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Missing the quiet for the noise

It is with a sense of disquiet that I read Mayank Shekhar's review of Aparna Sen's The Japanese Wife (So Japaneezzz, April 10). The critic trashes the film as “an affected bore”, “slow as hell” and one whose “script sucks”, writes Sharmila Tagore.

india Updated: Apr 16, 2010 23:34 IST

It is with a sense of disquiet that I read Mayank Shekhar's review of Aparna Sen's The Japanese Wife (So Japaneezzz, April 10). The critic trashes the film as “an affected bore”, “slow as hell” and one whose “script sucks”. One can disregard the factual error that he makes in describing the protagonist’s aunt (Moushumi Chatterjee) as his mother, but one cannot allow narrow personal opinion to masquerade as serious film criticism.

The Japanese Wife is an unusual love story. Snehamoy (Rahul Bose), an arithmetic teacher living in the Sunderbans has a wife in Japan. Their marriage emerged out of their pen friendship and became the mainstay of their lives over 20 years during which they never met. Meanwhile, all other relationships in Sneha's life — including the one with a young widow and her son who live in his house — are mediated by his relationship with his Japanese wife. The languid and ordinary life of Sneha is gently animated by this extraordinary fact. More so, because Sneha lives in an isolated hamlet powered not by regular electricity supplies but solar powers and generators. There is not a cyber café for miles. There is life ‘elsewhere’ whose glimpses can be caught on stray TV sets but not on Sneha's side of the river.

The slowness — which the critic so derides — is the rhythm of life here. The vast open spaces of the Sunderbans call for long passages of silence to depict a world far removed from the world we inhabit, a world that accentuates the protagonist’s loneliness as much as it influences his whole world view. This pace — which almost emerges as a character in the film — serves to remind us of a rhythm we have lost in the frenetic delirium of our urban lives.

The reviewer’s incredulity about the plot hinges on his inability to understand why the protagonists do not resort to quicker communication through phones, SMSs and Internet chats, preferring instead to “tuck sheets of paper into white envelopes”. Perhaps, this is exactly the point the film tries to make — that in the impersonal banality of our contemporary modes of communication, we may have lost the intense personal connect of handwritten letters.

To answer the critic’s query about why there is no poetry in the letters, let me suggest that the poetry lies in the fact that despite the seeming impossibility of their passion Sneh and Miayge hold on to a way of life when the world beyond them is changing irretrievably. Where is the need to look for poetry in what they write? They are not poets; they are two ordinary individuals. The poetry lies in the utter simplicity of what they communicate, entirely devoid of artifice, unspoilt by that scourge of modernity: cleverness. And it is to the director’s credit that she refrains from giving the protagonists any poetic halo that would only distract from their essential natures.

Then there is the inept summing up of Miyage’s intentions in the following words, “She couldn’t care less about meeting ever.” Did the critic miss the point that she has an elderly and ailing mother to care for? That it is her sense of selfless loyalty that triumphs over her own personal desire?

I take his contention “that the script sucks” with more than a pinch of salt. In fact, if anything, it is a very demanding script that moves in the realm of the ineffable, the world of the mind and heart.

It is a testimony to Aparna Sen’s grasp of the cinematic language that she succeeds in creating an unforgettable and moving tribute to the human spirit.

Sharmila Tagore is the chief of Censor Board of India.