2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

Love is a mystery. Love is unitive. Love is how we connect as human beings with one another and with the whole universe together. Love is how we learn, become better, and make the world a better place to live for us and others. Love needs freedom to breathe, equality to thrive, and openness to flow and grow. Love is personal, political, sexual, philosophical, social, historical, metaphysical, transcendental, et al. Sadly, we have only one word to describe such a complex emotion. The ancient Greeks had six different words, but even that’s not enough. 2021 taught me new ways to describe the complexity of love and its various hues. Love lost on many counts, but it miraculously sprang on a few occasions like a phoenix. My LOVE vocabulary was defined and redefined by people who touched my life one way or another this year.

shillpi a singh

LOVE HAS LANGUAGES: Abhishek Banerjee

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you

Maya Angelou

Actor and casting director Abhishek Banerjee is perhaps the only actor who has had two cinematic outings with a mannequin in his career. The mannequin had a guest appearance in Devashish Makhija’s Ajji (2017) where Banerjee was playing the male lead, while in Ashwani Iyer Tiwari’s Ankahi Kahaniya (2021), it was his co-star. On both occasions, he cleverly used a mannequin, once as a prop, and then as a tool to explore the chalk and cheese sides of his manhood on the big screen. 

A trailer of Ajji.

As politician Vilasrao Dhavle in Ajji, Banerjee used a mannequin to show his gut-wrenching perversion. In complete contrast, the polite salesboy Pradeep Loharia from Gandarwara of Ankahi Kahaniya ekes out a living selling women’s garments at Delight Wear in Mumbai. He happens to meet a mannequin at a crummy little shop and falls madly in love with it. He fondly names her Pari. Two contrasting roles with mannequins help him get under the characters’ skin and bring out the worst and the best that a man can be. 

In his book, The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts, Gary Chapman described five different ways of expressing and receiving love. These five love languages are words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. 

In Ajji, Banerjee remains the lustful, black sunglasses-wearing, foul-mouthed Dhavale who has no qualms in brutalising a mannequin and cruelly dismembering it, while raping it. The rape sequence is deeply disturbing, even though it is filmed on a dummy. The camera’s gaze moves on to show the mannequin’s severed head at the end, symbolising the blank stare of the people who let such crimes happen because it makes sense to stand and stare, and not stand up and act. Here he uses just one language to communicate his intent to the object of lust, the brutal touch that translates into a visceral action onscreen. It for sure makes for an unsettling watch. 

Tailer of Ankahi Kahaniya

Banerjee makes a mannequin his object of affection in his second appearance in Ankahi Kahaniya. He communicates his love to the inanimate object using all five languages and to perfection. Though his overtures remain unrequited, we as the audience, still make a silent wish for it to come alive, just like Emmy in Mannequin (1987), starring Andrew McCarthy and Kim Cattrall.

MANNEQUIN

Banerjee’s role can very well be called a dummy’s guide (pun unintentional) for a man who wants to love a woman just the way she wants. Makhija had once said in an interview that it was the abyss in Banerjee’s eyes that gazed back at him and compelled him to offer Banerjee a role in the short film, Agli Baar. He then chose Banerjee to play Dhavale in Ajji, and Rajendra in Bhonsle, and for both, the abyss in his eyes stared at the roles and helped him take the leap of faith into the world of cinema.  

With every appearance, Banerjee seems to have bettered the act. Pradeep of Ankahi Kahaniya is unbelievably good at giving a masterclass on loving a woman because he speaks all five languages of love and fluently. The happiness glows on his face, and his coy smile gives it away. The secret love dalliance makes him a butt of ridicule and reprimand, as his boss and colleague mistake his love for Pari as perverted behaviour. On his return home, he confides in his bride-to-be. One of the most tender moments is when he confesses that he is technically single, but his heart is taken by someone he can’t call his own. Pradeep-Pari’s story also remains the saddest love of all, the one that lets him fall with nothing to hold. But the same love finds its belated fulfilment because it flutters away like a butterfly and dwells in the heart of the person who is destined to keep it forever, his would-be wife. What he felt for Pari felt so real in his heart, but he doesn’t cling to it for long and bids her goodbye with a yellow dupatta, a warm hug, and teary eyes. 

I must confess that in all his cinematic outings, Banerjee uses the abyss in his eyes to his advantage, much to the audience’s delight, transforming into the monster (Hathoda Tyagi of Pataal Lok) and mushy lover (Dream Girl) with ease. 

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