Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Asa Jawar Majhe: Of Drudgery and Romance and Poetry

It’s one film which has been cropping up in our conversations now and then since it premiered at the 71st Venice International Festival last year, and was later shown at the BFI London International Film Festival where it won huge accolades. It went on to become a global phenomenon bagging several awards in international film festivals before it eventually opened in Kolkata amid much fanfare, but, disappointingly in only three theatres. When it hit the Kolkata screens on 26 June 2015, film enthusiasts made a beeline for it in all three theatres, often returning home, put off by the Sold Out board. We were supposed to watch it at Nandan, but were met with a condescending dismissal at the counter, for they did not seem to believe we were asking for tickets three hours before the show. All were sold out, and yes, long before we arrived. Our next stop was City Center, Salt Lake, which as we realised from the website, was fast filling up too. We did not take chance this time, and booked seats online while still on the Nandan premises. Another friend arrived soon after, by which time City Center too was sold out; he had to run to South City Inox to grab the last remaining seat. The point in prefacing the review with my ‘getting or not getting to see’ anxiety is to bring home the fact the overwhelming zest for this film, which is rare in case of contemporary Bengali Cinema. But unfortunately, as always it has been with good cinema, this film too did not get a statewide release, nor did it get as many screens in Kolkata as it deserved.

Reviewing Asa Jawar Majhe may be compared to commenting on great poetry at the risk of spoiling its lyricism and effortless appeal. The labour of love that has gone into the making of this film is visible in every single frame. It seems as if the director and his cinematographer (Mahendra J Shetty) are romancing with every bit of the film, replicating the emotions on screen. Only profound insight and an extraordinary proficiency in storytelling could do away with dialogue. Very few films have successfully managed to narrate a story depending on background score alone. 

The slow pace, the lack of dialogue, the long lingering on rotating bicycle wheels, walls, staircases, verandas, and filling of spice and lentil containers project an existential drudgery with the “Nothing happens, twice” effect of a Becket’s Waiting for Godot. However, while Becket’s play ends in despair of a never-ending wait continuing, Asa Jawar Majhe redeems its protagonists from the mundane everydayness of living on by allowing them a moment of togetherness which though short-lived comes with the intensity and ‘feel-good-ness’ of dream romances. The film working through powerful imagery and constant reminder of a desired but fantastical world of romance (underlined by the two prototype romantic songs, Tumi je amar and Nishi raat banka chand playing in the background) deconstructs the conventional paraphernalia associated with romance and coupledom by locating its protagonists in the harsh reality of a failing economy and the narrow alleys of a cramped North Kolkata neighbourhood. The crescent moon zooming out to reveal the veil of a mosquito net through which it is seen or missed is perhaps the most poignant moment in the film. The repeated motif of the shehnai (Bismilla Khan), which is the staple background score of most Bengali weddings, has been brilliantly deployed too.

In a long time, no other director has seen such a brilliant 
debut. Aditya Vikram Sengupta is certainly in the race to 
stardom. Thanks to Suman Ghosh for backing this small 
film, which might have been lost in oblivion. Ritwick Chakraborty 
and Basabdatta Chatterjee’s ‘non-acting’ leaves an indelible 
mark. 

As the end credit rolls, it seems as if you have been exposed 
to such a truth which you always wanted to tell, but never 
could.
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