A woman snored away to glory. Two boys laughed out aloud. A couple couldn’t stop making some inane comments. And some people clapped to applaud the director with the ending of the last scene. This is testimony to cinematic literacy in the country.
Labor of Love does not have a single piece of dialogue between the characters. Yet, one could almost cry witnessing the protagonists’ moments of togetherness. Yet, the movie has one of the most evocative uses of ambient sound, music and background score. The plot does not entail anything more than capturing the daily routine of a middle class working couple in Kolkata. Yet, the film has one of the most emotional and dramatic script. This is testimony to the fact that Indian cinema is qualitatively equivalent to the best of world cinema.
Editor, writer, director and cinematographer, Aditya Vikram Sengupta has created magic on the silver screen through a balanced and blended mix of visual storytelling. The major thrill of inventing the camera was the possibility of capturing people and places of real life. Sengupta has gone back to rekindle that primal pleasure with this film. Based in Kolkata, Labor of Love captures the repercussions of the shutdown of the jute mills on the personal life and love of a single couple. The deteriorating physical reality and the oppressing psychological reality has been showcased by literally following the characters’ actions from morning to night.
Labor of Love goes back to the basics and captures the fundamental elements of existence- time and space. The filmmaker strings together a carefully sequenced series of shots based inside the house, the printing press (where the husband works) and the bag warehouse (where the wife works) to communicate the stillness of space and the passage of time.
The emptiness of the space of the house is important because that marks the physical separation that the couple has to bear through in order to keep their respective jobs. Ironically, the wife who works in the day and the husband who works in the night are conjoined precisely because they share this same space. The absence of the partner marks his or her presence as well. The kitchen where she cooks the food using the fish from the fridge bought by him to prepare food he will eat later in the day is a point in case. The four poster bed, which is occupied by him in the afternoon and by her in the night is yet another symbol of their isolated and united existence. Household objects become invested with emotional value as they become objects of care and endearment. The towel hung out to dry, the metal box where they store money, the house keys cleverly hidden and the incense sticks are points in case.
It is time that acts against the loving couple. The time when recession has hit them. The time when fellow workers are either revolting or committing suicide. It is the passage of time that each has to endure in order to survive. This psychological experience of time is captured through the natural rhythms of nature- setting of the sun, drying of the clothes, return of the birds at dusk, evaporation of water in the vessel, fizzling out of the foam in a bucket. Time is also experienced through the use of ambient sound- the peculiar sound of the bird in the morning, the calls of the vendors in the afternoon, the alarm bells in the evening. The sounds form an indescribable whole and yet communicate the distinct sound of the space and time.
Just when one gets used to this unfolding of natural time and space before the camera, the filmmaker creates a surrealistic scene marked by soft colors and out of focus, dreamy setting of the woods. It is in this space and time that the solitary husband is joined by the wife; the scene is extremely romantic and overwhelmingly emotional because it is after almost 24 hours that these few moments of bliss are allowed to this pair of lovers. It seems almost unreal that plagued with monotony, recession and banality; the husband and wife make it all worth it for their togetherness is sacred and filled with faith and optimism.
It is this domination of joy over the larger grief-stricken context that leaves the audience with the final feeling. And this marks the triumph of both the protagonists as well as of the filmmaker- the ability to cinematically communicate the power of human will and power. Life is after all seeking the love in all the labor.