Bengali returns to the Venice Film Festival

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By ...with calcutta boy’s debut MOHUA DAS
  • Published 25.07.14
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Ritwick and Basabdutta in Asha Jaoar Majhe

After more than a decade, a Bengali film makes its way to the prestigious Venice International Film Festival this year. Calcutta boy Aditya Vikram Sengupta’s Asha Jaoar Majhe (Labor of Love) will be competing at the 71st chapter of the festival in three different categories.

The last Bengali film to be featured at what is one of the oldest film festivals in the world was Goutam Ghose’s Abar Aranye in 2003 after Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s Uttara in 2000 and Satyajit Ray’s Aparajito in 1957 that had won him the Golden Lion.

This 85-minute non-dialogue film by the first-time filmmaker featuring Ritwick Chakraborty and Basabdutta Chatterjee is up for the First Feature Award (Luigi De Laurentiis Award — Lion of the Future) spanning all sections of the festival.

That apart, Asha Jaoar Majhe will also be contesting for the Venice Days Jury Award and Venice Days Public Award. Venice Days is an autonomous section that was introduced to the festival in 2004, modelled on the Directors’ Fortnight of the Cannes Film Festival. Aimed at drawing attention to “high quality cinema… with special care for innovation, research, originality and independence”, Venice Days opens with Korean filmmaking sensation Kim Ki-duk’s latest film One On One. “I had read a short story by Italo Calvino which was about a couple working on opposite sides of the clock, hardly meeting one another. I wrote Asha Jaoar Majhe inspired by that idea and contextualised it. The film is set against the backdrop of a spiralling recession that hit India a few years ago when thousands lost their jobs. But even in the face of adversity we see how this married couple’s love and care for each other is displayed through strange, comforting and little things they do for each other,” explained the 30-year-old.

Aditya studied at St. Xavier’s Collegiate School in Calcutta, graduated from the National Institute of Design and shuttles between Calcutta and Mumbai working on ad films and painting.

What makes the film shot in Calcutta and Kurseong essentially a Bengali film despite the absence of dialogues is “the visuals, the culture and the background of the characters,” says Aditya. “Old Bengali cinema of the ’50s and ’60s is very close to my heart and I miss that today. The only way to get it back is by attempting something of my own. I hope to make people relive bits and pieces of those expressions through my depictions in the film.”

But why a silent film? “It’s not silent. You hear music and the ambient sounds. It’s non-dialogue because I was being honest to the expressions. It was a course that the film took on its own,” says Aditya who is quick to add, “But it’s not an arthouse film nor meant for a select audience. It’s a very basic film with a simple story. Just want people to sit back, relax and watch without any preconceived notions.”

“I like to play a face in the crowd and Asha Jaoar Majhe caught my attention from the time I first heard the story. Not having dialogues wasn’t a problem because the instances flow very naturally. It’s a huge honour for the film to get selected for Venice. It shows that Bengali films are truly going international,” said Ritwick. Asha Jaoar Majhe is produced by For Films, a production company that Aditya started with his wife Jonaki. Sanjay Shah, who was the co-producer for Miss Lovely, is one of the collaborators on the film looking into its international sales and marketing.

Although finding distributors to back offbeat independent ventures continues to be a struggle, Aditya isn’t worried. “People today want to see new forms of expression and I’m sure I’ll find a distributor and connect with audiences all across.”

Aditya and Ritwick head for Venice end-August for the festival beginning August 27 till September 6, their fingers crossed.