A long-distance love story between a man and a woman who have never met is difficult to interpret on screen in an age when racy Bollywood staples call the shots in popular entertainment.
But going by the eight-minute sneak preview into the making of The Japanese Wife, a bilingual movie based on author Kunal Basu's short story of the same name, filmmaker Aparna Sen of Mr and Mrs Iyer and 36, Chowringhee Lane fame seems to have pulled it off quite well.
"It is an intangible love story and at one point I wanted to change the last sequence. I even told Kunal about it, but then I changed my mind and let the movie follow the book," Sen told IANS. <b1>
The movie will be ready in March, says the filmmaker.
"But first it will do the festival circuit and then will hit theatres in October," Sen said.
The Japanese Wife is a lyrical love triangle between a Bengali mathematics teacher Snehamoy Chakrabarti, who tutors students at the Shonai Secondary School in the Sundarbans (India's largest mangrove forest) and the two women in his life - his Japanese wife of 15 years, Miyage, whom Snehamoy has never met and Sondhya, a widow who was chosen as his child bride but married elsewhere.
The teacher and his Japanese wife live out their marriage in letters, thoughts, gifts and occasional telephonic conversations in broken English. Blessed by Snehamoy's aunt, Sondhya returns to live with him after being widowed with a child.
Do short stories make good cinema? "Yes, they are much easier to adapt into movies. Right from the start, I felt that Kunal's story had stunning cinematic potential. It was delicately etched like a Japanese painting," said Sen.
Rahul Bose, Raima Sen, Moushumi Chatterjee and Japanese actress Chigusa Takaku star in the movie while the author makes a cameo appearance.
"When Kunal first narrated the story two years ago, I felt it was an improbably haunting love story and decided to make it into a film. But then I asked Kunal how did the two - Snehamoy and Miyage - get married? How do I tell my audience that they are married?
"Kunal replied, 'Why it's simple. She wrote to him one day that I offer myself to you as a wife and after dilly-dallying for a month, Snehamoy agreed. And wrote back saying so'."
Thus began a 15-year liaison, "a new zone of creative era" in Rahul Bose's words "where people did not have to meet to maintain a relationship".
Asked about the process of making the film, Sen said: "A wonderful experience full of anecdotes and the challenge of shooting in the Sundarbans during rain and even a squall for a sequence at the end of the plot when a storm strikes Snehamoy's village.
"But I had to resort to computer graphics for a kite-flying contest between Snehamoy, his foster son (the widow's child) and the local villagers."
The movie begins with the ceremonial arrival of a box of Japanese kites that Miyage sends Snehamoy on their 15th wedding anniversary.
The filmmaker says she enjoyed initiating Chigusa into the character.
"We had hired an agency and chose her after auditioning 12 girls. She is a sensitive woman and an intuitive actress. Hence, she got a feel of the character quickly enough," she said.
The hitch, laughs Sen, an accomplished actress herself, was the fact that Chigusa could not "round her tongue into a whistle and then combine the s and the n in a soft hiss to pronounce Snehamoy. So, Snehamoy remained Senamoy for Miyage throughout the movie. We allowed it to be so because it sounded natural."
The part of the film featuring Miyage's life was shot extensively in a remote farmhouse in the hills of Japan.
"It did not require much of research, just the right locations," said Sen.
But what about the other woman? "Kunal had left her without a name in his story. I named the widow Sondhya. Raima as Sondhya shared perfect onscreen chemistry with Rahul. Both are shy and refined and suited the characters well. Rahul particularly was wonderful in the movie," said Sen.
The filmmaker, who is winding up production work, was in the capital Monday to launch the book The Japanese Wife.
Asked about her fresh plans, she said: "Let's see what I do next. I have a few projects in mind."