Labour Of Love

She takes the tram, bus. He takes the bicycle.

She cooks the fish. He buys it.

She has no company for lunch. He has no company for dinner.

She opens the house. He locks it.

She cleans the clothes. He dries them.

She uses the water. He fills it up.

She has no sounds for company. He has the machines and the music.

She stitches his pant. He keeps it aside for stitching.

She counts the money. He withdraws it from the bank.

She lights up the morning agarbatti. He does the evening one.

She eats the local bakery cake for breakfast. He eats the same.

She sleeps on right side of bed. Alone. He sleeps on left side of bed. Alone.

Because she does the morning shift. And he does the night shift.

Aditya Vikram Sengupta’s Asha Jaoar Majhe (Labour Of Love) is about a middle class couple living in Calcutta, and their daily boring ordinary life. Nothing is exciting in this mundane routine, life is almost fifty-fifty in their chores. But the director captures the sight and sound of this ordinariness in almost meditative gaze, making it look gorgeous. Especially the soundscape of the city is captured in all its beauty. Close your eyes and you can hear everything which leaves strong visual impressions too – blaring loudspeakers, rattling wheels, waffling music, creaking doors, rumbling trams, a rustle here, a clank there, and few Bengali golden oldies.

A few sequences seem odd and jarring, like the one of cereals pouring in glass containers, so advertising-wala that it stood out from the rest of the mood of the film. But apart from that it’s a brave film and quite an extraordinary cinematic achievement for a first time filmmaker, much like Chaitanya Tamhane’s Court which released earlier this year. And Aditya Vikram has not only directed the film, but he has also written, edited, and shot it! Waoh! Seems like this year, the new kids are leaving the veterans far behind.

Also, since my last post on Court created quite a stir and i was accused of many things including having an agenda to pull it down, let me admit it that Labour Of Love also felt like fest-bait. But thankfully, it’s not selling a desi exotica story for the west. Though i never understood why fest-bait was a bad word. If you know the trick and it lends to the grammar of your story naturally, why not. A brave new voice with a beautiful film will disarm every criticism.

Coming back to the film, the Bengali title of the film Asha Jaoar Majhe (In between arrival and departure) is more apt than the English one – Labour Of Love. Because as the day ends and a new one begins, in between there’s magic hour for the characters. It’s so rare that it has become almost surreal. And this is where the film turns magical too. It’s heartbreaking as Ritwick Chakraborty’s eyes stare at Basabdutta Chatterjee leaving for work. That’s when it hits you. The price of recession, the hard work that goes in everyday boring, ordinary life – just for a cup of tea together. Love and longing in the time of recession.

i might be wrong but it seems like this is Basabdutta’s debut feature. Haven’t seen her before. And what a find! That serene face, those expressive eyes, she doesn’t need dialogues to convey anything. And there are no dialogues in the film.

i had tried to watch the film during Mumbai Film Festival. But as the sun was setting in real time on screen, i almost felt asleep, and then decided to walk out of the film. Was too tired. And this film needs all your patience and attention. Because the atmosphere is immersive. Like the sequence where you see on the wire, in close-up, the clothes are moving one by one, you know that Ritwick is hanging them for drying. But why and how are they moving. The mystery is solved later in the film – why and how the clothes moved. It’s simple, and beautiful. With meticulous detailing, Aditya Vikram captures many such moments of everyday routines. Like the way she tucks the bus ticket in her bangle, it bought a smile on my face. Aha, Calcutta, you beauty! So if you don’t get into it, try it later. Give it a chance. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea but try it – you won’t know the taste till you try it. A rare experimental beauty, this one has got a limited release. But if you are among the lucky ones where it has released, catch it.

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Five boys in their pre-teens, hailing from a small-town in Maharashtra, each knowing the loss of a dear one, jump into a lake from a height in the total abandon of childhood’s innocence. The protagonist is the last to jump; he hesitates and then takes the plunge. For me, that was the defining moment of Avinash Arun’s debut film Killa.

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Cinema world-over, is moving towards telling big stories of small people. While we continue to have (and be mesmerised) by our Interstellars and Mad Max’, we are also rejoicing in looking deeper into the souls of the commoner through the canvas of everyday life. Iranian cinema, arguably, showed the world the way, and in India, it is Marathi cinema, among other language films, which has moved the cinematic zeitgeist inwards. Little people, little moments and large stories. Not larger-than-life; very common, very grounded, very real and because of this, large. Especially gratifying is the fact that the child as the protagonist is finally here. Our lenses have finally found his story worth telling. His world is being looked into, explored, understood and loved, a practice that has always been at the periphery in our cinema. Vihir, Shwaas, Tingya, Shala, Fandry…the list keeps increasing. And now Killa.

In Killa, Avinash delves into small-town life and his own personal memories of childhood, and paints a moving and heart-warming picture of learning to fight one’s battles with life. It is the journey of a boy still grappling with the death of his father that happened two years back, and the constant change of environment that has followed. It is the story of his mother, a single woman, gritty and upright, determined to ensure she is now the father and mother to her only son. It is the story of courage to break away from the past and it is a story of love, loyalty and trust. But most importantly, and which is why it is more beautiful, it is the story of taking the plunge. And thus, finding the light at the end of the tunnel. In Killa’s case, the cave.

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“I think we have forgotten the life, the buildings, and the streets we used to have not so long ago.” Miyazaki said this about Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi. Killa, in more ways then one way, pays homage to a kind of childhood fast disappearing and one many of us have never even known. Yet, its emotional tone resonates universally, drawing in even those unfamiliar with the social landscape of the film. An intensely personal film, it is life experienced through the eyes of a sensitive, lonely, fatherless, pre-teen boy. Moving from town to town due to his mother’s transferable job, he pines for putting down roots, for friends he can grow up with and for his dead father. His mother is trying her best to be both the parents for him, stretching to breaking point to ensure him his due upbringing.  It is with a humane eye that Avinash sees the single woman’s struggle, also reflected in the elderly neighbour. Both women develop a bond of mutual respect, an intuitive sign of recognition when one kind, strong soul meets another. The women are lonely too and they are fighting it. Loneliness is the vast canvas Avinash paints his story on because little Chinmay has to break free of this very loneliness and find hope.

Killa, the central motif of the film then becomes the symbol of Chinu’s inner one, the fort of loneliness and mistrust he is caught in. His search for the exit from the fort becomes a beautiful metaphor of his efforts to get rid of the loneliness. And when he emerges into the sunshine he finds hope and trust, literally and figuratively. On the face of it, it is a simple film with a linear narrative, a well-used form. Couched within is a multi-layered narrative of an inner struggle, the experience of which is evoked rather than told. A complete freedom from the need of dramatic tension yet letting the story find its own resolution is evident in the way it unfolds and in certain ways, it is a liberating experience; to co-opt a 3 Act structure and do away with dramatic turning points yet end with confidence, is in my eyes, quite an achievement.

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The visual imagery of the film and its soundscape resonates with the simplicity of verdant, small-town life and a child’s inner tenderness. The spaces Avinash uses make up Chinnu’s external and internal world which we experience through the different locales, his home, school, bridge, fort, cave…The visuals are beautiful without being imposing or picture postcard perfect and the staging is natural, keeping the film moving with a steady rhythm of life instead of depending on the artifice of drama. Avinash also handles the small class-room dramas, especially the weaves of inter-personal relationships between children as peers with a certain tenderness and an understanding of the fragility of their world. The performances extracted out of the children are warmly naturalistic endearing each one of us with their quirks and innocence. We see them as children are, vulnerable and stubborn, inexperienced and wise. Perhaps, the biggest victory of the film is bringing to us the ‘cleanness’ of children…something that permeates into the entire experience of it.

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Ingmar Bergman said ‘No art passes our conscience in the way film does, and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the dark rooms of our souls.’ Killa does that in its own unassuming way, going directly to our feelings and deep down into the dark room of our souls and lighting it up a bit.

Fatema H. Kagalwala

First published in the Lensight Feb 2015 issue.

Masaan

After winning accolades and prizes at Cannes Film Festival, Neeraj Ghaywan’s debut feature, Masaan is all set to hit the Indian screens on July, 24th. The poster and the official trailer is out too. Have a look.

Official Synopsis

Winner of the FIPRESCI prize and Promising Future Award in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes 2015, Masaan revolves around four lives intersecting along the Ganges: a low caste boy hopelessly in love, a young woman ridden with guilt of a sexual encounter ending in a tragedy, a hapless father with a fading morality, and a spirited child yearning for a family- as they try to escape the moral constructs of small-town India.

Set against the divine landscape of Banaras, Masaan is a celebration of Life, Death and Everything in Between.

Cast & Crew

Cast – Richa Chadha, Sanjay Mishra, Vicky Kaushal, Shweta Tripathi, Pankaj Tripathi

Produced By: Drishyam Films, Phantom Films, Macassar Productions and Sikhya Entertainment
Screenplay/Lyrics: Varun Grover
Director of Photography: Avinash Arun
Editor: Nitin Baid
Music: Bruno Coulais
Original Songs by Indian Ocean
Directed by Neeraj Ghaywan

For more info, its FB page is here and Twitter feed is here.

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WHAT : NFDC’s Film Bazaar Co-Production Market 2015 has officially announced call for submissions from filmmakers with compelling South Asian stories seeking co-production, financial and artistic support from attending co-producers, sales agents, distributors and financiers from the world over.

DATES : Entries will be accepted from 19 June, 2015, and submissions close on 31 July, 2015.

HOW : 20 remarkable South Asian stories will be selected this year. Projects get to pitch their film to the Indian and international film community that attends Film Bazaar with a focus on fiction features.

– The pre-requisite of submission states that a film project must be an original story with a South Asian connect and must have a producer attached with 25% of the finance in place.

– In addition to the above the project must have scope for international co-production, distribution and sales.

In 2014 the Co-Production Market hosted 32 projects from 12 different countries.  Click here to view the 2014 Co-Production Market Selected Projects.

-The ninth edition of Film Bazaar organised by National Film Development Corporation will continue to provide intensive individual support to selected projects in a creative and informal setting at Goa Marriot Resort in Goa (India) from 20-24 November, 2015.

– Film Bazaar is organised to discover, support and showcase South Asian talent and content. The aim is to boost collaboration in the realms of filmmaking, production and distribution between the South Asian and film fraternities of the world.

– Qualified filmmakers can submit their entries by filling out an online application by registering with the market at http://www.filmbazaarindia.com/programs/co-production-market/

– Further queries can be addressed to – coproduction@filmbazaarindia.com

– Starting this year, the program has gained added leverage with the inclusion of an open forum on pitching. This activity has been introduced based on industry feedback with the intention that filmmakers should not be required to make multiple pitches during meetings.

– The forum will be organised a day prior to the start of the Co-production Market and will allow selected participants to pitch their projects to noted industry professionals attending the market. This enables participants to effectively use their time during the one-on-one meetings for more in-depth discussions focused on project specific needs and negotiations.

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Harpreet’s album has been in the news since 2014 when he released his single ‘Ajnabi’, and if I am right, there was an FB post where crowdfunding as an idea was being tossed around for the completion of the project.

Here’s the good news – the album released last month and we have been tripping on it ever since.

Call it the effect of the much awaited rains in Bombay, but in spite of average lyrics, the song Ajnabi sounds top drawer. Harpreet sounds comfortable, soothing and musical without making a big deal of it. The song ‘Kutte‘ has a ‘bulleya ki jaana main koun’ vibe in the beginning, but the similarity ends when you observe that the tune and words are too direct and aggressive. The superb music arrangement of the song lends a ‘wanderer’ feel perfectly. The song is in Punjabi, but trust me that wont matter one bit. It’s been a while since man with all fallacies have found a expression, and this song is a beautiful exception to that. ‘Man can’t live alone and can’t live with people’…a crisis we are all too familiar with, aren’t we?

Nirala is what takes my breath away every time I hear it. The melodious possibilities are endless when you mix Hindi poetry with contemporary fusion-sque presentation, and boy is this song a case study to that or what! For the want of better expression, this song is about 6 minutes of continuous goosebumps. Harpreet is a joy to listen to…mujhe gagan ka dikha saghan wah chhor…By God, I saw the chhor with Harpreet when I heard this part, so what if I was sitting in the confines of my room. Easily, the best non-filmi song of the year so far.

Even in the song like ‘Maati‘ whose composition is more like a continuous fast pop nazm, he keeps it simple and free flowing without overpowering the composition with too many instruments. The long taans in the beginning of Ajab Jodi, paired with fabulous guitar and percussion might well work better than Kerala ‘stuff’, if you know what I mean. The tune isn’t easy and that is hardly an issue for him who sings it  with an ease that would put most of the auto tune wonders at discomfort. The lyrics are pure and insightful.

We can never have enough of good ‘Heer‘ and this album adds to the glowing collection of ‘Heers’ with its tribute to the same. The composition is the clear winner here. The track is Punjabi and even if it is not your first language, you will love the track, I am quite sure. Sonapani has a lullaby like treatment and is perhaps the easiest composition of the album to hum along.

Pipli is again a Punjabi track but you listen to it once and you will know what I have already mentioned time and again…’language-doesn’t-matter’! Breezy composition and passionate singing make up for any linguistic limitations this song might present itself with.

I would love to hear what you have to say about the album, but personally speaking, all the new talent that comes up these days has just bollywood aspirations, and that leaves us music fanatics to look to our neighbors and get jealous. There are very few bands which try to present themselves as viable alternatives to the ‘drum-dholki-dafli-autotune-infected-Bollywood’ sound company. Harpreet represents a new sound which I hope gets popular and sells!

Art speaks differently to different people. To me, a good music album always makes me want to become a musician and explore the wondrous heritage of music that our country has. Take the old sounds, mix them with new, let nothing be what it has been since ages. Change, because it is wonderful.

We always tag the foreign music with ‘genres’, this album is Indian, and boy, what a genre it would be if paid attention and money.

For once, I wish we would give out ‘star’ rating because this album and the supreme effort would have got 10 stars out of 5. Illogical? Well, which star rating isn’t?

Highly recommended.

You can listen to my review on BBC here.

@Rohwit

“We are all visitors to this time, this place. We are just passing through. Our purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love…and then we return home.” –  Australian Aboriginal proverb

To observe, to learn, to grow, to love.

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14th June, 8 pm It’s the third day of our strike and ex-AAP member Yogendra Yadav is on campus to express his solidarity to our cause. We are happy but also wary of the protest being politically hijacked. The head of the media team, a close friend, is sharing her concern with me about these dangers. She is worried. She is a natural leader, a born-fighter and survivor and this is not her first fight against tough odds. She will also do this as many times as needed, but the memories of that one night refuse to leave her. When she was leading one such protest in her college. Where four men from a political party followed her at night. She was just 19 and terrified.

I place my hand on hers. I see her still shaken from the old old memory. I also see the courage that makes her go on.

16th June, 10.30 pmFourth day of the strike and I am taking a dinner break before we re-group for another round of exhaustive meetings. I am stressed and tired and mum calls. I haven’t spoken to her in ten days and have been wondering why neither she nor dad has called to check on me yet. She doesn’t know about it. I fill her in. She is completely removed from the world of politics and she asks some very simple (not simplistic) questions. I tell her in brief and she replies, in an upbeat and encouraging voice, ‘You kids go ahead! Datt ke strike karo and make sure you get what you want. The Government can’t do this!

I hang up and feel all stress has left me. The innocence and honesty in my mom’s straight-talk has unwound something inside me. Refreshed me. I decide to make this my go-to memory every time the stress of the protest gets to me.

17th June, 4 amThe sixth day of our strike has just ended. An intense meeting with all students has just ended. A group of us are still hanging around outside MT (Main Theatre) grappling with unresolved questions. A dear friend and one of us who is leading the strike says he got a call from his mother, who has been out of town and just returned to the news of the strike. In the middle of the conversation his mother suddenly asks him to hang up because she was scared his phone is being tapped. Stunned, he hangs up. We sit in silence and look into his eyes. He is not scared, but immensely moved. He has never ever heard such paranoia in his mother’s voice. It stops him. It compels him to look deeper and ask more questions of himself.

19th June 6 pm: Eight days have passed. Eight exhausting days of media interaction, solidarity calls to the world, strategising, debating and above all self-introspection.

Each day we put ourselves through the intensive rigour of asking ourselves tough questions. Of striving to remove the curtains the world has put on our souls in order to get in touch with the core. The core from which our art pours forth. The core that is all we have. For the art that is all we have. What are we really fighting and who? Are we becoming what we are fighting? What for? And for whom? These questions refuse to leave us. Everyday we find an answer, everyday we find a new question. And it goes on evolving.

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I like questions. They open up a whole new world; it’s like taking a trek through a yet undiscovered dirt road. The kind of exploration trips Enid Blyton’s kids take into the forest, spurred by curiosity, excited to meet the unknown. And then find something they have been looking for, a resolution. Till the next search begins. Life resides in the journey, after all.

We spent the first six days of the strike intensely strategising our moves. Only to realise we are beginning to play the same games we are fighting. We had begun to deliberate and measure our words and actions. We were censoring ourselves while we were fighting censorship. Why weren’t we tapping into or creative sides, our emotional sides? We were becoming hardened because we had stopped looking at our fears. In our drive for a ‘purer’ way of functioning, we were allowing ourselves to become corrupt. We were fighting, not standing up for anything we believed in, becoming totalitarian ourselves. Where is the tolerance in us, that we are looking for outside? Are we becoming part of the same mob we are up in arms against? Where are our individual, rather human voices? Fear is born of fear and fear feeds fear. Why are we shying away from our own fears when fear-mongering is what we are against? In that case, are we really standing up for ourselves, or running away? And running towards what? Labels and images? In between rejection and acceptance there is a flux. Why weren’t we engaging with it so that we can ‘be’ what we are standing up for?

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This protest has pulled all of us out of our cocoons, jolted us out of our complacency. I see all of us grappling with our deepest fears and facing them, looking for cracks in the walls we have built around ourselves to break them, trying hard to understand the world we live in and our relationship with it. The girl who was followed, she is facing her fears because of this. The boy who heard his mother’s paranoia has discovered a more human aspect of this struggle. I, someone who has always been scared of confrontation, am beginning to understand the nature of a fight and my place within it. And it is spreading.

Pic 16 We are students, still learning. We are budding artists, still growing. We are fumbling, we are foolish, we are emotional, we are impulsive, we are sensitive but that’s what makes us who we are. We are vulnerable and struggling to find our strength in it. That’s the only way to create for us. Until we accept this we don’t grow.Pic 29

There is an alive-ness on the campus these days. A vibrant, throbbing life I haven’t experienced in my one and half years here yet. We are waking up. To ourselves. We are faltering, falling too, picking ourselves up and others alongwith us, only to be met by the next seemingly unscaleable wall. But that’s part of the process of growing up, no one promised it was going to be easy, anyways. It’s awe-inspiring to see life bloom like this in front of your eyes. In people you live with, study with, care about, relate to, whose fears you share, whose angst you understand, whose walls you can see but can do little about… And in oneself, whose impasses one is almost tired of countering anymore. It takes immense courage, this insistent self-criticality. But I’ve realised, this is what FTII expects out of us. Honesty to oneself. All else will simply follow.

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I see the living, breathing nature of our struggle. There is so much beauty in it, so much innocence, its humbling. And it has united us in a deeply stirring way. In taking the individual journey inwards. Together.

There is a churning that is happening in the womb of the erstwhile Prabhat Studios that has something life-affirming about it. It will see us through, I think.

For us, it’s not about FTII anymore. Neither is it about certain agendas of the Government we or you happen to see as ‘wrong’. It’s about all of us who are ‘fighting’ something.

How can we stop fighting and stand up instead?

How can we be the change we want to see?

Simple questions we are still trying to find an answer to.

– Fatema Kagalwala

To know more about the strike pls read –

Why we are doing what we are doing – https://campusdiaries.com/stories/the-ftii-strike-why-we-are-doing-what-we-are-doing

Beena Paul on the deeper problems of the issue – http://scroll.in/article/734769/dont-ignore-the-ftii-protest-its-problems-run-deeper-than-gajendra-chauhan

Ajith Kumar B and Kamal K M on FTII’s dilemma – http://www.countercurrents.org/ajith160615.htm

Prayaag Akbar on nationalism and killing cinema – http://www.catchnews.com/pov/prayaag-akbar-on-nationalism-and-the-art-of-killing-cinema-1434470651.html

A brilliant feature on culture and identity – http://www.jansatta.com/politics/ftti-pune-row-ftti-gajendra-chauhan-ftii-students-gajendra-chauhan-bjp-ib-ministry-rss/29575/

Sanjay Kak on BJP’s scorch-earth policy – http://www.catchnews.com/culture-news/sanjay-kak-what-have-chauhan-and-company-done-to-deserve-ftii-posts-1434460130.html

Today is the Day 6 of students strike at FTII against Gajendra Chauhan’s nomination. And here’s another great thing about the strike – the writing is now on the wall, literally. Have a look.

(Click on any pic to start the slide show)