Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Japanese Wife : A Lyrical Epic On Celluloid, Almost!

Model Aparna Sen : Photographed by Brian Brake in 1961
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

Dear Aparna,

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.

Your accomplished acting skills in Satyajit Ray's Teen Kanya and Mrinal Sen's Ek Din Achanak were alone seen by me. What a remarkable transition in a span of three decades! You had performed remarkably well in both the films. I became an ardent admirer of yours after watching your maiden directorial venture, 36 Chowringhee Lane. I could not get to see your Paroma, Sati, Yugant and Paromitar Ek Din. Out of these four, I am very eager to watch Paroma and Paromitar Ek Din, which are being critically acclaimed. Your 15 Park Avenue is an interesting attempt. But the most lovely one which you have directed next to 36 Chowringhee Lane is Mr. & Mrs. Iyer. It is an amazingly subtle film on the mutual care and affection between two human beings, against the communal backdrop of Hindus and Muslims in post-Independant India. I feel like watching it again and again.

Now let me recapitulate the latest film directed by you, The Japanese Wife.

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


  1. Bad experience of road and LSD still haunting my memory yet u relentlessly coming with an another review of a flim directed by 64 year old female director with your usual ownchildhood fantasies and anecdotes...

    Since u have wasted my sunday as well as yours i gotta guilt if i wont spare a little time for u..
    After reading ur review it becomes vivid that bengali cinema(i know its hindi) still struggling to find a way out from its streotypic melancholic melodrama..

    I remember those days where i used to watch regional language flims in doordharsan on sundays..THE JAPANESE WIFE still finds a place there...
    caution for random musing followers: THINK TWICE BEFORE EXPERIMENTING...ONCE BITTEN TWICE SHY.

  2. I've seen da movie. It's like a haiku - simple & beautiful. U'r blog has added a mesmerising charm to it. It has been a long time since i read an elegant & comprehensive critique on a movie like dis. Keep it up. I wish Aparna Sen gets to read it some day. She wud be delighted.

    Though u've given an excellent rating to da movie, u've been unfairly critical of da second half. Da theme of da story compels it to be like dat. Wat u've pointed out as da flaw in da script may be true. Aparna Sen cud've transcended da limits of da short story of Kunal Basu. But how far can one go in modifying it?

    The earlier commentator by name Vivek seems to be suffering from an itch to pass sweeping judgements without even watching da movie. If he'z not able to enjoy ROAD or LSD, then there'z no redemption. Da gentleman is too sure dat its a Hindi movie. Intelligence has its limits, but sheer stupidity doesn't. I wud suggest dat u shud moderate u'r blog for posting da comments instead of allowing such free flow of unqualified muck.

    Aparna Sen is one of da brilliant directors of India. It requires a good pedigree & upbringing to acquire such an artistic sophistication. I consider her PAROMA to be a much greater film than MR.&MRS.IYER. Don't miss it.

    She'z currently completing ITTI MRINALINI, which wud be released before da end of dis year. She has also acted in it along with her daughter Konkona. Let'z wish dat to be her magnum opus.

  3. After the fiasco of LSD (rating 8 of 10), one has to be circumspect in going by your ratings. It can set your purse back by 150 odd Rs plus the torture of those memories flashing again & again. It is like the product may be good, but if it is Made in China, one has to be very cautious. I even feel that if Aparna gets to read your letter, she would get overwhelmed by the manner in which you have described the first half of the movie. It might be an eye opener to her also. She would see things in her movie for the first time. And if she is sensitive enough, she would withdraw the movie from the theatres after reading your critique of the second half. By the way I think generally all those going by the surname SEN are visually quite sensitive. Suchitra, Moon Moon, Raima, Ria except for say Sushmita, who is like a lion amongst deers. That is besides the point. I would suggest that you first rate a movie then go for moderation, considering your propensity for the extreme. If nothing, it will save our money and your blog!

  4. When two philistines pontificate about a movie without even seeing it, then they can only be blessed to get rid of their ignorance sooner!

  5. Chris, there is no pontification here. No critique of the movie either. Neither of Aparna. Fun is being poked only on Sathya's propensity to rate highly what he likes. Anyway I accept your blessings. Acceptance is the key. Whether of blessings or opposite. Of all kinds of views. Sounds too philosophical. What to do. Please accept it. In case you don’t, I have already accepted your non-acceptance.

  6. Beautiful write-up like the movie!

  7. Its a bizarre and facisinating blog!

    Its a different blog by which you have inspired me! The person who attracted us by their achievements and the things we wonder about them should be expressed to them through written statement is a way to reach their hearts. The letter was very nice and attracting!

    You are a very good visualizer! As I had seen initially from the film "My name is khan" upto this " The Japanese wife".

    As i was intent read about that story it was like as Iam seeing it visually.But after the interval I am eager to know the remaining story. This story shows the value of love that emerge from heart..

    It gives me a immense pleasure to watch this movie. Hope, I will see it soon.

    Each and every blog of yours, provoke us to know about everything that you have published.

    I wish and pray that your dear "Aparna sen" will read your letter in future..

  8. Sathya Sir
    Well written review ...Looking forward to watch this movie.
    Umasan from Bangalore.

  9. #ChidanandaDasGupta, a famous Bengali filmmaker, film critic, film historian and one of the founders of Calcutta Film Society with #SatyajitRay was born on 20thNov. Let us all pay your #heartfelt #tributes to him on

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