The first thing that strikes about Aditya Vikram Sengupta's debut feature, Labour of Love, is its wonderful silence. In an India which is bombarded with the noisiest of sounds, this work - shown at the ongoing Venice International Film Festival - has no dialogues. Yes, it has musical scores in the background, but not many.
Helmed with sheer lyricism, Labour of Love or Asha Jaoar Majhe is about a young Bengali couple living in a recession-hit Kolkata, their humdrum middle-class existence filled with monotonous jobs and punctuated by meal breaks and sleep. They never meet each other. For, the man works at night in the printing press of a newspaper, and his wife during the day in a handbag factory.
With Ritwik Chakraborty as the husband and Basabdutta Chatterjee as his wife, the movie chugs along sporting only two characters, the tedium of their lives coloured by the couple's love for each other, which is exemplified through her cooking and his washing up.
This inhuman sacrifice - of leading lives without meeting each other - has probably been necessitated by West Bengal's (Kolkata is in this state) precarious economic situation, where many chase very few jobs.
It is only at the end of 80-odd minutes of the film that director Aditya Vikram Sengupta lets his protagonists meet. But this happens in a fantasy sequence, where they are shown happy and loving. At other times, for much of the movie, the husband and wife seem serene and content, perhaps resigned to their punishing fates.
During a chat with HT at Venice, Sengupta says that this kind of marital existence is not exactly rare - lives led with the two people hardly meeting each other or being able to communicate. This could have been one reason why there are no dialogues in Labour of Love.
"But initially, I did not envisage my work without conversations. There was at least one scene which had them. However as we went about shooting the film, it started to evolve in such a way that it needed no dialogues to make its point," said Sengupta. He then found it unwise to break the rhythm of the movie by imposing that 'talking scene'.
But could not the couple have got other jobs which would not have been so hard on them? Labour of Love is set in the Kolkata of 2008-9, when the city was in the throes of a severe recession. Obviously, the man and the woman must have found it hard to find other jobs, ones that would have helped them spend time with each other.
Sengupta's movie was inspired by a two-page Italian short story, Adventures of a Married Couple by Italo Calvino. There has been one other film on this, an 11-minute short, The Adventure of a Married Couple by Iran's Keywan Karimi. This is also, like Labour of Love, a poetic variation of the Calvino story.
A website write up on the short movie said: "Trapped in daily repetition, between the frenetic sound of a glass bottle factory and the guarding of a shed filled with naked mannequins, a young couple meets at evenings. They eat without looking at each other, not even speaking".
While Karimi offers the couple at least a chance to meet, Sengupta is harsher. His couple do not see each other at all. Or, at best, one fantasises about the other.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is covering the Venice International Film Festival)