Director: Sanjoy Nag
Cast: Soni Razdan, Pankaj Tripathi, Aahana Kumra
Streaming On: Zee5
Mithi Kumar is so lonely that she falls in love with a voice. If she were younger, a voice might have meant anything – an author’s prose, an actor’s rage, a politico’s promises, a lover’s idealism, a penpal’s humour. But for Mithi (57/F/Kolkata), there is no room for perception. A voice, for her, is literally a voice. She hears it every morning at Howrah railway station during her long commute to her office. Everyone else hears it, too. And so she writes hopeful, thoughtful letters simply addressed to: “Announcer”. Her words are private and his, public. In her head, he sounds like a kind man. In her head, his voice is guiding her – “you’ll be late,” “wear that cardigan,” “avoid the ticket-checker” – just like it guides scores of hassled passengers to the right platform every day.
Her letters receive no reply, but she doesn’t really seek him out at the station either. Maybe she wants to keep the mystery alive; it is after all the only thing that gets her out of bed and into a rickshaw, train and boat across town to a workroom full of lethargic Bengali men. Loving a stranger is perhaps just her way of living less like one.
Much of Yours Truly, based on an Annie Zaidi short story and quietly directed by Sanjoy Nag (Memories in March), unfurls with a rhythm that allows us to ruminate on the psychology of isolation. And to recognize that loneliness, in acute cases of advancement, isn’t a choice but a condition. She’s in her kitchen, on her verandah, across the street, below a staircase…walking, watching, perspiring, hurrying, washing. We don’t just live in the mind of this woman, we secretly fear it. Her ancestral home has no television set or bookshelf, which kind of explains why her interpretation of companionship is original but delusional – the kind of absurd situation that romantic movies and literature derive their roots from, rather than vice versa. It also explains why Mithi doesn’t think of herself as a “crazy cat lady”; on the contrary, she adopts a puppy for company, for dependence, for unconditional affection. As a result, Mithi is positioned as the reality that fictitious “isolation poems” like Her and The Lunchbox stem from. At one point, the man’s voice (Vinay Pathak’s tragically naive tone adds character to this…character) bemoans the fading significance of his job. “A computer will replace me soon. The world is running out of human voices,” he remarks wistfully, raising visions of Her’s Theodore Twombly and his feelings for operating system Samantha. One might even imagine Theodore, whose day job is writing “personalized” love letters for those bereft of expression, offering his services to Mithi in order to force the mysterious announcer’s response.
The dialogue-less stretches of mundanity are the movie’s way of telling us that an introvert is rarely the story, because everything else is a story for an introvert. Her younger sister, Laali (Aahana Kumra), who flits in and out of her life without fuss, is a modern story; drunken birthday nights and conversations about desire are the beats of this story. Her henpecked tenant, Vijay (a fine Pankaj Tripathi), is a curious story; his loud nights of lust with his crabby wife, his soothsaying parrot and familial fondness for Mithi – he often times the cacophony of his routine to wake Mithi up in time for office – are the beats of this tale. By writing about them to a faceless announcer, she is perhaps subconsciously hoping for him to read out her thoughts to the world in that gentle voice of his. Her mind is naturally most fertile when in the train – a space where every story is midway between a source and a destination. Two scenes of commute stand out for different reasons. One involves marriage and the other, death; it speaks volumes that Mithi is similarly affected by both.
The first is crude and awkwardly designed, almost as if Mithi were visualizing it with her limited sense of fantasy: Two newlyweds, seated opposite her, evoke the duality of love in thirty seconds and three shots. The lifeless girl is visibly unhappy with her (arranged) husband, her ex-lover enters the compartment and casually whisks her away, the groom is left in tears. The second scene has Mithi staring at a dead body surrounded by Keertaniyas. The breeze displaces the white sheet and exposes the corpse’s face. She immediately covers it with her newly purchased quilt. One would imagine her reaction is borne out of respect and ingrained heritage. But actress Soni Razdan’s jolted eyes tell another story: Her act is in fact aimed at shielding her own face from his, lest someone notices the resemblance in their being. She is afraid that a corpse, lonely and hapless, recognizes a kindred soul in her – more a reflection of her life than a reminder of her mortality. On another day, she might have shattered her bathroom mirror for the image it dares to reflect. To the elegant performer’s credit, it’s never clear if Mithi’s love – often convenient, occasionally lazy – is an escape from existence or a consequence of it.
When films are made about those who notice stories, or those who write to avoid being written about, it’s important that the makers resist the temptation of treating their protagonists as a device. Nag keeps Yours Truly honest to its vacuum, both physically and spiritually. Things happen – uneventfully – and time keeps passing, from Durga Puja to Christmas to next Diwali. For example, when the camera follows a restless dog in an empty house, we are conditioned to expect the worst. Will he have an accident? Will he eat something poisonous? More so, when the owner returns and can’t instantly locate the dog.
In such movies, it’s the director’s job to ensure that the dog, despite a few worried moments, is still waiting, without drama or happenstance, so that the nothingness is never punctured. And that the conflicts and resolutions remain internal. Especially for someone whose name is both a river and an adjective – both of which thrive on the concept of depth rather than the specificity of it. Which is why, while this film’s title might be an informal term of correspondence for most strangers, it’s an imaginary comma between the two words that truly reflects Mithi’s notion, and motion, of longing.