We only need two things in life: time and love; but, did you know that time doesn’t wait for anyone and not everyone is fortunate in love.
Muffled voices play in the background, as a female voice on the radio speaks these lines, which then lead to a Kishore Kumar song — Oh Mere Dil Ke Chain. The camera pans to a shanty garage where Pankaj Tripathi, who essays the role of a laundry worker, is ironing clothes.
This is the opening scene of Laali, a short film that was recently screened at the Dharamshala International Film Festival. The film, over the course of 35 minutes, unfolds the story of longing for love, the loss of time and everything in between.
Sharing the film’s conceptualisation, director Abhiroop Basu says: “One day I was on my way to the Dassani Studios in Kolkata when I came across an istriwaala’s shop. Suddenly, a wedding procession passed by his shop and he didn’t even look up; he went about with his job. That stayed with me, I was so intrigued.” He adds he was so drawn by the sight that for the next two-three months, he went to the shop every day just to watch the istriwaala’. “Throughout all this, not a single woman engaged in a conversation with him, and that put me into thought — who was the woman in his life?”
And this is the journey that Laali — which isn’t your typical unrequited love story — takes you on. It introduces you to Tripathi’s friend — a red dress. As the film progresses, you experience a whirlwind of emotions, from when the laundry worker first sees the dress, to the multiple questions that cross his mind as he caresses it slowly while observing the cuts and the silhouette, and finally, ironing it and carefully placing it on a hanger before calling it a day.
In the very next scene, Tripathi is in his small house, surrounded by loneliness, as he spots a poster on a wall showing a girl smiling in a red dress with ‘Laali’s Orchestra’ written on it in Hindi. The dress enamours him and you can see his expressions immediately change as he remembers his ‘friend’.
The unsaid romance between the laundry worker and the red dress continues before he reveals the connection after downing a few drinks: “Madamji aapko bhi koi lene waala nahi hai meri tarah.” He goes on to talk to the dress, thinking about the first time he saw it, and then his lover from the past, before drifting off to sleep. The scene evokes the feeling of finally meeting someone you have so longed for. It is also one wherein you relate to the essence of Laali. “I think the film, in its true sense, is the exploration of longing and the essence of time. The fact that it is always passing by,” Basu shares.
Basu reveals that before shooting the film, “the entire crew made a pact that the film will only have first-takes”. “I wanted the movie to be an amalgamation of an organic experience and we didn’t want the film to be polished.”
“This is the essence of Laali — when you are exploring a man like a laundry worker because there’s a side he hides and you never really know what happens or what he does once the shutter of his shop goes down,” Basu explains.
Finally one day, the owner of the dress finally comes asking for it. It is almost like waking up from a dream where you were happily living with the love of your life.
In totality, Laali is a film that will tug the unknown strings of your heart. If you understand the pain of love that never culminated, the kind of love which lives only in your memory and you learn to live in its absence, you would know that the silence and the red dress in the film are fragments of lost love.
You can watch the film from 8-15 Jan’21 at the 26th Kolkata International Film Festival.
(Laali was a part of the Dharamshala International Film Festival)
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