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…

7 comments:

Sudipto Basu said...

That's beautiful. The review reads like a dream! :)

Kaushik Chatterjee said...

Quite true. Can you make me dream your dreams? Can we dream together? When I forget or don't quite make out a part of mine, can you help me on that ? Both the film and the review have made us do just that. I smile at the ethereal, the quaint absurdity of it all as I dream...the rocking waves, the mangrove swamps, the huge kites, the desperation in Poltu's face, make a moving fusion collage, of the ecstacy of life and its abortive moments, midwifed by love and a fickle fate...

Sayantani said...

Thank you, my dear two idiots!:) :P

A little irony about the film, one often overlooks, is that the three women in our story from entirely different circumstances come to share the same colourless fate defined by a societal order, with a common yawning hole for the rest of their lives. The shankha on Miyage's wrist in the end though signifies that nothing is absolutely lost, nothing is absolutely dead...

P.S.: Yes, K-da dear, we can always dream together... :)

Santanu Sinha Chaudhuri said...

Just in case you were missing a third idiot, Sayantani! It was good to read your review, you took me close to the film and the story. Reading a good review too is one way you can see a film. Thanks for the giving me the opportunity.

Sayantani said...

Oh no, dear Jethu!I am the third idiot. Want to join us?:P Lo! Here comes the "Four Idiots"! :)

never knowing desire... said...

any description is not enough for this movie,, its all about feelings... but still sayantani r lekha tar cheye bhalo ar kichu hote pare na..

Sayantani said...

Thank you, Hirak-da, (if you don't mind my addressing you so)! But, you're too kind. The author of this book (Mr. Kunal Basu) himself has been critical about this review, which I gladly accept though. You can read another blog specially dedicated to films by my friend Sudipto : Moving Pictures (http://a-toast-to-movies.blogspot.com/).