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Between the Times – A Rare Experience: Asa Jaoar Majhe Review

July 4, 2015 | By

Aditya Vikram Sengupta’s Asa Jaoar Majhe (Labour of love) is an exceptional film – not because it doesn’t have any dialogues, but more so since it treads a different path. It is a poignant love story where the man and woman spend time separately and meet only once a day as if in a dream.

AJM

The woman at work

Hermann Minkowski, the German Mathematician famously said “space by itself, and time by itself, are doomed to fade away into mere shadows, and only a kind of union of the two will preserve an independent reality”. He was talking of the space-time dual nature with respect to the theory of relativity.  In the four-dimensional matrix, space and time are the dimensions laid out on the membrane – three dimensions of space and one of time.  It is this space-time continuum which represents eloquently via fractal designs and also leads us to the concept of time dilation. The sense of dilation of time in the quantum space is evocative in Aditya Vikram Sengupta’s debut film Asa Jaoar Majhe (Labour of Love).

There is a man and a woman – we don’t get to know their names. They represent many men and women who are faceless, who represent a vast majority of the country. They toil hard singularly and in communion – to fight the external forces, to keep the flame of love burning, albeit with a soft hue. The film begins and ends with shehnai – raga Tilak Kamod which is at times pensive yet joyous, through the canal of night. Shehnai is also a traditional Indian classical instrument played in marriages which enhances the sweetness and a bit of irony, a tinge of sorrow.

The film opens up with announcement of recession hitting Calcutta and people losing jobs. The reference remained in the aural backdrop time and again through slogans and Trade Union speeches – the temporality is vaguely defined. Like the entire film, the space and time is slippery – you tend to hold on to it and you may lose it between your fingers. The city of Calcutta is established in the first shot where we find the electric hook from a tram sliding on the electric wire. Tram is one character of the old Calcutta which like some other markers of the city is resting slowly to the more aggressive Kolkata. This shot also reminisces the opening shot of Satyajit Ray’s masterpiece Mahanagar (1963) on the city. However, as we tread along the footsteps of Asa Jaoar Majhe, the film becomes a reflection of life in any part of the world where individuals fight for sustenance. In that sense it transcends the geographical boundaries by looking inwards into the individuals more, rather than looking out at the society at large.

AJM 2

The man returns from the market

Camera is used in a very subtle way which is not very common in cinema, leave alone Indian cinema. Camera is an identity here – it interacts with the audience because it is the audience. The audience sees the life of the protagonists – they are not shown by the director. And by moving the camera almost within the characters the director has nullified the Western theories about ‘gaze’. Here there is reflection of the self by the viewer, not an impersonal voyeur vision. That is why we find extreme close-up macro shots – the slow pans and the dearth of obtrusive zooms. Here the camera waits for the Sun to set or lingers on the paddle of the cycle as the man increases his speed and reaches his home to meet his wife only once in 24 hours for a few minutes. Here camera doesn’t follow the characters in the intimate space – camera remains an eye for the audience, the characters move around in front of the open sensor – at times move out of frame and then re-enter after a while. Only time when camera follows is when the man and the woman separately leave the home and go out to the world.

In one deft imagery we find the man go out to work in the evening on his bicycle, a romantic Bengali song of yesteryear is played in the background (may be from some tape-recorder or radio) – all a bit hazy and blurred in slow motion and a cat accompanies the man’s journey for a while, at least sees him off in want of anyone else. Does this mean in a claustrophobic world it is the animals and the surroundings that a person is probable to engage with or rather, is capable of engaging with?

The pace of the film is slow due to the mundane repetition of nothingness. This is juxtaposed with slow motions. For example, when the man carries his bicycle and climbs up and gets down the stairs of their home. The shadows on the wall grow bigger, mystic and at times para real – as if transported in a different time-space continuum. Along with the lilting background score, this imagery is unique. Bengali films for over the last two decades thrive on ‘relationship stories’ and in depicting the same, the common trait exercised handsomely is slowness – slowness not intended as an art form but more so since the directors don’t know how to make the script taut and crisp. To this director’s credit his ‘relationship story’ is a muted one – it is not silent since there are more rainbows in the mind than just the spoken words.

There are quite a few fleeting nuances which will remain with you even after. The evaporating water in a frying pan on fire where (like the Sunset sequence) the camera waits just that long or the watery footprints – not only of the woman (a traditional symbol of Goddess Lakshmi’s footsteps) but also of the man. These are transient moments of life frozen on screen.

We don’t get a background of the characters – what they do over the weekends, don’t they have friends, how social they are and so on. Many critics mainly the Western ones find this an aberration. What they probably fail to appreciate is the fact that apart from the dominant trend (as in most Hollywood films) where every details of the characters and scenes are to be thrashed out in advance, there is another withering practice in world cinema since long where the frames are vulnerable like a forlorn lover. Not every detail is called out, information is not always a collection of data points.

Sthaniya Sambaad (Arjun Gourisaria and Moinak Biswas, 2009) is one recent Bengali film which had rejected the common agencies of story-telling. It is also a city-film but holds the city in a different scape – both visual and sound. The germination of a different film language that emerged with it was taken further ahead by the likes of Phoring (Indranil Roychowdhury, 2013) and Bakita Byaktigoto (Pradipta Bhattacharyya, 2013).

Asa Jaoar Majhe holds on to the same hope and belief where a different voice is unmistakably heard, however feeble. The film has already received a number of awards in different film festivals and competitions in India and abroad including the Best Debut film in the 62nd National Film Awards. This is an encouraging sign not because the plethora of awards are yardsticks to judge films that are labelled by the popular media as ‘arty’ (and thereby alienated from the general audience) but more because this film along with its worthy predecessors raise hope for trying differently. In a culture where gorging on expletives is looked upon as being popular and peerless, where being mediocre is the norm of the day, Aditya Vikram’s debut offering is a relief. Because this film has the courage to show that mobile phones can be used only to receive wake-up calls, if for nothing else!

This is what Soumitra Chatterjee has to say about the film:

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