Love in Crisis
TLR Rating: 8 1/2 Reels.
When the evergreen Bengali actress, Aparna Sen took her place behind the camera in 1981 for ’36, Chowringee Lane’, few had expected her to excel. True, she had effectively started her career with Satyajit Ray’s ‘Teen Kanya’ and starred in ‘Aranyer Din Ratri’ and ‘Jana Aranya’, but her directorial credibility was still under question. A National Award later, her doubters were forced to rethink. There was a lady who could perhaps hold on to the legacy set by the Terrific Triumvirate of Ray, Ghatak and Mrinal Sen. Aparna Sen never looked back from then. ‘Mr. and Mrs. Iyer’ entered the theatres in 2001 and was her second film in English. The selection of the language as English was necessary, as the entire story dealt with people hailing from various communal backgrounds with different dialects. Aparna Sen was meticulous enough to ensure that everyone spoke with their regional accent. The movie was shown in various film festivals all over the world, one among them is Locarno International film festival in Switzerland.
Aparna Sen came up with the background of the film after the incidents of 9/11 and 2002 Gujrat riots. The time frame was set after the attacks on the Parliament of India on 13 December 2001. The film is all about the journey of two strangers belonging from two different socio-economical culture in the midst of communal turbulent times, who fell in love with each other amongst all differences. It is humanity after all, that rises despite various obligations. The music of the film was composed by the Indian tabla maestro, Ustad Zakir Hussain. The picturesque cinematography was taken care of by Goutam Ghose, who was a noted film director himself.
The story begins with Meenakshi Iyer (Konkona Sen Sharma) bidding goodbye to her parents and leaving for her in-law’s home in Kolkata. She had a nine-month old son with her, so her parents requested Raja (Rahul Bose) who was introduced to them by a common friend of theirs and is travelling in the same bus, to take care of her. Raja turned out to be a quite reserved with a strong personality and a wildlife photographer by profession. The bus contained a mixed crowd – a group of enthusiastic youngsters, an old Muslim conservative couple, two Sikh guys, a mother with her mentally challenged boy, and a group of young adults who were keen on playing cards. Aparna Sen tries to bring out the diverse nature human beings from all classes of people. The movie continued, showing everyone busy in their own works and enjoying in their own manner. With the baby Santanam understandably bored and frustrated with the rickety journey in Meenakshi’s lap, she faced difficulties in handling him, much to the ire of her fellow passengers. Raja was a man of his word and steps in to help and the peace reigns again. But the peace was short-lived, as the bus was blocked in a riot. An unknown gang of rioters had cut off the road in an ongoing communal battle. Circumstances forced Raja to reveal his name to Meenakshi- Jehangir Chowdhury – a Muslim by religion. Meenakshi was shocked to know that and repented for drinking water from his bottle. A Hindu mob attacked the bus and threatened to kill all the Muslims travelling by the bus. The Jewish guy, Cohen (Anjan Dutt) pointed to the Muslim couple to save himself while Meenakshi prevented Raja from disclosing his identity. She kept her child on his lap and introduced him as her husband and thus saved his life. The stark contrast between the behaviors of the people is shown here. Being an orthodox Tamil Brahmin, she hates Raja, but somehow in the hour of need, her call for humanity responded and subdued her call for prejudices. At the same time Cohen, just to divert the mob’s attention from him (A Jew, and therefore circumcised), pointed to the Muslim couple. None but a young girl came forward to stop, but was assaulted ruthlessly and none protested. The camera captured nicely captured the reaction from all the passengers. The frailties of a human mind, the tiny acts of compassion and the black side of selfishness rising out of fear were the subjects Aparna Sen dealt with in this horrifying sequence.
With a curfew being declared all over the place, the passengers were unable to move anywhere and had to spend the night in the bus itself. The next day with the help of a police inspector, Raja and Meenakshi, now posing as a couple, found a forest bungalow to stay. In the midst of all difficulties, she still remembers that she was a married woman and so she compelled Raja to stay outside. But on the next day when she was not able to find him, she cursed herself for saving him. But she soon repents for her behavior on finding him. Slowly they turned into friends, and to move on with the acting as “Mr.” and “Mrs.” Iyer, they even had to cook up a love story to answer the questions of the girls who were very curious to know how they fell in love with each other. During their stay in the forest bungalow, both Raja and Meenakshi developed a bond between them, a bond which can’t be explained by them; they cared for each other despite of their communal differences. The story end with the parting of Raja and Meenakshi, even though they were able to board the train safely with the help of the inspector and returned safely to their places, there is a silent pain in the hearts of both the persons. Meenakshi’s eyes are filled with tears. The only way those golden moments amidst terror could be remembered was through the roll of film which Raja put in her hand before he was swallowed by the crowd. The faintest hints of love were left unspoken in the cacophony of the hollering passengers and blaring mike announcements.
Mr. and Mrs. Iyer is a simple but powerful story. There are few scenes which really made people think how people lose their rationality becomes the enemy of humanity, one when the Muslim couple is killed and another that shows the agony of the child crying outside the burning house. But Sen’s film will always have some extraordinary elements, can a lady with a baby in her laps, fall in love? Yes, such twists do happen in her scripts. The scenes involving riots were shown in much underrated fashion, just to avoid controversy, but yet they leave an imprint in our minds. Both Konkona Sen Sharma and Rahul Bose put in an excellent performance. Both the characters brought into light the thought process of two educated persons in different context – one being liberal and other more conserved. Aparna Sen captured a seemingly impossible love story with some beautiful moments; the ‘family’ playing with the camera in the woods and when ‘Mr. and Mrs. Iyer’ reminisced about their made up story on their journey, in the train. Love triumphed in the Hindu-Muslim fight, both blazing and internal.
The film was awarded with many nominations and it even won many of them. At the ‘International Film Festival’ of Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, it won the ‘Gold Prize’, awarded to the best film screened that year. It also won the ‘Golden Lotus Award’ for best direction, the ‘Silver Lotus’ Awards for best actress, the best screenplay, and the Nargis Dutt Award for Best Feature Film on National Integration at the 2003 National Film Awards ceremony. The movie deals with socio-political conditions but it even better explains the human characteristics under certain trying circumstances. ‘Mr. and Mrs. Iyer’ is worth a watch certainly.