Sanjoy Nag’s Yours Truly, a Hindi film with an English title , opens with a quiet and lovely visual: Mithi (Soni Razdan), viewed through a mosquito net curtain on a morning like any other, wondering whether the drudgery of the day will prove any different from yesterday.
Ambient sounds – children chattering, grumbling tenants downstairs, the trains rattling on the track besides her ancestral home – soon engulf Mithi. The soundscape of the film shot in Kolkata and Sheoraphuli in Bengal later accommodates background music, voiceovers, and, eventually and redundantly, even a couple of songs. Mithi might be unattached and living by herself away from her sister, Lali (Ahaana Kumra), but she is never truly alone and carries the city inside her – one of the most compelling ideas in an occasionally uneven film about longing and urban loneliness.
Yours Truly was premiered at the Kolkata International Film Festival in 2018 and is being streamed on Zee5. Over 77 crisp minutes, Nag plays out both Mithi’s routine and the fantasy that keeps her going. Mithi imagines that the railway announcer whom she hears on her way to and from work is speaking directly to her. Mithi has been writing letters to her pet announcer (voiced by Vinay Pathak) for years. What stops her from going down the route of the linked-by-notes lovers from The Lunchbox (2013)? Does Mithi actually want the spell to lift? Yours Truly, based on Annie Zaidi’s short story The One That Was Announced, is strongest when it allows the imagination to take over.
Mithi sometimes appears to be in the mould of Jennifer Kendal’s Anglo-Indian teacher Violet Stoneham from 36 Chowringhee Lane (1981). As it turns out, Soni Razdan played Violet’s niece in that film by Aparna Sen, adding a meta-layer of meaning to Mithi’s existence. When Lali shows up with her hunky boyfriend, or when Mithi cannot help but overhear her tenants groaning through sex, Yours Truly appears to be in open correspondence with Sen’s movie.
The films part on the matters of poetry and the poetics of life in Kolkata. 36 Chowringhee Lane had a distinctive and consistent mood of melancholy running through it. Sanjoy Nag, who has also written Yours Truly, is more sanguine about Mithi’s prospects. Kolkata appears far less alienating than in 36 Chowringhee Lane, proving spots of colour and flavour and embracing Mithi in its warmth.
The movie makes room for other actors. Apart from Aahana Kumra, there is Pankaj Tripathi, the tenant below and the male participant in the frequent coital exercises that Mithi overhears. Most of the time, though, Yours Truly meanders along on the strength of the central character’s casting.
Soni Razdan marvellously conveys Mithi’s interior world, in which much is said without verbalising. Razdan’s face, as expressive as it is volatile, graced several arthouse films in the 1980s and ’90s. Her Mithi is filled with introspection and dignity, rather than the bitterness that is thought to be the preserve of the elderly single woman. Razdan’s thoughtful face is lensed in loving close-ups, and in her best scenes, she just sits around, thinking, waiting, simply taking it all in.
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