I have been devouring movies over the weekend, now that the elective I used to offer in IIM Bangalore on Saturdays is over, save the fifteen term papers I have to evaluate. The last two days have been particularly rewarding- “The Japanese Wife” on Friday night followed by “A Single Man” on Saturday. Both these films would now rank somewhere near the top when it comes to compiling my list of the best romantic films. They are suffused with such tenderness and ripe with such vivid imagery that I am finding it difficult to disassociate myself from some of the scenes that play again and again in my head. They are like poems captured with a camera.
Aparna Sen has this thing about endowing her characters with the right accent. So we had Jennifer Kendall doing a great job with the Anglo Indian diction in “36, Chowringee Lane” and then of course the otherwise talented Konkana Sen Sharma hammed it up as Mrs Iyer. Her Tamil laced English accent was more caricature than Mylapore. However both Rahul Bose and Chigusa Takaku get it right as the school master from Sunderbans and his Japanese wife. The quaintly worded 645 letters between them fly fast and breathless through the entire course of the film; tender and increasingly pathos ridden as the story progresses.
Imagine the suave and urbane Bose declaring over the phone to his wife that he struggles with his spoken English, but when it comes to writing he can pass muster thanks to the dictionary. The poignancy of the scene illuminates the innocence on his face with a strange glow, so much so that even a hardened cynic like me felt a lump in my throat. There is another gem. It has Raima Sen transforming herself from a timid widow to a self assured companion while on a shopping expedition. Inside the “cheap rice hotel,” she pushes her plate of fish curry towards her patron. “They haven’t realised I am a widow,” she remarks quietly and manages to pack an entire social commentary in that one statement. Sen is such a natural and only Bengali directors seem to have recognized her talent. What a pity that Bollywood is stuck with Katrina Kaif, Sonam Kapoor and Deepika Padukone.
The film ends with a shot of both the Indian and Japanese widow in the room of the dead school master and you know instinctively that the director is hinting at yet another love story. The acting is uniformly first class, but it is Moushmi Chatterjee as the loving aunt who manages to outshine all the others. The film, as all good films must, speaks a universal language but those who can understand Bengali, like yours truly, have an edge. It is easier to get into the sub text.
“The Japanese Wife” without doubt is the best film made by Aparna Sen, a rare treasure to be cherished for decades. I initially borrowed a copy from Habitat but after watching it, bought the DVD for my private collection. It is a film I would want my son to watch when he grows up.
“A Single Man” is based on a literary masterpiece by Christopher Isherwood just like “The Japanese Wife” derives from the delightful short fiction by Kunal Basu. The film has been directed by a first timer who is a designer by vocation. It is an intimate work, mostly confined to the interiors and yet one of the most aesthetically conceived and shot film in recent times. Colin Firth as the grieving middle aged gay professor makes you privy to his pain and anguish like he is your best friend and you have known him for years. By the time the film ends, the grief is all yours. Such is the empathy the actor develops with the audience.
Julianne Moore is also very good as the fag hag, lusting over an indifferent Firth. But for me the two characters who lingered on were the guileless Nicholos Hoult as the earnest graduate student who adulates his professor and the Spanish model Jon Kortajarena who makes a brief appearance as a hustler. They are both jaw droppingly handsome and have stunning screen presence. Kortajarena preens that he resembles James Dean in one of the many memorable moments in the film. “You look better,” Firth tells him and of course he is right. Some of the aesthetics of the film I am raving about owes to these two good looking actors.
Watch both these films. Go grab them from the nearby DVD store.