Golden rule of silence

A unique take

In this age of high octane films, music and dance routines and dialogue-heavy Indian films, a silent film would seem unusual indeed.

 But Kolkata-based Aditya Vikram Sengupta has decided to take that path for his debut feature film Labour of Love (Asha Jaoar Majhe). The film has earned him the award for the ‘Best director of a debut film’ in Venice Days, an independent sidebar of the Venice International Film Festival.

The honour and the standing ovation by the audience left him “speechless”, Sengupta admits. Especially since his film, unlike other Venice Day entries, lacked a strong marketing strategy. “We simply didn’t have the resources,” he says.

Unexpected acclaim

Since the expectations were rather low, the team was filled with happiness because the award is a great impetus for them to move ahead. “It vindicates that the path I chose, making a statement through the strategic use of silence as a communication tool, was the right one,” Sengupta says, adding, “I also wanted my audience to participate in the film by trying to guess, and understand, the interaction between the two characters. I didn’t wish my characters to impose on the audience.”

But why a silent film at this age? Isn’t it going back to the past, one would naturally wonder. According to the director, it is a silent film so far as the characters’ way of communication goes, but there is a lot of ambient sound.

“As such it’s not the silent films we experienced during the silent era where there was no soundtrack at all.” In the film, at times, notes of old film songs float into the frame from the radio.

The film deals with two characters — a young man and a woman — who are never identified by their names. The setting is in the crumbling segments of Kolkata. The protagonists are getting crushed in the recession, their lives are in a limbo. Culturally, ethnically, visually, the film is ‘Bengali’. “I knew that if I was going to make a silent film, it had to be an expression of my Bengali mindset, my roots, my linguistic identity. My actors are Bengali too and it was easier for them to identify with my demands than pan-Indian actors,” he says.

However, Sengupta reveals that making his debut feature a ‘silent’ one was never a conscious choice. “It happened organically as we, as a team, got increasingly involved and the film developed a life of its own, stripping the need for dialogue; we felt we shouldn’t disturb it in any way.”

For example, there is one scene where the girl is talking to someone but the sound of a factory in the neighbourhood drowns her voice.

But to tell a love story without dialogue would seem quite difficult. The director disagrees: “I have seen that communication between people in love can be done without the use of words. We see and read about it everywhere, but are not conscious about it. I have tried to create expressions of love through mundane things in life. Did my mother actually demonstrate every day how much she loved me? It came across through small actions showing how much thought and care went behind each action, all achieved without the use of a single word. I want my audience to see how love can be expressed by two people without having to speak at all.”

Forging ahead

Sengupta, however, does not come from a ‘film’ background. He studied at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, later worked at a TV channel making promotional films and quitting, he started painting and exhibiting his art works. Eventually, he started freelancing as an ad filmmaker and animator to earn a living.

 Then encouraged by his wife Jonaki, he decided to make films. “I wished to venture into films because I felt my artistic training — graphic design, painting, etc are intricately linked to cinema, which is a rich visual medium challenging one to toy around with the form and content,” he says.

Raising funds was the biggest hurdle they faced. They knocked on every door, but in vain. Eventually, they managed after Sanjay Shah who produced Miss Lovely stepped after the first edit.

The makers will now travel with the film to the London Film Festival, followed by a screening at the Busan International Film Festival. Labour of Love is the only Indian film competing for the Sutherland Award in London given to the first feature film.

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