Labour of Love does not follow the typical tools of cinematic narration
Having won two National Awards, the FEDEORA Award for Best Film by a Debut Director at the Venice International Film Festival and various other accolades, Labour of Love (Asha Jaoar Majhe) is all set for a theatrical release on June 26.
Filmmaker Aditya Vikram Sengupta, an alumnus of National Institute of Design, shares the experience of making and distributing his debut film that is all about love.
What is the core theme of Labour of Love? What inspired you to make this film?
The core theme of the film is ‘love’. It is inspired by a short story by Italo Calvino and is set against the backdrop of a recession in Kolkata where people are rapidly losing their means of livelihood. The two central characters of the film are also faced with this constant struggle to save their jobs. So on one hand, Labour of Love revolves around their strained routines but on the other it also shows the calmness with which they deal with the unpredictable circumstances of life.
What is the visual treatment that you have adopted for this film?
Labour of Love is a form oriented film where the narrative is depicted through an unconventional and distinctive combination of sights, sounds and silences. It does not follow the typical tools of cinematic narration but attempts to move the narrative forward through things that are shown rather than told. The film has been shot at real locations and the attempt has been to capture the essence of these locations in the truest way possible. What takes the narrative forward is a unique depiction of these everyday scenarios that are seemingly mundane and so often overlooked.
Since the film has been shot in Kolkata, have you’ll also tried to encompass the beauty of the city in your visuals?
Although the film has been shot in Kolkata, the story is universal. Being set in Kolkata, the city features prominently but it has been depicted in such a way that the feelings it evokes reflects the mood of the film and its protagonists. There has been no attempt to depict it superficially, only what is essential to the narrative.
Tell us about the casting process of the film. How and why did you zero in on Ritwick Chakraborty and Basabdutta Chatterjee?
We wanted actors who were as real as possible in the context of the film’s protagonists. Ritwick is an experienced actor who has an amazing ability of adapting to unconventional roles and characters and for the woman’s role we auditioned numerous women but although a newcomer, Basabdutta stood out and was perfect in every sense of what we were looking for.
Did you have any special rehearsal method for the cast of the film?
The main thing I wanted from my actors was not to act. I wanted them to behave normally in front of the camera, live the spaces, the silences and experience the moods. I didn’t want their thoughts to influence the viewers at all. So the character sketches were designed in a way that they do not become strong characters. The actors in this film are merely bodies that allow us to live and experience their lives. We might get hints of how they could be feeling, but not exactly what they are feeling.
What is the kind of expertise did cinematographer Mahendra Shetty brought to the film? What was your brief to him for the visual composition?
Before we began filming, Mahendra Shetty and I spent a few days just discussing and jamming on what I wanted from this film. During this period, we exchanged ideas, discussed my influences, looked at references, immersed him in Kolkata and Bengali culture and overall worked towards building an understanding. We visited the locations several times and composed and carefully rehearsed each shot. This process helped us form an almost telepathic bond and I cannot imagine anyone else bringing my vision alive in such a true and cohesive manner as he did.
Was it easy to acquire funding for Labour of Love? How did the association with ‘Salaam Cinema’ happen?
It was challenging to raise money for the film as is for any independent film. After facing innumerable rejections from several producers, my wife Jonaki and I decided to produce it ourselves under our company ‘For Films’. We put in all our savings and also sought help from friends, relatives and investors to finish the film.
I first showed an assembly cut of the film to producer Sanjay Shah of ‘Salaam Cinema’ sometime last year. He showed a lot of enthusiasm in the vision and expressed his interest in developing it and working on its marketing and distribution strategy.
Was the selection of the film at the Venice International Film Festival anticipated? Was the film made keeping a world cinema perspective in mind?
We were definitely hopeful of being selected for Venice but did not anticipate any such thing. The film was not made keeping a specific world cinema perspective as such, however my filmmaking sensibilities and influences could be considered within the realms of “world cinema”. I draw a large part of my inspiration from early Bengali cinema which has always held a special place in the annals of world cinema.
In addition to Venice, the film has traveled to various festivals and won several awards. How has this given a boost to the entire project?
Our journey has been amazing and we have learnt a lot of things by going to these festivals. We have met wonderful people at these festivals and the awards have certainly given us a boost. But it has not really helped distribution or anything. The film getting recognition and awards is different and distribution is a completely different game. Yes, for our international sales, the awards have helped a lot. And it also helps create hype.
How significant would you say is festival recognition for an independent film?
For any film, I think it is very important.
You are distributing the film under your own banner, ‘For Films’. Did you’ll approach any other distributors as well? Having won two National Awards, did the path to a theatrical release become any easier?
We are doing a very small distribution and not looking at hundreds of screens across the country. So we don’t need a distributor for the kind of targeted distribution that we are doing. It’s something that we can handle ourselves and hence we are doing it under our banner.
(About the release becoming easier) No no, people were in fact more scared to release it because it has won the National Award (laughs). Distributors have told me that a National Award means a slow, boring film. On a serious note I think last year has been amazing for indie cinema in India. I have one simple belief; things won’t get better if your film isn’t good. What you are creating has to be good to begin with. Films are getting better which is why the scene is getting better.
The distribution business is quite a challenging one. What was your approach?
It’s very simple actually. We just called up the cinema halls – INOX and PVR. We presented the film to them, they asked us how many shows we wanted and it’s as simple as that. There is no complication.
If you are looking at releasing a big film across hundreds of screen, then you probably need an organization to organize all of it – the money needed to pay for the prints, posters, marketing, etc. But the scale of our film is small and the process is very simple. Anyone can distribute their own film. The only thing that came along with it is few expenses that we had to incur.
In this entire filmmaking process, what were your learnings?
To begin with, I really feel that the fact that we didn’t have money and struggled to make the film was a boon in itself. It teaches you how to be planned, focused, really meticulous about the entire process, which is very important and is lacking in high budget films. People should plan very well and shouldn’t be carried away by equipment and technology because it isn’t important. One should know the image that he wants and it is attainable with whatever you have. These are the things we learnt. We learnt how it is most important to be honest and love what you are doing. At that point of time, don’t think about anything else but that little emotion you’re trying to express. And the more unadulterated your expression is, the more people it will reach out to.
One reason why Indian audiences should watch your film?
This is a film for people who are willing to experience a different kind of storytelling and experience a different time in cinema, time in the sense – people are used to very fast storytelling, they get very impatient. My film is about a wait, about a longing and the audience is almost made to participate in that wait. So people who have a flair for that, who can just take life as it comes and give it that time, and want to experience the beauty of time, can give this film a shot. It will be a very new experience in terms of how a story is told through images and sound.
What projects are you currently working on?
I’m currently writing another film, which is why I’m in Kolkata. It explores my relationship with the city where I grew up and it explores the confusion and alienation that I feel with this city. It’s a very personal tale that expresses my memories, my dreams and the pain & happiness and everything else that I share with the city.