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Review Bengali

Jonaki review: A story woven through visually stunning, dream-like snippets

Release Date: 25 Jan 2018 / 01hr 30min

Cinestaan Rating

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Suparna Thombare

Director Aditya Vikram Sengupta experiments with the visual form to depict an 80-year-old woman's decaying memories.

Jonaki is a visually rich film that plays out like a collection of paintings that tell the simple tale of a woman's search for love through a dream-like portrayal of her decaying memories.

Every scene is carefully constructed with detailing of light, frame, colour, texture, movement of characters and placement of props. Incidentally, the name of the art, costume and production designer of the film is also Jonaki. She is Jonaki Bhattacharya.

Partly inspired by his grandmother's life, Aditya Vikram Sengupta tells the story of an Anglo-Indian woman named Jonaki (Lolita Chatterjee) who found love but lost it.

While her strict and conservative mother (Ratnabali Bhattacharjee) is keen to get her married into a good family, her father (Sumanto Chattopadhyay) is obsessed with his scientific research, neglecting his family and even his own deteriorating health.

Jonaki's hope of uniting with her one true love crashes when her lover (Jim Sarbh) goes off to war and she is married off to a rich, older man. Her marriage is cordial, but cold. The lack of love and fulfilment in Jonaki's life and her decaying memories are reflected in the sombre lighting and colour schemes and the dilapidated setting of her home.

The story itself isn't very unusual, but Sengupta's choice of experimenting with the visual format sets the film apart. He communicates mostly through visuals, using muffled conversations in the distance on occasion, and dialogues only when there is no other way to depict a particular plot development.

While filmmakers normally cast young artistes and age them as their character grows older with makeup and prosthetics, Sengupta flips the experience by casting an 80-year-old as the protagonist, Jonaki, from 19 to 80.

This could be a handicap, as you don't get to experience the fragility of her young years, but it is also a novel experience to feel not through the character itself but in context with its surroundings and the whole image as seen in the picture frame.

On many levels Sengupta seems to be indulging himself as he creates dream-like scenes, and the surreal play of light and colour feels like a call back to the Impressionist era.

The dilapidated buildings, quaint interiors, candles, oranges, toy soldiers, cake, a wedding dress veil and many others are used as symbols of love, pain and decay to fulfil Sengupta's cinematic vision. The background score is kept minimal so the focus stays on the visuals.

Sengupta, who is also the director of photography along with Mahendra Shetty, uses wide frames to capture the neatly laid out props and designed movements of the characters.

The visual beauty of the film is awe-inspiring and the experimental narrative leaves it to your perceptive abilities to make what you can of the dream-like snippets unfolding in front of your eyes.

Jonaki was also screened at the 14th Habitat Film Festival at New Delhi's India Habitat Centre on 19 May 2019.


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