Directed by Aditya Vikram Sengupta, the Indian film Labour of Love (2014) tells the story of a young, middle class couple who tries to survive during a recession in Calcutta. The narrative takes place over the course of one day and creates an innate visceral experience. Labour of Love had its world premiere at the 71st Venice International Film Festival, where it won the Fedeora Award for Best Director of a Debut Film.
Starring Ritwick Chakraborty as Man and Basabdatta Chatterjee as Woman, Labour of Love centers on a couple’s organized life. Upon separating, they are connected by home objects and don’t actually speak throughout the film. Hence, Man and Woman become quite relatable as stand-ins for every individual who tries to get by in the so-called City of Love. The expertly staged mise-en-scène and the calibrated editing, handled by Sengupta himself, allows the audience to engage with the film in a concentrated and intuitive way.
Labour of Love’s tactile images stealthily create a visual symmetry that triggers memories of absence. The sun sinks slowly in the sky, rice tumbles into a container and water evaporates in a hot pan. The main characters calmly wash clothes, shop for food and pray at a home; they sleep, travel and eat alone while carefully saving money. These moments are deliberately paced and highlight the slackened rhythms of the couple’s lives. In this context, it’s worth mentioning that during the initial days of shooting, Labour of Love was filmed by cinematographer Mahendra Shetty, but he left the production midway and Sengupta took over. In the process, the director brilliantly matched the visual continuity of his previous cameraman.
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As mentioned, there is no dialogue during Labour of Love’s 85-minute runtime. However, the sporadic use of slogans capture the turbulent nature of early 2000s Calcutta. The soundtrack consists of ambient music, and there is a sharp contrast administered through the diegetic usage. City sounds are meticulously blended with the delicate humdrum of domestic noises, such as a ceiling fan, soap bubbles, fish frying, floor-sweeping and the voices of neighbors. The absence of words thus becomes a metaphor for a city on the verge of a transition; a symbol of emotional alliance.
The music in Labour of Love forms an intrinsic part of the narrative. Firstly, the film begins and ends with the music of the Shenai, which provides a sense of marital bonding between the two characters, as the music is widely associated with weddings in Indian culture. Secondly, Labour of Love features the popular Bengali song “Tumi je amar, ogo tumi je amar,” which plays midway through the film as the Man prepares to leave for work while the Woman makes her way home. The evergreen classic song by the late singer Geeta Dutt and composer Hemant Kumar suggests a romantic bonding, however only in fantasy are the main characters together.
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What comes to the fore in Labour of Love is the difference between hearing and listening, as the audience’s ability to judge the quality of a film is dependent on both auditory and perceptive functions. Labour of Love subverts narrative expectations and asks the viewer to find beauty in the normalcy of life. The silent moments highlight the mundane and quotidian activities of the two principal characters, and the absence of a conventional narrative structure only amplifies the moments of stillness and imbues the drama with purpose.
Dipankar Sarkar is a graduate in film editing from the Film and Television Institute of India and currently based in Mumbai. As a freelancer, he frequently contributes to various Indian publications on cinema-related topics.