Mr & Mrs Iyer: Love Amid Terrorism

Film Review

Mr & Mrs Iyer
Mr & Mrs Iyer is a poignant love story set amid violence mirroring a frightening reality in the wake of 9/11 and Hindu-Muslim riots. The award-winning film masterfully explores human nature and relationships in times of trouble. Aparna Sen

Winner of the Junior Jury 2nd prize for Best Director at the 55th Locarno International Film Festival, Switzerland, Mr & Mrs Iyer was conceptualized as a love story set amidst violence but ultimately says a lot more. On the whole, the film reflects ace director Aparna Sen's humanism depicted through finely blended emotions. It mirrors a frightening reality in the wake of the WTC attacks and the Gujarat carnage through a masterfully told story. A masterful Sen captures contemporary India, its people and the social and political complexities within which they exist.

"Nothing brings out the poignancy of love than when pitted against the ruthlessness of war..." says Sen, "There is no war in my country - not yet — but the communal riots that have torn it apart in recent months have been no less violent, no less ruthless."

Meenakshi Iyer played by Konkona Sen Sharma and Raja Chowdhury (Rahul Bose) get introduced to each other through a common friend just before they embark upon their journey. Raja, a wildlife photographer, is requested by Meenakshi's parents to look after their daughter and baby grandson. Once aboard the bus, the two are forced to interact in order to pacify the wailing baby.

Once this relationship is established, Sen goes on to the larger story, which is used as a canvas to depict human nature — the bus enters a riot-stricken zone where Hindu extremists are looking for Muslim blood in retaliation to similar incidents in the village. Some of them enter into the bus and kill an old Muslim couple. There is a curfew, and the passengers are left stranded in various hotels of the nearest town. Meenakshi and Raja with the help of a police officer put up in a forest guesthouse — a poignant part of the film where two individuals put together under extreme circumstances, and discover each other while drawing mutual support.

Meenakshi is characterized, especially well as a Tamil Brahmin woman teeming with beliefs that are alien to a very urban Raja. He is shocked at her reaction when he tells her that he is a Muslim (Jehangir) despite his Hindu sounding name, Raja. Although Meenakshi's immediate reaction is despair at having drunk from his water bottle, she nevertheless becomes his savior when she introduces him to the assailants of the bus as her husband Mr. Mani Iyer. At the same time, a Jewish passenger, in order to save his own skin (he is circumcised) voluntarily identifies the Muslim couple. The only one to protest on realizing their fate is a young girl who along with her friends had attracted irritated comments from the elderly in the bus through the initial parts of the journey.

Mr & Mrs Iyer portrays the socio-political conditions of India, but what it does even better is to explore human nature and relationships under various circumstances.

Rahul Bose renders a wonderful performance as Raja, the sensitive man beneath a nonchalant exterior and Konkona is stupendous as the warm, intelligent child-woman whose individuality is overridden by the social norms that surround her existence and to which she is unquestioningly accustomed. These two characters are representatives of the youth of modern India, both being educated and from urban backgrounds but differing in their understanding of how religion and human beings are connected.

Sen succeeds in getting under the skin of different communities and people, showing their quirks and insecurities which are only too human. First, the Tamil Brahmin family from which Meenakshi comes, then the Muslim couple, the Jewish man and the Bengali occupants of the bus, the young and noisy group of boys and girls and the menacing, fanatical nature of the villagers who attack the bus — all through the expert lens of cinematographer and director Gautam Ghosh.

The mood of the tranquil hilly region disturbed by violence is built up by the fusion of tabla maestro Zakir Hussain's music and lyrics from the poetry of the great Sufi poet Jalaluddin RumiMr & Mrs Iyer is truly worthy of the Netpac Jury prize for "courage in raising an issue of relevance in a work of cinematic density."

Cast & Credits

• Konkona Sen Sharma • Rahul Bose • Surekha Sikri • Bhisham Sahni • Anjan Dutt • Bharat Kaul • Music: Ustaad Zakir Hussain • Lyrics: Jalaluddin Rumi • Camera: Gautam Ghosh • Story & Direction: Aparna Sen • Producer: Triplecom Media Pvt Ltd

About the Author

Rukminee Guha Thakurta is a movie buff and film critic currently based in New Delhi. An alumnus of the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad, India, she runs her own independent design agency Letter Press Design Studio.