Sunday, 1 January 2017

Aparna Sen and her ’15 Park Avenue’

Ever got envious of mind-bending films like inception or shutter island and wonder if Bollywood can produce such films?

There was one such film I can think of, which I thought was better and an even bigger mind-bender but not as much celebrated. This is ’15 Park Avenue’ from Aparna Sen.  

Aparna Sen is one of the many talents whose foundation was from the school of the great Satyajit Ray.  She acted as a child star in his initial movies and went on to become one of Bengal Cinema (‘Tollywood’) biggest stars. I didn't see too many of the movies that she acted in, save for ‘Unishe April’ which deserves a post of its own, and hers is one the best performances by any actress I’ve seen.  She also started directing films encouraged by Shashi Kapoor who produced her first film which starred Shashi Kapoor’s wife Jennifer Kendal.

Aparna Sen’s movies are of a completely different genre from both the mainstream as well as the arthouse cinema in India, and are a compelling watch.  When she made her initial movies they had a bit of the familiar faults one finds, which was understandable when you realise that almost all her movies even the recent ones are made on a sliver of a budget which is typical of regional cinema. 

What stands out are the stories she selects for her movies. They are usually different, inspired and she invests in this first and most (actually, you could say this about most Bengali cinema, too). The other interesting fact is she's not restricted by language and her films are in English, Hindi and Bengali and its for the urban audiences.  

I havent seen all her movies but keep getting snippets of them accidentally. But each one is an experience to be savored. Her first movie 36, Chowringee Lane was moving and strangely got an ‘adults only’ censor certificate. There was Parama starring Rakhee, but the one I liked was Yugantar about an estranged couple who are trying to reconcile and see if there’s any future for the relationship.  (but IMHO 15, Park Avenue trumps them all).  I couldn't see Mr & Mrs. Iyer but hope to catch a screening sometime.

Shabana Azmi has collaborated with Aparna Sen for quite a few films and the journey has been an enriching one for the viewers and I hope to catch the movies which she’s worked with her (Sati, Picnic etc.).

15 Park Avenue was a multi-starrer with three heavyweights in it - the veteran Waheeda Rehman, Shabana Azmi and KonkonaSen Sharma.   This in itself is one big solid reason to watch it. But there’s more.

I caught this movie when I was abroad and saw this in one of the Hindi TV channels.  All the three actresses are in zero glamour mode and their roles contain a lot of meat and among their more challenging roles done near perfectly.  I really don't want to share much about this, as there might be spoilers and my version of this might be far far from what the real story is…

I need to acknowledge the fact, that I wouldn't have ‘got’ what this movie was about were it not for the internet.  Its a movie that makes you badly want to discuss this with someone, and since I saw this alone, I started reading it up on the internet and saw a discussion forum on this and one guy gave his perspective which made things that much more clearer.

Sorry, i don't want to give any spoilers.  But if you saw ‘The Sixth Sense’ and then discovered what the movie was really about you might have watched it again just to figure out what really happened in the movie and all the clues that you might have missed.

15 Park Avenue does not have any embellishments and red herrings, but a second viewing is required as you start delving into what really happened in this family (Waheeda Rehman’s two daughters Shabana and Konkona SenSharma).  You cant help feeling the pain of sacrifice, the hurt, the strains in caring for the aged and those with special needs.

My take on the movie was quite different from what Wikipedia put across (thanks to the discussion forum I’d visited) and when viewed through that prism, it made a lot of sense at least to me, and you start piecing some parts of the puzzle to make a complete picture. The movie has other possibilities which are not revealed and left to the viewer to decide.

Shabana Azmi has done such roles in the past (I wrote about Broken Images where she was conflicted on how to present the two characters and the author and director asked her to decide instead).  In this case perhaps Aparna Sen and Shabana Azmi knew what the story was about or perhaps she didn't tell the actor, as the scenes can be quite intensely real and convincing of what is presented as real.

My recommendation is to watch it with an open mind - most importantly with a friend/s who also loves movies and discuss it with them.  Discuss the possibilities and if ‘the truth’ hits you, I can bet you will want to watch it again.  But in any case with three of the best actresses from Indian film world its 2 hours well spent.