felt and lived by painters, writers, poets and dancers takes us far beyond the ‘behaviour’ of the virus, bringing us closer to the multitude dimensions – social, political, psychological, economic and emotional that COVID-19 has forced us to acknowledge.
One such body of work is a creative collaboration between eminent contemporary poet Sudeep Sen and filmmaker Anirban Dutta. Titled ‘Love in The Time of Corona’, the 17-minute short film has been written and narrated by Sen and directed by Dutta. The film is based on Sen’s poem ‘Love in The Time of Corona’, written during the early days of the lockdown.
Sen observes that things were changing so fast around us that it is viscerally affecting our society, play of politics, ways people think, changing culture of ‘working from home’ for the privileged and lack of work for the dispossessed, the gruesome images of migrants walking hundreds of kilometres in the unforgiving weather, riddled with hunger and pain, the quarantine, virus.
“How can all these not affect you psychologically as well. The poem was published in The Indian Express and thereafter, it took on an incredible life, with massive readership, sharing by various hands on social media platforms and translations in several languages. The poem is being anthologised in various books in India and around the world,” shares Sen.
Many filmmakers, musicians and dancers, adds the poet, have responded to his work in the past and when feature-filmmaker Dutta showed him the first cut of his film based on the poem, he was very pleased.
“Not only because I love collaboration across artistic genres, but more because I admire Dutta’s visual aesthetics, his intelligent sense of pacing and haunting sound design. The film version of my poem is the most recent example of artistic interplay and jugalbandi,” reflects Sen, as he reads out a line from his poem, ‘Mood-swings in sanitised quarantine — self-isolation, imposed — uncontained virus, viral. When shall we sing our dream’s epiphanies?’
Dutta says his understanding of aesthetics in cinema starts and ends with poetry, for as a screenwriter, all he looks for is poetry, with his films essentially slow paced and poetic, like ‘Colours: A Dream of a Colourblind’. For Dutta, cinema is a cohesive poetry of artistic philosophies and scientific symbolism.
“My introduction to cinema has been through a vast range of literature, especially poetry — the realism of life, the naturalism of cinematography, and behavioural science of humans and nature. Whenever a personal experience moves me, I start developing a script on that — I also try and see if there is a possibility of turning it into a film,” shares Dutta.
During the lockdown months, the filmmaker says that he attempted to go back to his elementary idea of making cinema that is creating an audio-visual experience using blocks of time and movements.
“As primarily a lover of poetry, I live on passive storytelling and creative sound design. When I first read ‘Love in the Time of Corona’, it didn’t feel like a regular poem at the outset. It came to us as our “present tense” and questioned our fragile existence. It kept humming inside me.”
Dutta says he has never made a film without a written script, not even experimental ones. But in this case, the poem itself was the script in front of him.
“I only tried to visualise and use natural motifs and phenomenon of earth to pattern its palette. It was truly a rewarding experience for me to work with one of the finest contemporary poets of India,” says Dutta, who believes the artist in all of us must be socially responsible.
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