To find a piece of art house cinema in a mainstream cinema hall is astounding in our country obsessed with song dance and nothing more in the name of films. So to see Labour of Love listed in cinema halls this week is more than just a pleasant surprise. A film that transcends languages and cultures, this almost one and half hour wordless film is perhaps the best you could watch in recent times.
Director writer Aditya Vikram Sengupta takes us into the life of a couple in times of recession. Without establishing the relationship, we spend half the movie looking in minute excruciating detail how this woman goes about working in a leather bag manufacturing unit while this man, seemingly related to her, spends his day in a house doing very little in terms of work. As the day shifts to night, we see the man get ready for his job at a paper press while the woman gets back home and rests. The two, by now are established to be a couple where one works in the day while the other at night, meet only briefly for about five minutes when their lives intersect- a brilliant five surreal minutes that leave you spellbound and overwhelmed.
There is absolutely nothing said in the film by way of dialogues. Frames, relentless and slow in pace, take us through the daily mundaneness of life- water sizzling in a pan, wet foot prints drying off the floor, clothes hanging on a line to dry- the most dramatic moment in the film is when the slab of fish gets thrown into heating oil in the pan. Yet, it is impossible to remain detached and not get drawn in to this world the film creates.
Lived in, everyday numbness of routine, the joylessness of daily life that we all go through day in and day out is exemplified brilliantly in this film which benefits immensely from the lead performers Basabdutta and Ritwick. Sensously following and magnifying every wrinkle of the brow, every blank stare, the camera bares open their lives without as much as them uttering a word. Frames merge with sounds instead, the drumming of a rickety fan, Geeta Dutt’s Tumi je amaar, or Bismillah Khan’s shehnaai. What we are left with at the end of the film is the feeling of having actually lived a day with the couple.
There are obvious questions that remain unanswered- apart from the brief hints at mills closing down and people loosing jobs not much is made of the recession and its effect on this couple. They could very well have been a regular couple in Mumbai in the best of economic weather. However, flaws like these are a pure result of nitpicking in a film that otherwise is straight up the alley of a Jeanne Dielman and 23 Quai du Commerce. Rarely does an Indian film justify the accolades it receives at festivals abroad- Labour of Love deserves every single applause coming its way. Make a beeline to the nearest multiplex screening this film this week, we need to support cinema of this kind.