In Sanjoy Nag’s Yours Truly, based on Annie Zaidi’s short story The One That Was Announced, Soni Razdan plays a lonely woman in her fifties in a one-way relationship with a railway announcer, whom she has never met.
Razdan’s Mithi Kumar is unmarried and lives alone in a small town in West Bengal. Every morning, she takes the early train to Howrah station, from where she travels to her office in Kolkata. The only bright spot in her day is hearing the voice of the announcer, with whom she exchanges sweet nothings in her head. From the confines of her home, Mithi writes passionate letters to the man whose identity she does not know.
Nag first explored loneliness, longing and distance in his English-language directorial debut Memories In March (2010), about a middle-aged mother grappling with her son’s death. His second film, the Bengali-language production Parapaar (2014), was about the emotional distance between a husband and wife.
In Yours Truly, made in Hindi, Nag hopes to take his pet themes to a national audience. This also drove his choice of cast – alongside Razdan, the film stars Aahana Kumra, Mahesh Bhatt and Pankaj Tripathi. “Also, audiences in our country don’t like to see films reading subtitles and it would be foolish to make an Indian film in English or forcibly make my Hindi-speaking actors talk in Bengali,” he told Scroll.in.
The film had its India premiere at the 24th Kolkata International Film Festival after making its debut at the Busan International Film Festival in October.
“When you speak of love, there is longing and desire attached to it which is missing from the movies these days,” Nag said about his choice of themes. “Distance makes the heart grow fonder. It increases longing. Everyone is searching for someone to fill the void in their lives. The catalysts are different. For Mithi Kumar, it’s the daily railway train announcement.”
Nag said that he was drawn to the “cinematic nature” of Zaidi’s story. “What was also attractive was that this is a puritan love story about the 50-plus age group,” the filmmaker added. “After a certain age, people are stripped of desire. They are resigned to roles like mother, aunt, grandmother. But they also need a reason to live for. Where do their desires go? Do they become dormant?”
Yours Truly adds new elements to Zaidi’s premise. These include Mithi’s letters to the announcer and two supporting characters – the eccentric tenant Vijay (Pankaj Tripathi), whose sexual liaisons with his wife keep Mithi awake all night, and the protagonist’s fun-loving sister Lali (Aahana Kumra), who makes her life more bearable.
Another interesting relationship is between Vijay and Mithi. Vijay is curious about the reclusive woman, while Mithi is intrigued by the oddball. “Is Vijay a solution or a problem in her life?” Nag said about his decision to add Tripathi’s character to Zaidi’s story. “His private life is obviously a pull for Mithi, and it also increases her longing for something similar.”
There’s also an undercurrent of attraction between Mithi and Vijay. “They have the urge to explore not just each other but also their respective spaces,” Nag said. “It is more from the woman’s side. But social conditioning traps them into not acting upon their urges.”
Mithi’s colourless private life is reflected in the film’s aesthetics. Key among them, Nag said, is the film’s 4:3 aspect ratio instead of the contemporary widescreen format, because “it is a contained story about Mithi’s life and the extra space would provide redundant information”. The filmmaker also used a 50 mm block lens, which allowed a longer depth of field, and a stark, de-saturated colour palette to signify the lack of vibrancy in Mithi’s life.
Equally muted is the background score by Madhubanti Bagchi, which drifts in and out of the film and has no overbearing use of instruments. “I didn’t want the musical pieces to have a start, middle and an end,” Nag said. “The story unfolds over eight years, has its ups and downs, with no distinct destination for the character. Mithi is sometimes hopeful, then she thinks she wants to quit her job, but then she has no other way to hear her announcer. The music had to reflect that lack of certainty.”
Like in Memories In March, the life of a lonely woman (played by Deepti Naval) is balanced by the presence of one man’s voice from across a divide. In Yours Truly, the announcer is voiced by Vinay Pathak.
“In films, we have clearly marked hero and villain and by understanding of cinema as an audio-visual medium, the audio in Indian films is basically songs,” Nag said. “But in 2018, we should do new things. So, the announcer’s voice sounds nice. Is he a good man then? And Vijay’s wife sounds harsh. Is she bad?”
This choice was partly inspired by the feedback Nag received about Memories In March, where the protagonist’s son is only heard and not seen. “The audiences imagined the faces of whoever they longed for or loved in the place of Deepti Naval’s son,” Nag said. “Showing everything on screen is passe. Absence of image leaves room for imagination.”