Friday, 16 April 2010

The Japanese Wife

Just saw Aparna Sen’s new release ‘The Japanese Wife’, first at Nandan, then at Priya. A very delicate treatment of the subject it was, the first of its kind by the director. An amalgamation of several emotions sewed into one, the film is much like the posters read “a love poem”. But, it’s not just a love-tale of a couple, like it was in Kunal Basu’s story. It is a tale of a village: of moving, breathing life of a village that’s mostly secluded from the rest of world. It is a tale of Sunderbans, the garden of West Bengal. It is a nuanced tale of small smiles and small tears of a “lower middle class”, “non-intellectual” life, that the world mostly consists of. It is the story of two countries far apart yet one.

The central character (please mark that it’s “central character” and not “hero”) of the film is Snehomoy Chatterjee, a Mathematics teacher in a village school (played by Rahul Bose). He makes a pen-pal in Japan, a girl called Miyage (played by Chigusa Takaku) while studying in Calcutta. They soon find themselves to be opening up to each other in a way they haven’t been able to do before. They write to each other in muddled English, a language foreign to both of them. Miyage often sends Japanese parcels to Snehomoy, including a Polaroid camera. They fall in love until three years later she offers herself as his bride. Snehomoy accepts and they get married; that is, Miyage sends their traditional ring with her name engraved in it while Snehomoy sends a pair of conch shell bangles and vermillion as is the Bengali tradition. They remain married (and devoted to each other) for decades without any physical union, their mode of communication being only letters. At this point, a young widow Sandhya (played by Raima Sen) comes to stay at Snehomoy’s place with her son. But, as the trailers say, “she shares his home but not his heart”. She quietly nurtures her love through small gestures, costing big. The last portion of the film has been painted with a dark shade as Miyage acquires cancer, and Snehomoy roams about in the streets in search of proper treatment. The whitish end though has something quite different for us in store.

The film, like a ballad, has the flow of a river. It bends this way and that, gurgling and murmuring, drags along in some parts, reaches a crescendo, falls abruptly, flows along in various depths and intonations, finally to meet the great ocean of eternity. There is marked influence of Ray’s Samapti in this film. The attire and gait of Snehomoy often reminds one of Soumitra Chatterjee in the ‘Teen Kanya’ classic. The checkered shirt-style kurta, the umbrella, the glasses, the drawn up shoulders, the chic-less look, the toddling in the mud, the harassed husband fighting the storm with an umbrella - all of it. Even Moushumi Chatterjee’s aunt-portrayal reminds one of the fussing, affectionate widowed mother in Samapti.

In fact, not only Ray, I also find elements of Kurosawa here. The picturisation of Miyage embracing herself in blissful ecstasy of a new bride with peach trees, full in blossom, in the background reminds one of a dream sequence in Kurosawa’s ‘Dreams’, as does the knitting scene of the last dream sequence. Also, the part where she, dressed as a bride, drinks from the bowl as part of the ritual is reminiscing of the great filmmaker. This film unites the two great masters in a way.

Amusement is an essential component of the poem-film. The scene of Snehomoy disclosing their marriage to his aunt is truly amusing, with her finding the name definitely odd, pronouncing it as “Magi”, an obscene colloquial term used to mention young women, and finding “the cast” absolutely infuriating: Japanese. The kite-flying sequence becomes an enjoyable event, collaged with some of the most memorable scenes of cinema and etched with glorifying colours. Created with an effortless poignancy, the film takes us to a seventh heaven ride, very known to us, very dear to us… The experience has been unique. We are no longer seated on our intellectual cushions, but become one with the villagers as the celluloid rolls on. The schoolmaster’s wife becomes our Japani Boudi too.

Rahul Bose has done the best job of his career. He is superbly credible in Snehomoy’s garb. Obviously, that meant tremendous research and homework on his part, as he has had to make his own intelligent, English speaking, shrugging lad self almost unrecognisable. Raima Sen has also done her best job. The no-make-up, shy look was lovely. The accent perfect, though she has had little to say, which makes her character all the more captivating. Chigusa Takaku has given the film a sweet note, really. Moushumi Chatterjee has been seldom seen so spontaneous. The small appearances of Paran Bandyopadhyay, Rudranil Ghosh and Kharaj Mukhopadhyay were commendable. As Parambrata says, “(they) remind one of their ability and worth within their brief presence”.

Sagar Desai’s background score is remarkable turning the land of Japan as if in a trance… The art direction is good bringing alive the village life of Sundarbans, though the make-up work is a bit at flaw in the end: a Japanese girl, isn’t supposed to carry a saree so well. Nor, can a person who has had several sessions of Chemotherapy look so fresh. Cinematographer Ajay Goswami does magic with outstanding camera work, especially the storm scenes of the river Matla, the steamer’s movements along the crests and bases of the waves, the heart-wrenching end scene as the dingi, with Snehomoy lying on his back, drifts along the Matla…

Who knows, someday may be I’ll come to you on that boat floating down this Matla…

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Poems of eternity

Following are given a few links of beautiful renditions of some of my favourite poems, most of them read in my school days... Please visit them and listen:

1) The Solitary Reaper, by William Wordsworth:

2)The Brook, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson:

4)Ode To The West Wind, by Percy Bysshe Shelley:

7)The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost:

8)Macavity, The Mystery Cat, by T.S.Eliot:

9)All The World's a Stage, by William Shakespeare:

10)The Rhyme Of The Ancient Mariner (part 1), by Samuel Taylor Coleridge:

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Our own insignificance

Amit Varma writes about how insignificant we are in the larger scheme of things (here and here), and there's one point that sticks out as remarkable, in my opinion. That is his thought on how global warming is projected as the end of the world, when in fact, it just means the end of our tenure on this planet. (One might add that global warming may wipe out nearly all of life on earth, but I don't think most of us are really concerned about all the other sundry poor beasts who share this habitable sphere when we paint gloomy post-apocalyptic scenarios to warn of the consequences of unchecked global warming.) The Douglas Adams quote about self-esteem Amit shares is just so apt, so I reproduce it:
Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’ This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it’s still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for.

I am reminded of Stanley Kubrick's quote about mankind and its utter helplessness here.
My godless self finds itself nodding silently in agreement. We'd cope with ourselves better if we gave up the comforting notion that everything is going on according to some pre-ordained fate.

It's not as bleak a prospect as it seems, though. Jacques Tati's extremely amusing and warm film Mr. Hulot's Holiday has an extraordinary sequence. The bumbling endearing protagonist, Monsieur Hulot, is painting a boat standing close to the water on the shore. The can of paint is by his side, and Hulot unconsciously dips the brush into the can after intervals. Unknown to him, waves come and go, carrying the can away with them and then returning it just in time for Hulot to dip his brush. Now, Hulot might not have been painting that boat by the seaside and still the tides would flow as they do. Yet chance, in all its magicality, places the can appropriately when the need arises. That is also true of our existence: we have been fortunate. (Talking of Tati's film, please read Roger Ebert's touching review. It's a must!)