‘Laali’: Not a love story but still it is for a lot of us

The essence of the story is, a true lover understands the pain of endless love enshrined in memories but is constrained to live even in its absence.

By Sushma ‘Shandilya’

‘Laali’ is a short film of 35 minutes duration, with a stellar performance by the much appreciated, loved, immensely popular, one and only Pankaj Tripathi. ‘Laali’, premiered at Dharamshala international film festival in 2020 and was highly appreciated. ‘Laali’ was released on Netflix on 17th June.

Director Abhiroop Basu has scripted, edited and directed this unusual story of a lonely man’s inherent longing for love. This beautiful film is shot at the same location. Actress Ekavali Khanna makes a small appearance at the end of the film. 

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Basu saw a laundryman, ironing clothes at his shop in Kolkata. He was surprised to see that a wedding procession with people dancing and singing, passed in front of the shop but the unperturbed ironer kept ironing the clothes. Attracted by this sight, for several days Basu went and observed the man. In the film, he shot the procession scene with Pankaj sitting uninterested.

The essence of the story is, that a true lover understands the pain of endless love enshrined in memories but is constrained to live even in its absence. Basu has shown a philosophy about two necessities of life, ‘time and love’, that time waits for no one and everyone is not lucky in love.

Basu has depicted that people doing laundry, and ironing clothes also have hidden sides and once their shop closes, no one knows what they do inside their shop.

(Image source: Abhiroop Basu Facebook)

In the opening scene, Pankaj Tripathi is seen ironing clothes in his shanty-type garage. Pankaj sees an unclaimed red dress among the clothes and affectionate thoughts come to his mind. He gently caresses the dress, carefully irons it and hangs it on the hanger.

A poster pasted on his wall shows a smiling girl in the same red dress which reads ‘Laali ka orchestra, Gopalganj, 9 September’ in Hindi. Seeing the poster, Pankaj remembers fun times enjoyed with friends and becomes nostalgic.

Dwelling with loneliness, seeing the dress, Pankaj’s romance with ‘Red Dress’ begins and he remembers his girlfriend. Pankaj addresses the dress saying, ‘‘Madamji, like me, no one is going to take you too.’’ 

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(Image source: Abhiroop Basu Facebook)

Pankaj’s feeling of happiness and comfort after getting the red dress is depicted nicely. ‘Objectophilia,’ or ‘object sensuality’ (sexual or romantic attraction to inanimate objects) refers to individuals behaving abnormally in private, developing romantic attachments with objects.

The peculiar personality trait, ‘Objectophilia’ is defined beautifully. When it’s difficult to find a suitable partner or maintain a relationship due to the difficult human approach to relationships, people fall in love with things. 

The privileged have access to porn, but for ordinary people, sexuality is in their minds. Pankaj’s staring at a picture of a woman on the roof symbolises this. Pankaj shows the hidden sides and weaknesses of vulnerable humans, playing this hidden human aspect with much ease and making the performance highly appreciable. The stalwart genius of acting, Pankaj acted without rehearsals, using the psychic ability to disguise himself behind the character.

He told Abhiroop Basu,

‘‘You have made a communist film.’’

(Image source: Abhiroop Basu Facebook)

Pankaj is a quintessential actor who breathes life into the character and makes a huge impact, even without dialogues. In an opening nine-minute shot, using a different body language, he is shown gently pressing the dress, and erasing the folds with his hands. Instead of an arthouse extravaganza, performing amazingly, he turned the scene into reality.

He has been able to capture past memories through unique, nuanced body language. In his monotonous, lonely life, after getting the dress, he is happy with a lovable feeling, but one day a lady comes asking about the dress, shattering his dream and waking him.

Abhiroop Basu narrated ‘Laali’s’ story to Pankaj Tripathi at the Mumbai airport and believing in it, he immediately agreed to act in this unusual story. Basu announced only first-takes for the film as an experiment because instead of polishing it, he wanted an organic feel.

In spite of the absence of a lover and the never-forgettable pain from the past, those who have learned to live through their true love’s memories, only they can realise that the ‘silence and red dress’ are fragments of lost love.

‘Laali’ is a must-watch for sensitive audiences.

Contributing Author: Sushma ‘Shandilya’ is a well-known Hindi poet and writer based in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India. Her short stories, articles and plays have been published in leading Indian publications. Sushma ‘Shandilya’ writes on various contemporary issues including themes around women empowerment. She is also a yoga teacher.

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