In the mid-1990, the film critics acknowledge that “a film draws on a combination of visual, aural, and verbal signifiers.” Film as a literature is based on the comparison between the structure of verbal language and the visual imagery in the cinema. But Aditya Vikram Sengupta’s Bengali feature film Asha Jaoar Majhe (Labour of Love) (2014) constitutes a meaning without any verbal language or dialogue. Only through the images and sound the filmmaker shows what he wants to tell us throughout his entire film. The film brings focus to the hard lives endured by middle class ordinary working people in Kolkata and shows that a married couple living their lives with lot of loves and dignities. The filmmaker also represents the city of Kolkata in the period of political turmoil. In Kolkata there are different pictures still like 1950s and these pictures of the city are exactly what shown in the film. And all these aspects are beautifully portrayed only by some brilliant filmic images and background sounds. So, this is the film happened in the form of images, sound, and music. Without any verbal language, the film, Asha Jaoar Majhe (Labour of Love) is able to produce a meaning, a statement and delivers a new interpretation of life. The film is not confined to a particular family, time or place but it brings out the everyday stories of millions of people in the same surroundings.
Keywords: Film Language, Film image, verbal dialogue, Realistic Film.
A movie is not only a visual treat to its audience. But it is also an account of societal, economic and political set up in which a person is living. Now to portray such conditions of our day to day life, the filmmakers of modern times take recourse to such essentials components of a film, like that of music, screenplay, cast, script and especially the dialogues. Day by day dialogues are becoming almost an inseparable part of a feature film. Now to imagine a film without any kind of dialogues is almost unthinkable in the post millennium era. But, there are filmmakers like Aditya Vikram Sengupta who have challenged this conventional trend of filmmaking. He standing in the year 2014 makes a film where he not only deviates himself from traditional way of film making but also his film Asha Jaoar Majhe (Labour of Love) without using any kind of dialogues eventually fulfils the demands of the audience. The film succeeds in portraying the features that are essential for the representation of socio-political aspects. This film takes us to the era of silent films. It reminds the audience about the films during the time of legendary filmmakers like Satyajit Ray, Ritwick Ghatak and Mrinal Sen when realism makes the films poetic. The absence of verbal dialogues is the most striking feature of the present discussable film and this film itself becomes a language with the help of its non-linguistic elements like images, sound and music. We know that “a film draws on a combination of visual, aural, and verbal signifiers” (Braudy and Cohen 3). “Film as a literature is based on the comparison between the structure of verbal language and the visual imagery in the cinema” (Hudlin 47). But, Sengupta’s film without any verbal languages becomes a film and a language itself by portraying the images and background sounds relating to the socio-political aspects of the contemporary time. The filmmaker succeeds in portraying those aspects so grandly that his film fulfils the purpose what the filmmaker wants to deliver. In the film the images, sounds and music serve as a character, maintain the rhythm of the film and thus the film becomes a realistic film. The maker of the film through the uses of these non-linguistic elements beautifully portrays the humdrum life of the middle class people in the restless situation of the city. The filmmaker actually does not want to tell us something, he only wants to show us what he wants to tell.
In the book Film Theory & Criticism, Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen suggest, “Because films embody, communicate, enforce, and suggest meanings, film theorists often suggested that film constitutes a language, a ‘Visual Esperanto’” (Braudy and Cohen 1). Again Edward W. Hudlin in his essay, “Film Language” argues, “We generally take for granted the idea of language having a conceptual meaning, until we encounter claims that non-linguistic items such as pictures, musical compositions, gestures and the like also have conceptual meaning and thus constitute a language…” (Hudlin 47). The critics who consider film to be a language often rely on the analogy between word and shot. But simply stringing words can’t produce an intelligent discourse as well as simply stringing shots can’t create a meaningful visual art. Hence, the great Soviet filmmakers Sergei M. Eisenstein and Vsevelod Pudovkin emphasize on the process of montage, “the art of combining pieces of film or shots into larger units – first the scene, then the sequence, and finally the complete film” (Braudy and Cohen 1). So, Eisenstein mentions that “as the interaction of the individual words produces the meaning of the sentence, cinematic meaning is similarly produced by the dialectical interplay of shots” (1). According to Andre Bazin, “the film image ought to reveal the reality whole not cut it into tiny bits” (2). So, “the film’s effect and meaning is not the product of a juxtaposition of images, but are inherent in the visual images themselves” (2). Hence, a film is considered as a written text and each filmic image is considered as logomorphic. Editing is considered as syntax, shots as word, scenes as paragraphs and the cuts and fades are considered as punctuations. Comparing the shots of a filmmaker with the words of a poet, Pudovkin argues, “…to the film director, each shot of the finished film sub serves the same purpose as the word of the poet – the film is not shot, but built up from the separate strips of celluloid” (Hudlin 48). Hence, it is clear that the filmmaker is like a creator of a new form of art combining the shots into a larger unit. In this way our discussable film Asha Jaoar Majhe (Labour of Love) by Aditya Vikram Sengupta constitutes a language and asserts a new interpretation of life. In this clamorous world, differing from the films of the modern times, this film by Sengupta silently imprints the audience for its exceptional qualities.
Asha Jaoar Majhe (Labour of Love) is a 2014 Indian film directed by Aditya Vikram Sengupta. The film is first screened at the 11th Venice Days Film Festival on 4th September 2014. The film is released in India on 20th June 2015. Sengupta’s film is inspired by a two-page Italian short story, Adventures of a Married Couple by Italo Calvino. There has been one other film on this, an 11 minute short, Zan Va Shohar Karegar (The Adventure of a Married Couple) by Iranian film director Keywan Karimi. Sengupta won the Fedora Award at the Venice Film Festival for the best director of a debut film. Since then the film has won several other awards including two national awards at the 62nd National Film Awards – the “Indira Gandhi Award” for best first film to Sengupta and best audiography award to sound designer Anish John. The film features Ritwick Chakrabarty and Basabdatta Chatterjee in the leading role. With Ritwick Chakrabarty as the husband and Basabdatta Chatterjee as his wife, the movie chugs along sporting only two characters. Their pale lives coloured by the couple’s love and dignity for each other, which is exemplified through her cooking and his washing up.
The film opens with a background sound, a Bengali radio news reader announcing the recession that has hit the entire state and each and everybody fear of losing their jobs. The film is set in Kolkata and it is basically a love story. In the beginning of the film the audience sees that one morning, a woman dressed in a starched mustard coloured cotton sari walks through narrow lanes of a middle class neighbourhood Kolkata, and then she boards a tram where she eats a small piece of cake for breakfast and finally switches to a bus and eventually completes her long journey. Meanwhile, a man dressed up as if he is ready to go out, drinks tea standing alone beside the window, then slowly removes his clothes, as he gets ready to take a bath. He washes his dirty clothes. After taking bath, he puts on a white kurta pajama and then eats a similar small wrapped piece of cake for breakfast. These two characters never meet with each other throughout the entire film and the mystery resolves as we watch the characters in their parallel lives at interested for a brief moment in a dream like sequence that plays towards the end of the film. Their humdrum middle class existence filled with monotonous jobs and punctuated by meals break and sleep. They never meet with each other for the man works at night in a printing press of a newspaper, and the wife during the day at a handbag factory. As the two characters never meet with each other except that brief moment, they do not engage in any kind of conversation. The entire film has no dialogues only is packed with ambience sounds like street noises – car horns, tram bells, voice of street hawkers, cat meowing and crow’s cawing, background radio news programmes, Bengali film songs, a woman taking music lessons, and early in the morning the school children singing the Indian national anthem. So, the entire action of the film scripted in the form of images, sounds, and music and there are activities along with these. About the absence of dialogues in the film, the director argues, “We don’t need to tell the audience, need to show.” Thus the film itself becomes a language and communicates, enforces and suggests meaning.
From the very beginning through the radio news, the filmmaker Sengupta gives us the information about the present economical condition of west Bengal, especially of Kolkata. The inhuman sacrifice of these leading lives has probably been necessitated by this West Bengal’s precarious economical condition, where many chase very few jobs. During a chat at HT in Venice, Sengupta says that this kind of material existence is not exactly rare led by the two people hardly meeting each other or being able to communicate. This could have been one reason why there are no dialogues, as the director himself asserts:
But initially, I did not envisage my work without conversations. There was at least one scene which had them. However as we went along shooting the film, it starts to evolve in such a way that it needed no dialogues to make it point.
Sengupta uses a beautiful elaborate shehnai piece during the making of the title card. This choice of music makes all the sense as the film maintains a melancholic tone. He also uses minimum light in presenting the title card, uses a broken, damped wall for the background. This image of the damped wall is actually the dampness of the state, for this the married couple is suffering a lot. After these, the film proceeds through a series of images which tell everything about the film.
Sengupta’s skilful presentation of different elements like contextual images, background sounds, use of minimum lights, leads us to a different kind of experience where we cannot even feel the absence of verbal dialogues. These elements are represented in such a way that they even appear as characters and they serve to maintain the rhythm of the protagonists’ lives as portrayed in the film.
Every single image appears on the screen in such a way that it seems to be a language expressing the characters’ mindsets. Sengupta and Mahendra Shetty handle the camera and often pan through the house exploring ordinary household objects – cloths hanging, the basin, and kitchen utensils, cooked lunch in the fridge, a household cat who slinks around the wooden four posters bed, table cloth, and lacy curtains fleeing as the ceiling fan is running in a high speed. These household images directly serve the idea that the two protagonists are belonging to a middle class family background. Again the ashy, damped wall of the bathroom of that household actually suggests the dampness state of relationship between the two.
The image of the tower is very important for pictorial presentation of the present precarious condition of the two persons. In this tower scene the background is filled with the bird singing but no birds is actually seen on the screen. So, the tower stands alone. This visualization is actually representing the hollowness in the lives of the protagonists. In the immediate scene after this, the man is introduced, drinking tea standing alone beside the window at his house which suggests that the couple is now separated from each other. As the tower is standing alone, it is waiting for the birds whose singing songs are heard at the background. After some incidents the audience again becomes witness of another tower scene. But in this significant scene, the tower becomes crowed with a flock of pigeons. This scene implies that there may have a meeting between the couple as the pigeons meet the tower. In the next scene, the audience recognizes the man standing at a forest – it is a dream like place and also a kind of fantasy world to him. This image of the forest suggests happiness in the minds of the couple. As we hear a phone ring in the background, we become assure the fact that the call must be made by his partner. The audience who were earnestly waiting now get a sign of relief getting a hint of their mutual communication. In the harsh reality of their humdrum lives, these brief moments make them alive. The couple are waiting for each other; there are certain things that they have to wait for. Hence, when they get a chance to communicate with each other, they become fantasized and their minds filled with happiness and love. Here only the phone ring is heard. As the man does not receive the phone call, the director again prevents his characters to engage in a dialogue.
The image of the setting sun serves to expose the patience of the characters who are eagerly waiting for the day to pass. In this scene the camera focuses on the sun which is about to set. This image of the setting sun gives the sense that the day is about to end. And the focus of the camera for long time gives a sense of waiting to the audience along with the characters. But this sense of waiting does not disturb rather it creates a charming effect in the minds of the audience. Soumitra Chattopadhyay in an interview comments:
There is a sunset, and as long as the sun is setting, the camera continues to look at it just so that we can truly appreciate the sight. And the most amazing thing is that it is presented in a way that is neither disturbing nor repetitive because it is only reflected on screen for as long as the heart is able to adore the charm neither a moment more, nor less.
The background sounds of gong and bell say about the upcoming evening in the city.
In this context another relevant image would be that of the cycle which actually suggests their struggling lives. Every time our male protagonist goes outside of his house, the cycle becomes his only companion. He puts forth a lot of effort to carry his cycle up and down the stairs. Thus the cycle also becomes a witness of their humdrum mundane lives.
The representation of the city Kolkata is very important in the film. The filmmaker represents Kolkata through various images. These images obviously are not depicting the iconic structures of Kolkata – just for the sake of showing it. The filmmaker would rather follow the characters and their immediate surroundings. In Kolkata, there are different parts still like 1950s, these parts of the city are exactly what shown in the film. As Sengupta says, “My film is set about 2008-09… But even now there are parts in Calcutta which still like 1950s and 1960s.” When the evening approaches the city, the camera takes multiple shots of the wires of trams which are reflecting on the evening sky of the city. This sequence of shots shows that the darkness of the evening gradually swallows the city. Again in the background we here the same recession that has hit the city, the conflict between the factory owners and the common labourers. Actually, this sequence of shots shows the present restlessness of the city. These images depict that the darkness is actually occurred due to that economical situation of the state and gradually spreads around the entire city as well as the whole state. This representation of Kolkata is compared with the representation of this city in Satyajit Ray’s Aparajito and with Ritwick Ghatak’s Bari Theke Paliye by Soumitra Chattopadhyay. According to him:
…the first time Apu comes to Kolkata in Aparajito, as a citizen of Kolkata I saw the city anew in that film, or in Ritwick’s Bari Theke Paliye, where I saw Sealdah station which sat next to my house, is a complete new light. This film shows Kolkata in such a manner; with the same kind of beauty; with the same kind of unexplored sweetness.
The time is an important thing in the film. The representation of time is a very integral part of the film. Here, the two protagonists who are waiting for each other are also waiting for the day to pass. And there are certain things that they have to wait for. There are such images which give the sense of waiting to the audience along with the characters. The images of the setting sun and the risen moon give such sense of waiting as the camera continues to look at them. The two people can’t really speed up the time, that’s why they have to wait for. They have to wait for the water to dry on the vessel before she pours the oil for cooking. In the handbag factory, the image of the lift also makes the audience to wait for the exact time as the woman comes out from the lift when the lift stops at its exact place. Hence, the sense of waiting is expressed throughout the entire film and these images depict that not only the characters but also the audience have to wait so that they can also feel the stress along with the characters of the film.
In the very first scene the female protagonist is seen walking through the narrow lane and this scene is packed with several street noises such as, tram bells, car horns, rickshaw horns etc. These sounds show the everyday life of Kolkata and its inhabitants. These background sounds are such a vital part of everybody who had grown up in Kolkata. John and Sengupta present the musicality of life with such ease that it practically becomes another character of this film. The film’s background music and also the presence of some classic old songs add a soothing effect to the film. Again the radio announcement and the sound of the recession in the background signify the present precarious condition of the state for which this married couple is suffering in their conjugal life.
Throughout the entire film the husband and the wife seem serene and content, perhaps resigning their punishing fates. It is only at the end of 80 – odd minutes of the film that the director lets his protagonists meet each other. This scene happens in a fantasy sequence, where they are shown happy and loving. It is set in a dreamlike forest. The image of the forest becomes a mixing of two things – a very deed feeling that they realize and the same time it is visually a contrast to their mundane lives. The forest scene is also like a pre produced commercial image of love. About this scene, Aditya Vikram Sengupta says, “The representation of love as seen in Indian cinema and the feeling that it gave was an extension of my film.” This scene is so fantastic that it makes illuminated to everybody. In this impassioned scene, they show their love for each other with their loving gestures expressing their unspoken love and long cherished desire to each other. After this fantasy sequence, the atmosphere shifts to the real when the woman is about to depart for work. This image tells us about the cycle of their life. Again their facial expressions become calm and serene. The neighbourhood images also become noisy and harsh. From this time they have to wait for the next morning to meet.
In this film the understanding of abstract elements like moods, feelings, and gestures is more important than any other films to express the protagonists’ feelings and desires. As the two protagonists never speak a word, their unspoken desires and love are felt more deeply through their expressions and gestures. And in this purpose Ritwik Chakrabarty and Basabdatta Chatterjee are brilliant in their facial as well as physical gestures which fulfil the director’s motive. Words are spoken when the man goes to buy fish in a local market but the audience just notices his lips moving, body gesture, but they don’t hear any words. In this real world, not hearing any voices does not seem strange but it is quite meditative. Again in the factory scene the woman is seen in a conversation with a man. But we hear no voices as the camera shots from a distance. We just acknowledge their body gestures and their moving lips. The director here uses his camera from a distance to shot this scene because he may not want his audience to hear something, he just shows us what he wants. In the scene when the woman after returning home from the factory takes rest sitting on the bed, the audience again becomes witness of her serene face. This scene is packed with the protesting sounds of the labour movement. So, her pale face and the background sound of labour movement express the condition of their lives and of the city. But could not the couple have got other jobs which would not have been so hard on them? At this time, the city is under threat as the city witnesses several processions due to labour movement. Obviously the man and the woman must have found it hard to find other jobs; ones that would have helped them spend time with each other.
So, in the midst of the dialogue based conventional films of modern time, this film independently succeeds in capturing the heart of the audience without using any kind of dialogues. Sengupta’s story shows that the husband – wife duo work in different shifts and hardly get to see each other. To express such troublesome condition of this couple, the filmmaker does not emphasize on spoken dialogue rather his use of different modes of expressions perfectly manifests such complex situation. In this context we can easily evaluate that Sengupta’s film serves the audience with same kind of pleasure or even more than any other films in this 21st century but using different process of communication.
So, literally the film Asha Jaoar Majhe (Labour of Love) has no dialogue or no verbal language. The entire film is scripted in the forms of images, sounds, music and there are activities along with those. These non-linguistic elements are presented in such a way that they not only serve the director’s purpose but also they even appear as characters and serve to maintain the rhythm of the film. The film is drawn very carefully and artistically and every frame is picaresque. Every moment has been carefully created. In fact this film seems to be seated on the shore of life, simply giving time for it. The feelings and the desires of the characters remain unspoken but not unexpressed. The images and the background sounds along with the moods and expressions of the characters tell the entire thing that the audience haunts for. The film is simple but complex in emotions. Its complexity made through realism whereas it is poetic and beautiful in its simplicity. So, without any dialogue, the film becomes a ‘visual esperanto’ (Braudy and Cohen 1) and delivers a new interpretation of life. Hence, the film is not really confined to a particular family, time, or place; it brings out the very real and everyday story of millions of middle-class people in similar surroundings in the society of Bengal. Every image, every scene artistically explore the desires, the feelings of the protagonists as well as these images show their utter helpless situation in this recession hit Kolkata. There is a lovely delicate old world feeling to these details and the film again taking the viewers back to the cinema of Ray and eventually it itself becomes a realistic film where the irksomeness of the day to day monotonous life has been portrayed brilliantly. Hence, Soumitra Chattopadhyay aptly says, “It reminded me of the kind of film made of our time … Satyajit, Ritwick, Mrinal’s realistic films which touch a nerve in every Bengali’s heart.” The two protagonists Ritwik Chakrabarty and Basabdatta chatterjee have been wonderful in their job. Their flawless acting, well-earned expressions of emotions make it easy for the director to portray what he wants to show. The director Aditya Vikram Sengupta is brave enough in this respect; he not only breaks the conventional mode of film making but also imprints his mark in detailing. He shows that actions speak more loudly than words. Detailing in screenplay, fabulous direction, brilliant acting of the actors make the film immaculate. The absence of verbal dialogues in the film breaks the language barrier which helps the director to make his film reachable to the wider range of audience. Hence, it can be said that this film Asha Jaoar Majhe (Labour of Love) using images, sounds and other non-linguistic elements in place of verbal dialogues itself becomes a language and grandly succeeds to serve its purpose.
Asha Jaoar Majhe: Labour of Love. Dir. Aditya Vikram Sengupta. Perf. Ritwick Chakrabarty, Basabdatta Chatterjee. For Films. 2014. Film.
BFI. “Labour of Love director and producer Q&A | BFI National Archive.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 30 September 2015. Web. 1 August 2018. <http://youtube.be/QwmLVzcJ-zo>.
Bhaskaran, Gantaman. “Why Aditya Sengupta’s Asha Jaoar Majhe has no dialogues.” Review of Asha Jaoar Majhe, by Aditya Vikram Sengupta. Hindustan Times, 5 September 2014. Web. 26 July 2018. <m.hindustantimes.com/world-cinema/why-aditya-sengupta-s-asha-jaoar-majhe-has-no-dialogues>.
Braudy, Leo. Marshall Cohen, eds. Film Theory and Criticism. New York: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.
For Films. “Aditya Vikram Sengupta and Cary Sawhney at the BBC.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 14 October 2014. Web. 3 August 2018. <http://youtube.be/EccvkT6cLYw>.
For Films. “Soumitra Chatterjee talks about Asha Jaoar Majhe/Labour of Love!” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 25 June 2015. Web. 24 July 2018. <http://youtube.be/BcFNQjlTKzm>.
Hudlin W. Edward. “Film Language.” The Journal of Aesthetic Education 13.2 (April 1979): 47 – 56. JSTOR. Web. 25 July 2018. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/3331928?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents>.
About the Author:
Subham Patar has completed his M.A. degree in English Literature and Language from The University of Burdwan in 2018. He qualified WBSET in December 2018 and UGC NET JRF in June 2019.