The Japanese Wife is a somewhat unusual name for an Indian film. But, it should come as no surprise since it is being made by Aparna Sen, whose path breaking directorial debut was also a film with an English title, 36 Chowringhee Lane (1981) made more than 20 years ago and like The Japanese Wife, it was an English film. Unlike her peers Mira Nair and Deepa Mehta, Sen is rooted in India and gets Indian producers to direct her films. The Japanese Wife is produced by Saregama, which Sen recently joined as creative director.
"It is not completely in English as there is a smattering of Bengali dialect of the kind spoken in the Sundarbans in West Bengal. English was chosen as the principal language to reach a wider audience, that's all," explains Sen when asked, adding, "you will get to hear some Japanese as well," explains Sen.
What sets The Japanese Wife apart from other Sen films is that for the first time in her career, Sen is making a film on someone else' s story. The film is based on a novel of the same name authored by Kunal Basu who teaches Management Sciences at Oxford. "My original plan was to make a fictionalized film of the five trekkers from Jadapur University who died last year in a trekking tragedy. Then during discussions with Kunal, he narrated the storyline of his unpublished work, The Japanese Wife and I changed my plans, deciding to make this film instead," she elucidates.
Rahul Bose says he is playing one of the most challenging and difficult characters in his entire career in films. "I love to work in Aparna's films and consider myself lucky to have been chosen by her to play important roles in three of her films one after the other. In the earlier films, namely Mr& Mrs Iyer and 15 Park Avenue, I did very urban characters. Here, I play something that is radically different not only from the films I have already done, but also in terms of the character I play. I am a rustic, simple schoolteacher who grows from a teenage of 17 to a mature man of 40 and the dimensions are intriguing indeed. I teach arithmetic and am a shy, introvert, and slightly timid young man. I am not bothered about the young widow Sandhya who is my neighbour, yet, I strike up a relationship with a girl I have never seen. The way I read Snehamoy, he is an escapist. He has his Maashi to take care of him where he lives and works, and he has his wife in distant Japan, a woman he has never met, so he does not have to carry the baggage of responsibility that marriage entails. For him, this side of the river, the Sundarbans, offers a safer cocoon than life on the other side of the river, filled with competition, affluence, power, and relationships. He is safer on his side of the river and does not even wish to venture out to the other side. Where can I discover love in all this, tell me?"
What is Moushumi Chatterjee's take on her first film with a person she once shared screen space with? "I play Snehamoy's aunt in the film. She has brought him up. She is like a tender coconut - hard on the outside but soft inside. The character I play is touched up with subtle comic touches and I speak my lines with the typical dokhno accent used by the local people of the Sundarbans. Thanks to theatre person Sohag Sen and her workshops, I have been able to acquire some command over the accent to make it seem credible in the film. Sohag Sen should be credited for having selected me for this character in the first place. I had read the script and had liked it. I even had to gain weight for the role. My only regret is that Rina-di (Aparna Sen) has directed a host of veteran actors. Then why did it take her so long to realise that as an actress, I too, have potential? But she is really, really a wonderful director," she sums up, dressed up in the borderless white traditional Bengali widows wear.
Raima Sen plays another important character in the film. She is Sandhya, a rustic girl who is a neighbour of Snehamoy and his Maashi. She is a child widow but she does not wear widow's weeds. Joysree Dasgupta, a Rabindra Sangeet exponent in her own right, is designing the costumes for this film. She has given a typical rustic look to the beautiful Raima, sari worn Bangla style but tied up at the waist and a little above the ankles in the usual style of young village girls, hair tied up in colourful ribbons without a trace of make-up on her face. "I must thank Sohag Sen for the grilling she gave me in the 25-day workshop before shooting. It is a gift to be able to work in an Aparna Sen film,"she says.
"This film is purely a love story. It does not have any message, nor does it contain a political agenda. Love, I believe, is the only way out of this moral and social decay the world is going through. If this is the message that gets across to my audience, then that is fine with me. But I did not consciously put it there. Love, I think, is the only emotion that can bring back our respect for the values that are getting lost today. It is for my audience to decide whether it is a love story or whether there is a subtle agenda flowing like an undercurrent right through. Then there is the question of the art of letter writing. In this age of electronic correspondence like the e-mail, people have stopped writing letters to each other. But it is such a moving emotional experience. I still feel it has the emotional touch e-mails and faxes can never have,"says Sen.
The film has been shot on an ideal location in a fisherman's cooperative the team happened to chance upon near Kolkata's Eastern Bypass. The producers then put up a complete set costing around Rs15 lakh to set up the entire structure including the house in the middle of a water land and even grow vegetation over time to give it the ambience and look of reality. They have shot some scenes in Japan and there has been extensive location shooting in the Sundarbans, "where is was so hot and humid that you would get completely soaked in sweat the minute you came out of your bath," informs Rahul. Others in the cast are Kunal Basu himself in a brief cameo and Rudranil Ghosh who plays an interesting character - that of a youngster who is obsessed with flying kites. Anway Goswami, from FTII, Pune, is doing the cinematography while Gautam Bose has done the production design. Let us wait and watch for this "modern day fairy tale" to unravel itself on the large screen.
- Shoma A Chatterji