Technically, Labour of Love is a Bengali film. But actually, this debut film by Aditya Vikram Sengupta, transcends all spoken languages and makes a voyeuristic camera a powerful spokesperson.
Initially, the camera tests your patience. A very slow downward pan on a wall with credits rolling in, hints at the somber and calm mood of a long and silent narrative. It doesn’t care about the discomfort of silence.
The camera pauses on the most mundane sights: a melted soap cake, oil simmering in a pan, wet footprints until they dry. At one point, the frame is still on an entire sunset. But it is this very relentlessness of the camera and the director, which ultimately sucks you into a day of a life of a middle class couple.
What seems like just any day, unfolds into a story that shakes you with its deceptive slumberous approach. Deservedly, Labour of Love has won several festival awards, including one in Venice and New York.
A news announcement on a blank screen has informed us of a recession backdrop in Kolkata. Mill workers are on a protest march and their slogans heard off screen, are the only words spoken in the 84-minute film.
There are two pivotal characters in the film, and we are shown bits of their life.
The camera follows the back of a woman in a sari, as she walks fast through narrow spaces between building walls. The first sound heard after what feels like an eternity, is the sound of a tram. The woman reaches a busy road and takes the tram. The camera settles in on her face, as she looks out of the window. The play of sunlight catches her calm demeanor.
We do not know what she is thinking or feeling. She eats something, gets off the tram, crosses the road and takes a bus. Soon she is rushing through the corridors of a building where a bell rings, adding to the urgency of a workday at a leather handbag factory.
Simultaneously, in cross cuts, we see a man drink his tea in his home. He goes about the daily routine of taking a bath with limited water in a bucket and a broken, melted soap. After finishing certain other household activities of going out, buying some fish, encashing a small cheque at a bank, the man returns home and tries to sleep. It is at this point that a certain action displays the director’s eye for detail in the mundane.
The man realizes the fan is too fast and gets up to change the speed. Later when the woman is seen on the bed, also alone, she gets up to increase the fan’s speed.
This humdrum of a mundane life in a middle class household couldn’t be captured better. The transition of the day, shown by the smoothest shot of the woman coming up a staircase, displays great skill in direction.
Here's a couple caught in the drudgery of making a living at a time when the uncertainty of a job is driving people to suicides. Their deliberate calm exteriors, refusing to reveal the inner world, is evocative of millions of people who brave very challenge with quiet acceptance.
So you watch the man wake up at night and start his own. working day at a printing press; and the woman return and cook that meal which he eats when he is back.
Do they ever meet? Watch Labour of Love for its smooth unfolding into a beautiful and surreal ending, which makes the entire story unforgettable in a hard hitting reality of a couple’s life affected by a city’s economic crisis and social milieu.