The Minimal & Infinite

Our time, habits & nuances have been changing rapidly since ‘90s. It started from 1991, through Manomohan Singh’s reform & liberalized economic policies .Then  it started with more sweeping changes since the advent of Internet in 1995, and  gradually through the onslaught of social media, Orcut, face book, tweeter and in the form of smart phones in following years.

All of a sudden , we became open to the world , attracted to the US model of dreams &  homogenous culture. Private space started to be squeezing, private being exposed to the public. Excess & opulence started to be the rule of city bred middle class.  The people, who were in their fifties or sixties by this time, who stood between the two generations, were not in a dilemma to keep up with the changes of time. The Mind gap between the aged  & youngsters was also vanishing significantly, making the two very close to each other. The cultural fabric of Kolkata was also changing as a natural process of social changes. Literature, Drama, Music & Cinema also were changing being more City centric, more speedy & more verbal. Pace was the rule & Silence was taking a back seat.

One and half decades passed by in the new millennium.

Was there a need to have a reaction to this sweeping changes, against opulence and excess,  against overt expressionisms?

Exactly after one and half decades in the new millennium, in 2015, we had a film made in Kolkata, the maker being a man in his early thirties & ironically emerged from the city bred New Generation . He made a film which significantly offers a reaction to our time.

If we believe, that a basic pursuit of a serious work of Art is not only to entertain or mesmerize , but also to churn within, also to introspect, contemplate, to have a look within and  to express a reaction ,  Aditya Bikram Sengupta’s debut film stands out as a significant  work of Art of our recent time.

Perhaps, we hardly can resist  from drawing a parallel with an event of 1955, called “Pather Pachali” . In its own Time, Ray & his debut happened to be a tacit but strong reaction to his time. But his reaction was more to the prevalent rules of Bengali Cinema, not only in its form & expression, but also to the approach & process of making.

In 2015, “Labour of Love” becomes a reaction in many ways. The film is a reaction to the fast city life, to the squeezing private space, onslaught of social media, to the superficial mind of the city, to the opulence of words, messaging, opulence of life style, to our stoic indifference to others. Being a reaction, it opens a silent dialogue between our time & the time left behind.

Its Known to many of us by this time that, ‘Labour of love’ is loosely based on a short story, “The Adventure of a Married Couple”, by Italian author Italo Calvino. The director chanced upon to read the story & conceived the film.  There is a very thin line of a story which actually binds the film & makes a frame for it.  Within a frame, multiple layers unfold. The story, told in a single line , is about a slice spanning over 24 hours in the life of  an young working couple, a couple similar to a million of such other couples across the globe,  who work in two opposite shifts & meet with one another just for half an hour in the morning. Except the grand meet of the duo, which lasts for 5 minutes at the end of the film, the rest of of it surrounds alternatively around the man & his wife separately through their alienated time both at work place & out of it.  While the story, very simple at its core, reminds us of the beautiful short stories of  O Henry, Maupassant  or Narendra Nath Mitra, the cinema leaps beyond the frame of the story, and it does so within a tight time scale of 84 Minutes,  woven like a tapestry or composed like a well structured sonata . Like a symmetrical design of a tapestry, the film opens in a morning, showing its male protagonist standing at a verandah with a cup of tea & ends also in a similar morning 24 hours later, with the same protagonist with the same cup of Tea in his hands. In between , we observe a series of various symmetrical similarities , between the Man & his wife , eating same fruit cake , carrying similar Tiffin Box , similar foods, listening to similar songs , similar neighborhood  sounds. Through these telling similarities, propagates the heart throb of an unspoken bondage of Love.

Composed within a structure, as a sonata transcends the border of its structure, ‘Labour of love’ does the same with a minimalist approach in all aspects, starting from its resources to its style ,form and concept. The entire film was made on a modest budget and with very basic equipment. The film was shot over three schedules spanning over a year and a crew of seven to eight people and one old camera and only two lights were used. While doing so, the film has set  an example at its highest, without leaving a slightest  mark of shoddiness or absence of care,  how a minimalist resource is married to a minimalist expression & thus create a new grammar of cinematic expression altogether. The prevailing school of cinema, both mainstream & Art-house, allows a camera to eavesdrop, sometimes like a voyeur ( As the critic Amitava Nag rightly pointed out) & thus become a neutral omnipresent entity without being felt of its presence  . The Camera dictates & becomes authoritarian to create space and time in a film. The viewer perceives the space , which camera creates for them. That’s why there needs to be a studio to create interiors of a train or a small room, so that camera can get a space to move freely & be able to recreate the space & depth of field.

Quite in contrast, by throwing away the age old school of using camera, ‘Labour of Love’ effectively offers an example, where Camera is used as a personified participant. The Viewer feels the presence of camera as he feels presence a character. There is no more a need for the camera to eavesdrop or move freely to construct depth of a Space. Rather, being placed static in the Room, a character leaves the camera & comes back to the frame again. Through this personified vision of camera, a viewer himself recreates the space of the room more in his imaginations.   He is no more dictated by the camera. It’s a revolutionary use of camera, used not only in a particular sequence ( Hitchcock had set the example of Personification of Camera at some discreet sequences in his film “Frenzy”) but throughout the film as a concept & philosophy of Art.

Aditya Bikram being a graphic designer, one may observe a   resemblance of his film with that of an   Animation Film.  Like animation, there are dominance of close up frames, placed one after another, in between punctuated by  top long shots or mid close ups.
One may recall the evening, when the young wife prepares to come back home. The director doesn’t offer any  direct home coming shots of her in series. Rather, camera looks closely at the Overhead Electric wires of Tram car, at  a maze of wires crossing each  other. At  the back drop , we listen a vague voice of a political leader addressing a mass. Camera continue to remain static for a long time just looking closely at the wires  and  suddenly the wire vibrates and   another sound emerges. The sound of  a tram car comes  near by. We   never see the Tram car , but the close up of a  Pantograph just cross by & the sequence ends there. By the principle of co-relation, a viewer immediately links this indirect and oblique evening close up , with that of the morning , where the wife was actually seen to travel to her office By a Tram car. The Viewer knows, she is coming back home by the same Tram car.  This principle of oblique juxtaposition of frames, is often used in Animation films.

Quite interestingly, the director didn’t engage the actors ( Ritwik Chakravarty & Basabdatta Chatterjee) in acting. At some point, when we see the wife sitting alone at the office canteen, in a pensive oeuvre, she was not being specific in her expression. It was left on viewers to interpret, what actually she could be thinking. One striking hall mark of the film is that, like a great poetry, it leaves a lot of shades like this to viewers open interpretation & imagination , making the viewers more participant.

In a conversation , Aditya Bikram expressed rightly that even a most realistic acting is not so real when juxtaposed to  the  Real world. From acting, if we extend it a little further, even there is hardly any realistic art in true sense. From this perspective, if we look at the world of “Labour of Love”, does it reflect a Real world & time around us? Unequivocally, the answer would be “no”.  Aditya Bikram has developed a world in his film, brick by brick, which germinates from his mental cry as a reaction. There are many  nuances in the film, which blurs  the time ( quite opposed to the principles of a RAY Cinema)  & may evoke questions in the obsessed mind of reality seekers. For example , we see the couple using a cell phone only for morning Alarm , but they hardly are seen to speak to each other on phone even during office breaks. In reality, it’s next to impossible. Even, the protagonists are hardly seen to speak to others, or interact with neighbors. Both of them are shown as extremely alienated individuals.  It sounds  as an aberration of  reality. Which time the film talks about? Is it our current time of post Nineties? Answer is Yes & No. Its Yes, when we think of alienation & distancing, when we think of the plight of millions of working couple, loosing private space & joy of living, being bulldozed under monstrous market & economic force. And its certainly a “no”, when we get into the nuance of the film’s ambience.  Which ambience does it offer?  We never hear any songs of our time, but listen to the nostalgic songs of Kaji Nazrul Islam (we hardly hear any Nazrul songs any where nowadays) & voice of Geeta Dutta , with her songs of 1950s. The world of “labour of love” thus is purely a world of its author, like a world a poet captures in his poetry. While developing this world, there is a Pull back from the past & a reaction to the time.

‘Labour of Love’ is not a silent film, but the director has kept no scope of dialogues between the two protagonists. In one sequence, we see the wife to be engaged in talking with one of her colleagues, but the surrounding sound doesn’t allow us to hear actually what they talk about. But still the film is full of significant dialogues. Dialogues with the surroundings, with little & insignificant entities, with the cat, fish bones, with the Pillow, with a plateful of rice,  with  Tiffin box , with the fruitcake or with cereals and  food grains stored in kitchen jars.  Its also a dialogue between the Author & its participant viewers. A discourse between the present time & the time left behind.

Finally, “Labour of Love” is a film about Love. Is it about the pain of Love between the couple? Mesmerizingly “yes’, but not only restricted to it. The love  transcends the border. It Transcends  when we feel a Mind emerging  from  a sensitive  camera, a camera with a mind ,so lovingly  looking at the setting Sun, at the silhouette of the  Mast where pigeons settle in the evening, looking at the foot prints till it fades away , looking at the frying Pan till the last droplet of water  vanishes. Here is a camera which not only observes, but also    eagerly listens to the sound of the streets, of the chirping birds, of falling waters, of the evening prayers & sound of the bells.

At a time of pace & opulence, of mindless multitude, ‘Labour of Love’ comes with an offer.  An offer of   alternative world of minimalism , of contemplation , of participation , of a relation with  the unrelated myriads & we start feeling all such myriads of entities surrounding us really matter & speak to us.

And then, with the sound of a morning  shehnai , a love emerges from the  mist , leaps from the frame & cross the border towards infinity.

About author

Partha Pratim Ghosh
Partha Pratim Ghosh 3 posts

Parthapratim Ghosh is an engineer by profession. He is also a literary and film critic. He regularly writes for reputed English and Bengali magazines and dailies.

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1 Comment

  1. Amitava Nag
    March 04, 12:43 Reply
    Echo your thoughts on opulence.. scarcity is to be celebrated and minimalism championed when we approach infinity. Simply because at every depth we find the same density of mass and matter - life is hauntingly deep with crystal clear eloquence. A film that makes me silent stays with me. Liked the essay

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