About Indian Private Life

in 16th Dhaka International Film Festival

by Gulbara Tolomushova

This film is about the deficit of personal space in the densely populated city of Mumbai. A newly   married couple finds it impossible to find any privacy in the city, not even for an hour. The lead character is a motor-taxi driver Shukla, but his mother prefers to call him Manu. The family of Manu belongs to the highest caste of Brahmans in the Indian social segregation. As is known, the Brahmans are quite an honorable part of Indian society and also associated with its highest spiritual state. Although, as the director of the film makes us aware, Brahmans have lost their bygone power, they nevertheless, continue to live with the feeling of their own dignity and supremacy in relation to representatives of other castes.

The family consisting of a mother, a father, a sister, Manu himself and his wife Lakshmi, live in a tiny room, which simultaneously serves as a sitting room, a kitchen, a bedroom and there is also a straight passage out to the yard. Two-storey constructions of huts circle the small yard. The thirty-two years old Shukla has never really communicated or interacted closely with women. He only admired celluloid variations of starlets on the four-inch display of his mobile phone. When his mother sets up a marriage for her son with a wonderful young girl Lakshmi, whom he has never met before, he and his new bride are left one-on-one with the commonest of social problems that face 55% of married couples in Mumbai: the lack of experience in relations with the opposite sex (Shukla is 32. Lakshmi is only 18).

Added to this, the newlyweds live side by side with the parents in such overcrowding, that they find it impossible to even talk privately to one another. The father sets up two old suitcases on the floor in order to separate the couple from his sleeping parents, his sister, a mobile phone and a city with a million eyes.

With the advice of a friend, Shukla gets a room in a hotel for two hours just to talk to Lakshmi and to court her. He offers her presents. The girl is amazed that her husband somehow found out that she likes to draw and that he has brought her pencils and paper. But the date has ended as soon as it begins because an employee of the hotel has informed the police about a secret meeting of a young couple who supposedly hardly know each other.

The leading male role is played by a wonderful Bollywood actor  Saharsh Kumar Shukla who in recent years has played several supporting roles in many renowned films, and his status in Bollywood is rising all the time. For all the other actors is it is a first time screen appearance. The director Siddhartha Jatla graduated from the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), in Pune city, which is in three hours drive from Mumbai, the former Bombay, where Bollywood is located. Jatla is 33 years old and is a professional cameraman, having first learned to film on 35 mm cameras in Pune but has now shifted to digital media. He works in Bollywood and, as I have understood, has filmed his full-length feature debut “Love and Shukla” serving as its screenwriter, director, cameraman, editor and producer, working with his own money.

As to Mumbai, it is still the most overcrowded city in the world (18 million inhabitants) but before watching “Love and Shukla” I hadn’t even thought about what kind of social, psychological and other problems people of this huge metropolis encounter every day. But Siddhartha Jatla has lifted the veil of the delicate part of Indian private life, which is the relationship of young married couples, who as a result of strict upbringing are loyal to the conservative traditions of their community even in the rapidly moving and globalised twenty first century. The values of respect to parents, to each other, and to fellow men in general are still highly regarded. In addition to the fact that Shukla is already 32 years old and he never was close to a woman, the most surprising thing for me was his reverent attitude to his spouse, whom he invited for their first date to a hotel. He is not thinking about putting her to bed, on the contrary, he is trying to find threads to communication, for she had not uttered a word in the paternal house. He wants to know how she feels about him, what kind of image she formed about him. The girl is stressed, and then the man is agitated.

It will take many such days before the spouses become friends, when they will realise that they are interesting to each other; Shukla finds out with joy that Lakshmi is rather an outgoing person. The film is about how people, whom fate has united into a family, are trying to learn the art of being together. It is hoped that politeness, delicacy and tact in their relationship will remain forever.

Edited by James Evans