Hall of fame
If so many accolades have come the way of Aparna Sen and daughter Konkona, it is thanks to the exacting standards set by the patriarch, Chidananda Dasgupta
The sprightly Aparna Sen with her critic and filmmaker father, Chidananda Dasgupta Photo: R.V. Moorthi
A CALM man, he cannot remember the last time he got angry. Now in the sundown phase of a career that has seen more sunshine than a bright summer can contain, Chidananda Dasgupta talks as he used to work: honestly. There is scarcely an attempt at ambivalence; there is no desire to hold back. There never was. He gives no excuses for a career that saw only a couple of films being made with the venerable man in charge of the baton. He does not shy away from lambasting critics who know nothing about the art and craft of cinema.
Sitting in New Delhi on a withering summer morning, Dasgupta comes across as an unruffled man, keen with his opinion, certain of his facts. The only time he allows himself a veneer of passion is when he talks of his daughter, the still-so-sprightly Aparna Sen. The occasion is provided by a doting daughter walking in to help her father, on wheelchair, with a jacket. You see, it might still be bright and sunny outside, but at 87, the bones get brittle, the chest susceptible to any whiff of changing wind. Hence the need for some protective care.
"Many have described critics as failed filmmakers. My fulfilment lies through my daughter," says the venerable old man, father to Aparna, grandfather to Konkona Sen Sharma, now having her own niche in films in the wake of the National Award she won for Mr and Mrs Iyer. "When Aparna started acting in films, she did not quite understand the medium. She did quite a few meaningless films. It was difficult to predict then but I knew she had it in her to focus on cinema, to talk of social reality. As a child I don't recall her as too temperamental but she grew up into a passionate human being, full of sensitivity towards cinema," recalls Dasgupta, who at the start of his own career founded the Calcutta Film Society with Satyajit Ray and worked as a film critic long enough to make infinity intelligible. Incidentally, it was Ray who gave Aparna her first break in films with Sampatti, the third part of the Teen Kanya trilogy in 1961.
Says Aparna, "My father's film was made too early for its times. Even we were not able to fully appreciate it then. One sees it now as a contemporary black comedy in French style. It was very French in its sensibility. He is not a failed filmmaker but there is a lot of unrealised potential in him."
Discussing her father's works, says the lady who has won the National Award twice, and acted in a whole gamut of films, ranging from Akash Kusum and Basanta Bilap to Iman Dharam and Bombay Talkies, "My father did not realise that being a director involves a lot of managerial work. There is a lot of administrative work, finances are to be taken care of, etc. There is not much space left for creativity, one gets bogged down, particularly when there is no infrastructure in place for quality cinema."
But then Dasgupta can point to the works of Aparna, and lately Konkana as his filter to the world of satisfaction and pride. "I hope he has some satisfaction with whatever I have been able to come up with. I believe he sees me as an honest filmmaker whose work is more truthful to her vision rather than doing what's convenient for one's career," Aparna shares her thoughts.
However, even as the father never really stepped beyond being a great critic and an occasional filmmaker, no such problems confront Aparna or her daughter. "Things worked out different for me because I had worked as an actor. I am very unhappy doing certain films but I won't disown them. I made myself heard through them. They made me what I am today. It is the area where I learnt my craft. I did not go to any acting school though my father did want me to go abroad to learn. But then I would have had to unlearn many things. My body language would have changed, I would have become more Westernised. I realised it when I was 13. So I joined Utpal Dutt's school and was not much later was picked up by Satyajit Ray for his film," Aparna takes a trip down memory lane. It is exactly what many years later she did with daughter Konkana. Instead of sending her to an acting school, she sent her to Delhi, away from the attention of Kolkata, made her learn about life. And for acting, a workshop before the first film came in handy for Konkana.
This is something the University of Delhi-educated Konkona has come to admire in her mother. "She is a perfectionist and expects everybody to be one. I like this trait. But sometimes it becomes too much because everybody can't match her standards." Without realising it, young Konkona is trying to match it. Ask her about the choice of a career, and she says, she won't mind being a journalist (like her father Mukul), an actress, a filmmaker (like mother Aparna) and a writer (like grandfather Chidananda). Incidentally, she has also already acted opposite one her mother's heroes. The lucky man being Sabyasachi Chakravarty with whom she has done a Bengali film.
"My memories of childhood are full of Bengali intellectuals visiting our house and watching Satyajit Ray's works and East European films on video. My mother always wanted me to lead life of a normal child. Perhaps that's why she sent me away from the glitter of the film world to study in St. Stephens in Delhi. In Delhi I stayed in a barsati. This helped in having a closer look at the life."
That is exactly what this family which takes pride in every member's achievement has always done!
Pride of achievement. Frankness of words. Mutual respect. And a sense of fulfilment at the new generation taking over from the old. It is all there in the family of veteran critic and filmmaker Chidananda Dasgupta and his daughter, Aparna Sen, and granddaughter Konkona Sen Sharma.
ZIYA US SALAM
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