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Sen in the city

Aparna Sen was flooded with a range of questions on her visit to the city for the Bangla Utsav


AT THE Bangla Utsav Friday, Aparna Sen (National Award-winning director of films such as Mr. and Mrs. Iyer and 36, Chowringhee Lane) was introduced with much flourish to the audience as "the hyperactive editor of Sananda" — an inapt adjective for the poised and in-control actor-writer- director- editor, who wears many hats with seemingly equal ease. In an interactive session with the audience, Aparna began by answering a question on her journey from 36, Chowringhee Lane, to the undisputable success of Mr. and Mrs. Iyer.

Aparna looked back on her writing of 36, Chowringhee Lane. "It started as a short story," she recalls, "and then it just kept growing." She remembers how the words formed pictures and the story quickly evolved into a screenplay. But it was an English screenplay at a time when crossover cinema was an undiscovered genre and English cinema originating from India was unusual.

She went to Satyajit Ray, described as her mentor, who told her he would read it after two months. He called her back after that period and told her to make a film. "Really?" she remembers wondering, uncertain about the prospects of an English film. Approaching producers, she was repeatedly asked what she was trying to sell. "Sex? Violence? What are you trying to sell, they would ask me," she says about producers. "And I would answer: a small human tale."


Following advice, she sent a synopsis of the plot to Shashi Kapoor, who shared it with Jennifer Kendal and Govind Nihalani, all of whom liked it and asked her to come over to Mumbai. That was the beginning of 36, Chowringhee Lane, which went on to win many national and international awards.

One thing Aparna emphatically says she has learnt in the past years of filmmaking is that "producers still believe in the star system.

They won't put financial backing in the marketing of a small film." "Hence, the bad marketing of Mr. and Mrs. Iyer... but news about the film spread through word of mouth and the film refused to die." Yet, she refrains from describing daughter Konkona Sen Sharma as a star. "Konkona hasn't become a bankable star," she pronounces, explaining that her daughter would have to groom herself differently to be accepted as a "star" in the paradigm of mainstream cinema. But fans of Mr. and Mrs. Iyer can look forward to the mother-daughter magic at work again; Aparna says a sequel is in the offing, and certainly she will direct her daughter again. "I will work with her again because she's a good actress," says Aparna about Konkona, who won the National Award for best actress.


Aparna tried to wriggle out of a question on whether she preferred the films of the Apu trilogy or Charulata, made by Satyajit Ray. "Why just these?" she laughed. "I have so many favourites." She wasn't big enough to make judgments, she reasoned and added that for Manikda (as Ray was known), Charulata was the film in which he made the least mistakes. "I've seen the Apu trilogy so many times. It's like reading a favourite poem. I'm fond of Aparajita," says this director.

She touched on Ray's genius as a filmmaker and remembered his unique way of creating effects: making it appear as if a train was nearing a station by bringing in the station platform on a trolley, holding sheets of glass in front of actor's faces to give the impression of fleeting shadows as in a train journey.

The evening wasn't confined to Aparna in filmmaker avatar, however. Audience questions included her stands as activist as well. On her personal beliefs, incorporating themselves into her films, she said she "made a vow to portray some character in my films with some kind of impairment or challenge". She explained, "these people have been marginalised in our cinema so they seem invisible." People get embarrassed and don't know how to face them, Aparna reasoned, and to overcome this, it was important to include them in our cinema.

She then read out some of her favourite poems to a hugely appreciative audience, showing that activist-writer-editor-director, would only be followed by another hyphen — orator.

HEMANGINI GUPTA

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