If you are a fan of good cinema, actor and filmmaker Aparna Sen needs no introduction. However, if the name doesn’t ring a bell for you, she is the director of Mr and Mrs Iyer, the film which made us fall in love with her daughter Konkona Sen Sharma and Rahul Bose.
A Padma Shree awardee, national-award winning director, activist, screenwriter and much more, Sen started her journey as an actor at the age 15 with Samapti. It is the third part of the trilogy Teen Kanya directed by none other than Satyajit Ray. Sen’s father was a well-known film critic and her mother a costume designer.
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“I actually wanted to be an actress since I was ten! I remember doing a playback in school and enjoying it so much. Then one day when brushing my teeth, I told my parents that I was going to be an actress,” Sen said during an interview with Deccan Chronicle.
In 1982, at a time when the film industry hardly had any female directors, Sen switched to the other side of the camera with 36 Chowringhee Lane. Shashi Kapoor produced this remarkable tale of the Anglo-Indian teacher, Violet Stoneham, played by Jennifer Kendal Kapoor, which talks about nostalgia in a fast-changing world and how hurtful it is to be forgotten. Can anyone forget the black cat, Sir Toby?
In an interview with the Scroll, ahead of her film Ghawre Bairey Aaj’s release in September 2019, she spoke about nationalism as an imposed choice. Sen said, “Sometimes, the moment you ask a question, you are an anti-national. I do believe that is not my India. It is true that Pakistan and China are always on the prowl and the borders have to be defended. But perhaps the best way to defend the borders is to make the border security forces stronger rather than imposing one kind of cultural identity on everybody? Why should we accept it?”
Ghawre Bairey Aaj is a contemporary take on Satyajit Ray’s Ghare-Baire which is inspired by Tagore’s novel by the same name. It got rave reviews upon its release. It addresses the rise of Right-wing politics, nationalism, the assassination of journalist Gauri Lankesh and many such issues.
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What makes Aparna Sen stand apart is that she has never shied away from portraying her women as flawed. In Sen’s own words, her portrayal of Sanaka in Paromitar Ekdin, is that of a mother-in-law who is “from a very conventional, traditional north Kolkata Bengali middle-class household, where she chose a daughter-in-law who was beautiful. She was ill-tempered, suffered from hypertension and was quite a menace at times.”
Paromitar Ekdin shatters many myths, uses memory as a trope to understand the uncommon bond that a former daughter-in-law, who is the divorced wife of her son and a mother-in-law can share.
In Paroma she shows a middle-class Indian woman have a torrid relationship outside of her marriage. After her husband discovers her affair, she tries to end her life. Lying on the hospital bed, she acquires a new conscience. Sen said in an interview that, “The character of Paroma was inspired by a real-life person, a girl who had studied in school with me.” Sen added that she left her “wondering as to who she really was under the various social and familial roles she was constantly playing out.”
Some of her other well-known works as director include 15 Park Avenue, The Japanese Wife, Goynar Baksho, Iti Mrinalini and so on. Her portrayal of Sarojini in Unishe April directed by Rituparno Ghosh is legendary.
Sen was also the editor of a leading Bengali women’s magazine called Sananda, the first issue of which appeared in July 1986. Sen continued to hold the position till 2005. The magazine remained a household name and was well-received for being able to strike a perfect balance between its various segments. You had your answer to how to decorate a perfect home, hone your culinary skill and read stories which upheld the feminist ideals.
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On a personal note, when I told the father I found in my marital home, that I am attempting to write about the great actor-director Aparna Sen he shared how he had once seen her in Kolkata Coffee House. She was seated at a table little far away from them and had company. He said she will not tick the boxes for “ideal” beauty and did not draw attention towards herself when not speaking. But when she spoke, she completely mesmerised her audience, even the ones that weren’t part of her audience. That is the kind of charisma she exudes.
The views expressed are the author’s own.