When was the last time you received a handwritten note? Or let’s say a love letter? Or maybe a letter from your parents, kids? From an old friend? No? I doubt we would ever remember. No wonder, in a digitalized world of gizmos, WE, the WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter generation have lost the rustic charm of love notes. And we are, unabashedly, witnessing the extinction of a wonderful craft called ‘Letter Writing.’
In media and literature, Letter writing is a popular form of narrative for storytelling. Widely known as the ‘Epistolary Form,’ it implies to a particular kind of writing where the plot is narrated through letters. It usually involves a first person narrative and comprises exchange of letters between its lead characters that help the story progress. Bollywood, too, celebrates the charm of old-fashioned Letter Writing and the ecstasy of receiving a handwritten note through the portrayal of various Letter movies.
The 2008 satirical comedy Welcome to Sajjanpur, coming from noted director Shyam Benegal, beautifully depicts how letters have the potential to affect the lives of numerous people. The protagonist Mahadev (Shreyas Talpade), a jobless graduate aspiring to be a writer, makes a living from writing letters for the illiterate people of his village. This movie illustrates how the letters of these villagers, considerably, transform their lives forever. Moreover, since prolonged phase of warfare, ‘Letter Writing’ remains as a romantic process which involves warmth, compassion, and especially, a personal touch to the emotions articulated. Falling in love without seeing each other has a unique charm of its own. The excitement and fascination for the unseen and the unknown can be best felt in contemporary epistolary movies like Saajan, Sirf Tum, Na Tum Jaano Na Hum, The Japanese Wife and The Lunch Box which explore the mysterious exhilaration and unadulterated sincerity associated with letters. The musical love story Saajan (1991) portrays the romance between Pooja (Madhuri Dixit) and Aman (Sanjay Dutt) as Pooja falls in love with the poetry written by Aman under the pen name Sagar. Without seeing poet Sagar, Pooja is smitten by Aman’s lyrical compositions till their harmonious world is troubled by the entry of Akash (Salman Khan). Similar romance blossoms between Deepak (Sanjay Kapoor) and Aarti (Priya Gill) in the 1999 movie Sirf Tum. This surprise hit depicts the love-through-letters between Deepak and Aarti and the trouble they endure to be with each other. Further, the romantic drama Na Tum Jaano Na Hum (2002) portrays the letter romance between Rahul (Hrithik Roshan) and Esha (Esha Deol) where they fall in love after discovering a note in an old library book. The beautiful saga of love and sacrifice in the movie The Japanese Wife (2010) can be the best example of epistolary love where the protagonist Snehmoy (Rahul Bose), an Indian village schoolteacher falls in love with his Japanese pen friend Miyage (Chigusa Takaku). They even go to the extent of exchanging wedding vows through letters but unfortunately cannot meet till the end.
In the coming years, it is unlikely to come across movies that depict love through handwritten notes. At this hi-tech point of time, The Lunchbox (2013) comes as a breath of fresh air which portrays a warm epistolary love story between a lonely homemaker Ila (Nimrat Kaur) and an about-to-retire accountant Saajan played by Irrfan Khan.
This poignant story builds up through sincere and compassionate notes exchanged between Ila and Saajan through a wrongly delivered lunch box. When the craft of ‘Letter Writing’ is almost dead, such wonderful love notes found in a lunch box might be a sign of de-extinction of letters.
However, in future it is unlikely for people to jot down lines like Chithhi aayee hai, Sandese aate hain, Chithi na koi sandesh, and Kabootar ja ja. Time might be a constraint to halt and scribble a few lines in this fast-age of email, IMS, and tweets and writing a letter might sound too sluggish and tedious. One may cry over the loss of time but witnessing the extinction of a beautiful craft named ‘Letter Writing’ is even a bigger loss for humanity.