Lovesongs -Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow is one more English language film that adds to the new roster of Bengali cinema using English as the lingua franca. Based on a story by the director himself, it marks the return of journalist-poet-author Jayabrato Chatterjee to filmmaking after 22 long years. He stepped into direction in 1985 with Kehkashaan starring Victor Banerjee, Mallika Sarabhai and Girish Karnad. In between this film and Lovesongs, Jayabrato has made not less than 50 documentary and training films, short features and telefilms for NGOs in India and Bangladesh in the areas of disability, women's empowerment and education for slum children. These films have been critically acclaimed at foreign film festivals and seminars in Cairo, London, Toronto, Melbourne, Sydney, Singapore, Dhaka, Stockholm and Zurich.
“You cannot really call it an English film per se because it has two traditional ghazals penned by Mir Taqi Mir besides Tagore’s famous Ekla Chalo Re which I have translated myself. The film has seven beautiful songs, two in Hindustani, one a Bengali lullaby and the rest in English. I asked Usha Uthup to write the musical score and this will mark her debut as an independent music director. The film reflects the melting pot of languages that Indian society is accepting. Also, it is a language that can claim a much wider audience in India and abroad,” says Jayabrato. He is the second Indian writer after Dom Moraes to have won the Hawthornden Award in Scotland for his first novel Last Train to Innocence in 1995. So it is understandable that he would choose to base his film on his own story. “An international audience reach is of course another viable reason for making the film in English. I want to break the idea that English is the undisputed property of the British people. One has to accept that in Indian metros, though we all have our mother tongues, we continue to pepper our talk with a lot of English,” Jayabrato elaborates.
Love Songs, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow centers on 64-year-old Mridula Chatterjee (Jaya Bachchan) She is an independent, cheerful, fun-loving widow who runs an NGO for disabled people in Kolkata. The film opens with Mridula preparing for the visit of her grandson Rohan (Prithviraj Choudhury) from Bangalore where he studies law. He lands with girlfriend Tara (Doel Basu) in tow. But that is no surprise because Mridula already knows Tara as the daughter of Ketaki (June Malliah), her favourite student. Intrigued by his grandmother’s past, Rohan eggs her on to dig into memories she had not cared to bring out. Her memories flash back into the late sixties, when she was in college and the ambience was a blend of the beginnings of the Naxalite movement, poetry and idealism. She was in love with Aftaab Jaffrey (Om Puri) who she could not marry because of the difference in their communal identities. Her parents hurriedly arranged her marriage with Shomdeb Sen (Rajit Kapoor), a corporate man. But the man died soon after leaving her to bring up their only daughter Palaash (Shahana Chatterjee) single-handedly. Her relationship with Palaash, a crooner in a band that performs in Park Street, marks a disturbed layer in her life. Palaash is forever insecure about her wayward drummer husband Dev (Neil Bhoopalam) and this is a point of emotional stress for Mridula and Palaash and their interrelationship.
The film is woven through Mridula’s unspooling her past to Rohan and Tara which turns into a process of deep introspection and self-discovery, helping her to understand the choices she had to make for Rohan and for herself. She tells them how she happened to encounter Aftab Jaffrey when many years later, she was researching the lives of the Santhals. She discovered that his wife Rabia had become an alcoholic, causing their marriage to become very unhappy. The twist in the tale comes towards the end of this narration, as the film moves back and forth from the present to the past and back to the present. Can she perhaps begin life afresh with Aftab? Can she survive the tragedy life suddenly confronts her with?
When asked to relate his experience as a filmmaker, Jayabrato says, “Filmmaking is a very expensive effort. I, as the leader of the creative team, give it direction. I like to sit with my actors and explain each and every nuance of the character they are playing. Then I leave it to them to interpret it. With newcomers, I often act the sequence out so that it becomes easier for them to understand the scene. I love dialogue improvisations. And Jaya-di is a past master at making any written dialogue come alive with spoken nuances and silences pregnant with meaning. It was an honour working with her, Om Puri and Mallika. As actors of the highest caliber, they gave their best. And as sensitive, compassionate human beings, they left their indelible impression on my film, which I will always cherish.”
“In brief, it is a story about how ordinary lives suddenly change due to extraordinary circumstances and how, the fragrance of love is so deep and so all-pervasive, that it continues to light that single candle of hope in the darkness of even the greatest tragedy,” Jayabrato sums up. Jayabrato’s company Inner Eye Communications Pvt. Ltd. is jointly producing Lovesongs and Sunil Doshi’s Handmade Films while Adlabs are financing the film. Soumik Halder, a FTII graduate, is director of photography, Partha Burman is sound designer and Sujay Dutta is editing the film. Sayan Mitra has designed the costumes while the production design has been handled by Jayabrato himself and his wife Shubhra.
Jayabrato’s daughter Shahana, who has a Masters from the University of East Anglia in Theater and Development, is making her debut in her father’s film. The father is agog with excitement when it comes to talking about the talented daughter. He says that she has done a great job, especially in the scenes with Jaya Bachchan who plays her mother in the film. Jayabrato says that he expects to get 50 prints doing the rounds in India. The film is targeted for the multiplex market, as it will appeal only to a niche, urban audience. Lovesongs, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow is expected to get a nation-wide release in December-January.