Reviewing a movie can be a humongously subjective thing. Taste of audience can vary between the extremes – otherwise how would one after another trashy, star-studded Bollywood movies, panned by critics all around, become huge box office hits.
There is though a simple way to gauge how good a movie is – did the movie satisfy the purpose for which it was made? A Shahrukh Khan movie, for example, is made to entertain his legion of fans, filled with shots of the camera caressing over his chiseled body as he dances around with the hottest, newest things in the B-town and contains plenty of homage and jokes with reference to his past, successful movies. If you look hard, you may find a story in between. It is unlikely to impress anyone who is not already impressed with Shahrukh Khan. Nonetheless, the purpose of the whole endeavor is not to make a great, or perhaps even a good movie. It is thus patently unfair to compare such a movie with a slow artistic movie which has a different kind of audience and different kind of purpose.
The question of whether the movie manages to fulfill the purpose which it intended to becomes even more relevant for an experimental movie like ‘Labour of Love’ (‘Asha Jaoar Majhe’ in Bengali). The movie is basically just a montage of camera shots showing a day in the life of two individuals with no dialogues in between. The premise (this is strictly my own opinion, I do not know what actually was going on inside the director’s head) is simple – Is it possible to hold the attention of the audience over the length of a standard feature film (roughly one hour and twenty five minutes) just through a collection of images largely shot inside a room, a wafer thin but delicate storyline, hardly any cinematic drama and no interference from dialogues?
The answer is largely yes. It is not an unqualified ‘yes’ and there are points in the movie, especially in the beginning, where one may be expected to have a general sense of what-the-hell-is-going-on at the slow progress of the story. But the movie starts gradually growing on you, throwing one after another image of the daily life of a typical lower middle-class Bengali couple in times of great economic difficulty. The shots are mostly beautiful, some of them (like the camera capturing a setting sun or a number of birds on a lamp post getting disturbed by a moving train) exquisitely so. The movie meanders along slowly, capturing all the loneliness of the lives of the protagonists along the way, as it prepares the audience for the climax.
One may, however, have some issue with the climax. It accentuates the dream-like, hypnotic surrealism of the movie, but in my opinion, fails to do justice to the premise. The climax forms an important part of the movie since barely anything happens elsewhere in the story. It is also easier for the director to insert some drama here since for the rest of the movie, he does not have any story to play with. Unfortunately, the climax does only a middling job and is a disappointment considering the exalted standard raised by the rest of the movie.
The background music is very basic. This may have been an intentional choice made by the filmmaker. On the other hand, one feels that the background music may have enhanced the experience of the movie, especially in the climax.
The surrounding sounds of an everyday life in North Kolkata are, however, captured with great panache and they brilliantly complement the detailed visual experience of each shot.
A common complaint against the movie may be that it is too long. After all, with a threadbare story to tell, the whole exercise could have been wrapped up in half an hour, at the maximum. I disagree. May be a short film made on the same lines would have come out as a better product. But then again, this would have defeated the whole purpose of making the movie, which was to find out whether a movie of this kind can hold the attention of the audience for the standard runtime.
Overall, I liked the movie. But would I recommend it to someone else? I do not know.
As I said, this is a delicate, experimental movie that may not make not make much of a sense to a large number of moviegoers. Watching the movie is an intensely personal experience. But if you are prepared to have some patience, the movie may end up surprising you.