FIRST LOOK: THE JAPANESE WIFE (Bengali Film) BY APARNA SEN
Aparna Sen’s much-discussed film, The Japanese Wife, has finally been scheduled for release on 9th April. Mainly in English, the film is based on a novel of the same name authored by Kunal Basu, who teaches Management Sciences at Oxford. “My original plan was to make a fictionalized film of the five trekkers from Jadavpur University who died in a trekking tragedy in 2006. During discussions with Kunal, he narrated the storyline of his then unpublished work, The Japanese Wife and I changed my plans, deciding to make this film,” explains Sen. Her fans have been waiting for more than two years for the public release of the film.
For the first time she has made a film based on someone else’s work. She has shot in a foreign locale, Japan. She chose a foreign actress, Chigusa Takaku to play the title role. She has shot in virgin areas of the Sundarbans, offering a landscape most of us have never seen before. Rahul Bose has played the main male lead. He has played Snehamoy, a simple, rustic schoolteacher who grows from a teenage of 17 to a mature man of 40 and the dimensions are intriguing. He teaches Arithmetic. He is shy and introvert, a timid young man. He is not bothered about the young widow Sandhya (Raima Sen) their neighbour who has a small son. He strikes a relationship with a girl he has never seen.
FTII graduate Anway Goswami is D.O.P. Joysree Dasgupta, a noted singer who won the National Award for her song in Sen’s Paromitaar Ek Din has designed the costumes. Others in the cast are Rudraneel Ghosh and Kunal Bose (the author). Saregama have produced the film. They put up an Rs.15 lakh set a 150-feet distance away from the Eastern Bypass in Kolkata.
“The film is a love story. It does not have any message, nor does it contain a political agenda. Love, I believe, is the only way out of this moral and social decay the world is going through. Love, I think, is the only emotion that can bring back our respect for the values that are getting lost today. It is for my audience to decide whether it is a love story or whether there is a subtle agenda flowing like an undercurrent right through. In this age of Faxes and e-mails, people have stopped writing letters to each other. But it is such a moving emotional experience. I still feel it has the emotional touch e-mails and faxes can never have,” says Sen about this film where a simple Maths teacher from a village in the Sundarbans falls in love with a Japanese girl he begins to correspond with.
Sohag Sen, a noted theatre person who conducted workshops with the actors before shooting began, says, “Every film needs a different treatment. But this time, I was a bit uncertain about the city-bred Rahul Bose and Raima Sen because they were cast in characters that live on the fringes of the Sundarbans. But they are excellent actors ever willing to learn, so I found it a cakewalk, thanks to their sensitivity and their willingness to soak in every bit of training they can.” Raima explains how gruelling her part of the workshop was because she had to gain some command over the Sundarbans accent, and had also to train in housework such as sweeping the floors, washing vessels, taking care of her child, etc. “But I learnt a lot at the end of the day and loved working under Rina Mashi’s direction,” she says.
Rahul Bose, now firmly entrenched into the world of Bengali off-mainstream cinema, says, “I love to work under Aparna’s direction. I get totally involved in whatever I am doing be it rugby or my welfare work with the poor children of Andamans. Snehamoy, on the other hand, is an escapist. He is not prepared to fight life’s battles. He is aware of the rat race across the river on the other side. He feels safer on this side, the Sundarbans. Earlier, in Mr.& Mrs. Iyer and 15, Park Avenue, I did urban characters. Here, I play something that is radically different.” He concedes that Snehamoy is the most complex character he has played in his career.
“I play Snehamoy’s Maashi in the film. She has brought him up. She is like a tender coconut – hard on the outside but soft inside. My character is touched up with subtle comic touches and I spoke my lines with the typical dokhno (derived from the word dakshin, meaning ‘west’) accent used by the local people of the Sundarbans. Thanks to Sohag Sen’s workshops, I could acquire some command over the accent. I am grateful to Sohag for having selected me. I liked the script. I even had to gain weight for the role,” says Moushumi Chatterjee. “Rina-di is a wonderful director. I acted with her in Kodi Diye Kinlaam more than a decade ago. The Japanese Wife is the first film I have done under her direction. As she is an actress herself, she has an edge over other directors who have never been actors,” she sums up.
Shoma A. Chatterji