Five-time National Award-winning filmmaker Aparna Sen gets candid at the ninth edition of Habitat Film Festival, which hosted a retrospective of her films. She speaks about making her debut Hindi film Saari Raat, and working with her daughter Konkona Sen Sharma.
Your latest acting project was for director Srijit Mukherjee’s yet-to-be-released ambitious project, Chatushkon. Tell us about it.
I am acting after a long time. It was fun mainly because I had to recite poetry in a south Indian accent, which I have never done. I am very fond of Srijit. He was one of the assistants in my film, Iti Mrinalini (2011), and also because his story is about four characters who are directors in the film. The only female director he could think of was me. I think he wanted someone with a body of work because when he was making the film, there were constant references to their (the actors) previous work. So there are references to 36 Chowringhee Lane (1981), 15 Park Avenue (2005) in the film. I also enjoyed acting with Parambrata and Goutam Ghosh.
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You have never made a Hindi film until now. Have you consciously steered away from it?
I tried to, but failed every time. In Hindi films you have this constant need for big stars, at least the producers don’t feel confident without them. These big stars pay lip service to you and when it comes to a crunch they don’t reply to your messages or give you dates.
It is not that the ambition of my life is to make a Hindi film. My ambition is to make a good film. Actually, English, I have found, works well for me. Though now I am making a Hindi film, Saari Raat, which will be a festival film. I start shooting from May 30. It is a play by Badal Sircar. This is an interesting story about three people in one room, in one house. Two people, a husband and a wife, get caught in a thunderstorm in some remote part of Bengal and they take shelter in a house that seems abandoned. They spend the night there with this old man, whom they don’t know.
I was asked to make this play into a film, as part of an Indo-Pak film festival, with directors from Pakistan and from India, including Tigmanshu Dhulia and Anurag Kashyap. Long time ago, I had wanted to do a tele-serial on this play and Javed Akhtar had translated the poems in it. I had the dialogues translated into Hindustani by a theatre person, so I had to edit the translations down to an hour. The cast of\ the film is from Kolkata — Anjan Dutt and Konkona Sen.
You have mostly cast your daughter Konkona in your films.
Konkona is such a dependable actor that where a role suits her, it seems a shame not to cast her. She and I understand each other, are on the same wavelength, read the same kind of books, watch the same kind of films. Not that I don’t want to cast anybody else. I really enjoyed working with Raima Sen in The Japanese Wife (2010). She has a low-key personality which worked for the film.
Many of your works have been from books you read in the past. For instance, you read Goynar Baksho, in the ‘90s, but made a film much later.
I had read the book in 1992. I remember thinking at the time that it reminds me of Latin American literature and magic realism. But what I liked most then was the old woman’s lust for life, and how she refuses to let go of life even after death. But then it was only much later that I thought of making the film. I had to wait for 13 years until the producers of Iti Mrinalini (2011) agreed to make Goynar Baksho (2013).
Most of your films are women-centric. Why is that?
Some are, such as Paroma (1984), Paromitar ek Din (2000) and Goynar Baksho (2013). But for instance, 36 Chowringhee Lane (1981) has a woman at the centre but it could have been a man as well, except that I didn’t know anything about an all-boys school, and what pranks boys play, since I went to a girls’ school. The character, Violet Stoneham, has a resilience that an old man may not have had. I think women are more resilient than men. There is a kind of strength that my women characters have, like Paroma in Paroma. She tried to commit suicide but when it did not work, she finds a new identity. But that is not always true in my films. For instance I made Yugant (1995), about a marriage, where the husband and the wife live apart for work reasons. They are meeting on their 17th anniversary, they are constantly arguing and their marriage is falling apart. This disintegration of marriage becomes a metaphor for the collapse of everything around them. But in this film, you find the woman’s success is corrupting her, whereas the man has his moral ideals intact.