With the recession in Kolkata as the backdrop, debutante director Aditya Vikram Sengupta’s Bengali movie,
Asha Jaoar Majhe, which recently won the Best Director award at Venice Days, focuses on the unrest in the city, while its protagonists find security in mundane tasks
Aditya vikram Sengupta’s debut Bengali film, Asha Jaoar Majhe (Labour of Love), recently won the Best Director award in Venice Days, an independent sidebar of the Venice International Film Festival. The 30-year-old adman-filmmaker’s labour of love is set in Kolkata during the 2009 recession and stars Ritwick Chakraborty and Basabdutta Chatterjee. It will also be screened at the upcoming Busan International Film Festival and the BFI London Film festival, before Sengupta looks for distributors to release it in India.
A still from the movie Asha Jaoar Majhe (Labour of Love)
Q. Asha Jaoar Majhe is apparently inspired by Italian author Italo Calvino’s story titled The Adventure of a Married Couple. How did you come across the subject and what appealed to you?
A. Let me clarify that it’s not an adaptation of the story. I came across the book while I was at a bookstore in Kolkata. It was a two-page story about a couple working on opposite sides of the clock and hardly meeting each other. There was one part of the story, which inspired me to go home and start writing the movie’s script. Talking about that bit will be like a spoiler, so I wouldn’t want to share it. But there is a lot of similarity between Italian and Indian culture.
Q. Tell us about the casting process of the film.
A. The casting process went on for a long time, mostly because we wanted the right faces. We wanted pure, unadulterated body language and thankfully, we managed to find two brilliant actors. I told them that Asha Jaoar Majhe would be a different experience. It would be an experiential film, almost meditative. You have to wait for certain things to happen in the movie. For instance, there is a sunset in the film, which has been shot in real time. So, the movie is a patient watch. Even when it came to characters, I didn’t want them to be imposing. For example, there is a scene in which I didn’t want the character to impose a certain feeling on the audience. I’d rather the audience feels what they want to feel after watching it. That’s the kind of participation I want. The characters are merely the body where I want the soul of the audience to enter. At the premiere, it was surprising how the film affected each person. Everyone had a different interpretation.
Aditya Vikram Sengupta
Q. You’ve shot the movie in West Bengal. How big a part does the place play in the story?
A. The cities I’ve shot in are characters by themselves in the movie. There is recession, procession rallies happening everywhere and unrest outside. There’s the city and then in the city, there is a little home where people go about their lives. There’s a stark difference as there is unrest outside and calm inside. The same dichotomy lies within the characters as there is physical unrest, but inside, they share a space that is secure, which is brought about by mutual love — a space explored through mundane, everyday tasks.
Q. There are no dialogues in the movie. Did you feel that expressions and music were enough to convey what you wanted to say?
A. It’s not a silent film. Yes, there are no dialogues in it but the situations don’t demand them. Initially, I had written a sequence which had dialogues. But as we started shooting and the movie started to grow, we decided to let the film take its own course, and it was as if the movie did not want that sequence. So we removed it. That is the beauty of the film. Everything is conveyed through images, sound and action.