Friday, September 03, 2004

Mr. and Mrs. Iyer
Aparna Sen's Mr. and Mrs. Iyer starts quietly in a bus journey down a meandering hillside that brings together a diverse group of passengers.

The camera pans between rows to build up a quick snapshot of the characters and soon (if you're Indian) you see almost every kind of person you have met in the long bus journeys and train journeys that are so common in India - a bunch of college-students, and elderly couple, a newly married couple, a group of friends playing cards and Mrs.Iyer travelling with her one year old child, Santhanam.

Mrs.Iyer, whose father has asked Raja, who is travelling to the same destination to help her, soon finds that she needs Raja's help to keep the child occupied when he cries, when she needs to get his food ready.
The passenegers are all asleep when the bus is stopped because communal riots have broken out following the murder of a person by a person of another community. Curfew is declared and the passengers are asked to stay aboard the bus.

The tension is palpable as fire-brand wielding Hindu fanatics board the bus in search of Muslims. All males are asked to prove their Hinduness. The college student is forced to drop his pants, many Hindus pull out their sacred threads. In a sickening act of cowardice one of the card-playing men points out the elderly Muslim couple to the fanatics and they are led out of the bus.

Zakir Hussains's music adds to the defining moment in moving from quiet strummings to a roaring crescendo.
Sen plays on the dynamics between an orthodox South Indian woman and a cosmopolitan Musilm Bengali.Whenever the camera strays from the characters it's to depict the ways we are surrounded by the effects of communal hatred. Sen goes on to build upon the trust that develops between Mrs.Iyer and Raja as they are caught in a cauldron of hatred.

As the army moves in to take control of the affected region, the couple are offered a passage to the railway station and soon they are speeding away towards Calcutta. The realization that this journey is going to end the fragile relationship built with a mixture of trust, love, hope and humanity is a scene that could have been mangled by a director with a heavy hand, but Sen's deft hand sees it through.