Actor Aparna Sen : In one of her early Films Activist Aparna Sen : With Medha Patkar & Mahasweta Devi at Nandigram Director Aparna Sen : Flanked by Raima Sen & Moushumi Chatterjee
Writing a letter to you is like writing to a family member, whom i've never met or talked to. It is like writing to a distant cousin, the daughter of my mythical uncle, about whom i have only heard a lot from the folklores of my village. While growing up in a village and shepherding the flock, one gets to listen to the heroic stories of an illustrious uncle who dared to leave the countryside in search of a far away land long ago. And who has later made quite a mark for himself by pursuing his passions. Though he might never return to the village, we keep talking about him and his great feats in life. And not just that. When this uncle of ours happens to have a beautiful and intelligent daughter like you, won't our adoration magnify in multitudes? So everytime you turn a new leaf in your life, it adds to the repertoire of our folklore. It has now become almost an obsession, more so, after our beloved uncle's cute, little, sweetie-pie, grand-daughter has started to endear all our hearts to no end.
I grew up reading your father Chindananda Dasgupta's brilliantly written critiques on Indian cinema in the Sunday Express Magazine of the good old Indian Express duing the mid-1980s. It was an altogether different Indian Express when the Gail Wynard of India, Ramnath Goenka, was alive. When Arun Shourie was a worthy journo before metamorphosising into a careerist politician. You won't beleive it, but am still preserving some of those newspaper clippings of your father's articles since my school days. I vividly recollect one of those articles entitled Sculpting In Time, reviewing the book and cinematic works of Andrei Tarkovsky, about whom I am yet to fully comprehend! The contribution of your father Chidananda Dasgupta to the creative spurt in Indian cinema by founding the Federation of Film Societies of India in order to introduce World Cinema to every nook and corner of the country is immense. The two fastidious film critiques who shaped the taste of moviebuffs and whose impact can be felt for decades are your father Chindananda Dasgupta and Iqbal Masud. Indian cinema owes a lot to both of them for eternity.
The protagonist Snehamoy lives with his widowed aunt, after losing both his parents, in an idyllic house at the banks of river Matla in the Sunderbans. Seeing the address from the pen-pals' club in a magazine, Snehamoy writes to a Japanese girl named Miyage while completing his graduation. They become close pen-pals. And start exchanging hundreds of letters, pouring out their hearts, in Bengali and Japanese accented English respectively. Snehamoy joins as a school teacher in the village. Their relationship grows compatibe through the exchange of poetic letters, photographs and small gifts. They keep writing to each other whatever they feel and want to share - from the very ordinary to the most intimate. After many years of such devoted correspondence, Miyage proposes to marry him. Snehamoy broods over it for almost a month and writes back to her accepting the proposal. She sends him a silver ring with her name engraved on it and he sends her a pair of conch-shell bangles and vermillion powder to wear at the parting of the hair. They thus get symbolically married, without meeting each other, even once.
Snehamoy's aunt initially brings home Sandhya as a prospective bride. But Snehamoy is steadfast in his commitment to Miyage, which gradually gains the acceptance of his aunt. Sandhya gets married elsewhere and after a few years, she returns as a widow with a small son Paltu, coming to live with Snehamoy's aunt in the same house, as she is also her God-Mother. The silent Sandhya brings a new rhythm in the life of Snehamoy. His disheveled room in the upstairs gets tidied up and Sandhya's son Paltu becomes fondly attached to him. Paltu discovers the colourful kites sent by Miyage to Snehamoy and Sandhya beats up the boy for opening the gift box in the absence of Snehamoy. Together, Snehamoy and Paltu organise a delightful kite festival in the village. The hesitant Sandhya starts feeling that she is a burden to Snehamoy. She expresses it, while they get back together in the boat, after buying provisions for Paltu's thread-ceremony. Snehamoy chooses to remain silent. This nonchalance evokes muffled whimpers from Sandhya during the very same night. Snehamoy goes to sit near her and gently strokes her head, which lean towards him with a consummate yearning for solace. In a trice, she gathers herself and vanishes into her room. A ruffled Snehamoy loyally reports this incident to his wife Miyage and testifies his fidelity for her.
Upto this first half of your movie, you have woven the colourful threads of myriad human emotions delightfully well. After the intermission, your movie starts to falter so clumsily, much akin to the inability to hold the telephone receiver by Snehamoy, while attempting that long distance call to Migaye. It is not just the telephone line which gets cut abruptly. But it is actually your screenplay which plonks there. I've not read the story by Kunal Basu. But the screenplay adaptation by you flounders in the second half. The manner in which Snehamoy starts running from pillar to post in search of an elixir to cure Migaye's malignancy from divergent systems of medicine and the hackneyed sense of Indian windowhood as epitomised by the triad at the end of the movie are grossly affected. Not to say about the redundant contextualisation of time through a discussion about fax and internet with a PCO operator and the television images getting beamed in the saloon and the clinic. They are too trite. Poor Snehamoy is forced to keep his conjugal vows by masturbating in a parked boat so as to rest on his oars till he breathes his last. Thou shalt not spell out such a feminist retribution, Aparna!
In spite of these essentially script-oriented flaws, you have chiselled out on celluloid the lost innocence of an era in all its pristine glory and grace. An era when people intensely communicated through letters and anxiously waited for the bell of the postman's bicycle. The theme of your film somehow reminds me of Michael Radford's Italian epic movie Il Postino based on a fictional account in the life of Pablo Neruda. Your film would remind the upcoming generation that human beings can actually be good, simple and true. Without enrolling into any of the spiritual superbazars or indulging in any mental gymnastics. Just be naturally and spontaneously caring. Our contemporary life has made these fundamental attributes a rarity. In such testing times, your movie The Japanese Wife would stand as a testimony on humanism. The cinematography, music and casting are splendid. Your artistic finesse to make the river, the boat, the bicylcle, the umbrella and the cat speak their own languages is marvellous. The refusal to take money by the cart-puller, who drops the Japanese Wife at home, touchingly captures the instinctive goodness of the village folk. The background score resonating the calls of various birds of Sunderbans, including that of Aakkaatti, enriches the authenticity of cinematic experience. Yet another interesting beauty of your movie is that, never once in any of these passionate letters, the much maligned phrase I Love You, is explicitly expressed. Your movie is a nostalgic tribute to the art of letter-writing and to the fast waning simplicity and innocence of human relationships.
Thank you for being what you are.
Hope to get much more from you in future.
With Warm Regards,
Movie Rating : 9 out of 10