The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, March 16, 2003
Lead Article

Love in times of communal hatred
Ervell E. Menezes

Rahul Bose and Konkona Sen in Mr & Mrs Iyer
Rahul Bose and Konkona Sen in Mr & Mrs Iyer

THE best love stories on celluloid are narrated against the backdrop of war. Waterloo Bridge, starring Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor, is a prime example. The uncertainty of the future brings out the poignancy of love and though Mr and Mrs Iyer isnít a war-time movie, the mini-war or communal riots which form the backdrop are no less stunning or heart-stopping. It is also very relevant today in the light of the saffronisation programme gaining much momentum accompanied by the politics of hate. "There is no war in my country, not yet --- but the communal riots that have torn it apart in recent months have been no less violent, no less ruthless," says director Aparna Sen, whose debut film was 36 Chowringhee Lane a couple of decades ago. And hence the catchline: "Love in the time of violence", with apologies to Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It is a simple story of two dissimilar persons thrown together in a crisis and how they react when death stares them in the face.

On a bus that descends on a narrow, winding hilly tract is conservative South Indian Brahmin Meenakshi Iyer (Konkona Sen Sharma) and her nine-month-old baby Santanam and wildlife photographer Raja Chowdhury (Rahul Bose). Meenakshi is a Hindu and Raja a Muslim. They are introduced to each other by a common friend so that the man can help the woman on the journey as she was travelling alone with a child. The bus passengers are an assortment of characters, from an elderly Muslim couple, a cranky middle-aged woman to a group of collegians on a holiday.

The establishing shots are good and give the story a headstart. That Meenakshi and Rahul are drawn together is purely a matter of convenience. But when the bus is attacked and Meenakshi saves Rajaís life by saying he is her husband Mr Iyer, Raja is indebted to her. Still, it isnít for a difficult, culture-conscious South Indian Brahmin to get along with a modern, near-liberated Muslim and though the rough edges keep rubbing every now and then, it could pass for the normal skirmishes in any married coupleís lives.


That the couple has to spend time in the forest endows the film with dramatic relief but lines like "dew dropping on the leaves.. itís the most soothing sound in the world," is typical of the esoteric Bengali. It somehow seems out of place in a crisis situation. Then the chatter with the collegians is needlessly prolonged. But thankfully, most of the violence takes place off-screen and cinematographer Gautam Ghose (one of Indiaís promising young filmmakers in the 1980s with Paar to his credit) does an excellent job capturing the picturesque outdoor locales. The handling of the tension may not be as adequate though it surely provokes thought. There are a few flaws but still it is a fairly absorbing love story in which the two leading players contribute much to the success of the film.

Rahul Bose is excellent as the hero, who, in spite of himself, falls in love with Meenakshi and his change of mood is quite convincing. He is fast becoming a leading English actor on the parallel domestic cinema circuit. Konkona Sen Sharma, Aparnaís daughter in real life, gives traces of her motherís talent and is brilliant in essaying the typical South Indian but at times she is a wee bit stilted. Zakir Hussainís music is a bonus in this rather watchable (despite its flaws) film.

The same cannot be said, however, about Slap Her, Sheís French , which is clearly a C-grade American movie centred on a rich, spoilt kid Strala Grady (Jane McGregor) and her obsession to become a TV star and host the Good Morning, America show. Another thing sheís proud of is her Texan origin, the land of President Eisenhower and other lesser known celebs, even though she has never crossed the state border. But all that simplicity is soon overcome when French exchange student Genevieve LePouff (Piper Peraboo) pulls the rug from under her feet. How she goes about setting things right for her takes all of 93 boring minutes of very predictable but far from funny anecdotes and flat one-liners. Director Melanie Mayron seems to enjoy the cheap humour and dishes it out in large insufferable and sitting through it calls for stoic endurance and giving your grey cells a complete holiday. May be the slap is directed at the wrong person.