Aparna Sen movies & Kolkata

Aparna Sen & Kolkata

Chandi Mukherjee24 Nov 2010

Kolkata is present in many films of Aparna Sen from a real Chowringhee Lane to unreal Park Avenue. She has portrayed the landmarks and different dimensions of the city beautifully and captured many faces in this bustling metropolis

Aparna Sen′s movies Parama, 36 Chowringee Lane, Paromitar Ekdin, 15 Park AvenueAparna Sen′s movies, such as Parama, 36 Chowringee Lane, Paromitar Ekdin, 15 Park Avenue, are often associated with strong social messages

In last 28 years Aparna Sen, has made only 7 films. Her first and last released films “36 Chowringhee Lane” (1981) and “15 Park Avenue” (2005) are based one two postal addresses of Kolkata. These two films are unique examples of Sen′s concern and attitude towards this city.

Her first film “36 Chowringhee Lane” is the story of a young couple of Kolkata and an Anglo-Indian, lonely aged lady who happens to be the teacher of the girl of the couple. Debasree Roy and Dhritiman Chatterjee enacted the role of the couple; whereas Jennifer Kapoor enacted the role of the Mrs. Stoneham, the old Anglo-Indian lady who stays at 36 Chowringee Lane. The young couple when they failed to get a quiet, isolated place in this city they approached the old lady for her house which remained vacant the whole day. The crisis of young couple in love in this city was not the theme of the film. The theme of the film was how a friendship grew between the old generation and the new generation in the midst of such a crisis in this city. We find how much an old woman is a loner in this crowded city. Everybody in this city is so busy that nobody has anytime to think or care about the old people. Sen shows us a glimpse of an old age home of Kolkata where we find the sad faces of the old people of this city.

Sen′s camera catches the different moods of the city at different times of the day. We find the Victoria Memorial Hall, Academy of Fine Arts and Maidan in the early afternoon. The New Market, the Chowringee Lane in the lazy noon. We find Mrs. Stoneham returning home in a hand drawn rickshaw. In the first time any Indian cinema we see the famous Park Street cemetery. At the end of the film we see Mrs. Stoneham walking alone in front of Victoria Memorial Hall in a city winter night. The loneliness of an old man in this city and inability of the city Anglo-Indians to join the mainstream is clearly shown in this film.

The title of Sen′s last release film is another Kolkata address - “15 Park Avenue”. This is another fictitious address. There exists a Chowringhee Lane in Kolkata, though the street has no house number 36, but Park Avenue does not exist in Kolkata. We see a sub-realistic Kolkata through the eyes of the character enacted by Konkona Sen Sharma. A mentally challenged woman is searching for a “magic home” of her own, where she would stay with her children and husband. In “36 Chowringhee Lane” there was also a search for a house by the young couple in love - but that search was for a real house, whereas in “15 Park Avenue” the mentally challenged woman is searching for an unreal house, the house which does not exists at all. So within a spam of 24 years Sen′s Kolkata has changed from real to unreal.

In between these two films, Sen′s concern for the city was expressed in her 7 part fictional series on Television (Doordarshan). It was titled “The Undying City”. The fiction′s central character was Kolkata itself. A girl from U.S.A comes to city to make recce for a feature film. She becomes friendly with the younger boy of the family where her stay in the city was arranged. With him she travels every corner of the city. She came to this city knowing that the city was dying, and the film was to capture the dying moment of the three hundred years old life force flowing inside the city. She meets people, she visits different places of the city - and ultimately she comes to an conclusion that Kolkata is not dying - only the false symptoms of death are prevailing in the outside, but inside it is very much living. This was the tribute to the city by Aparna Sen where she was born and brought up.

After “36 Chowringhee Lane”, the next film by Aparna Sen was “Parama” (1984) made three years after. The story revolves around Parama, a housewife of an orthodox rich joint family of Kolkata. A photographer of “Time” magazine comes to the city to shoot some city protagonist and incidentally comes to the house where it was celebrating Durga Puja. This is the first time in Bengali cinema, Kolkata′s family Durga Puja was elaborately shown. The name of the photographer was Rahul. In the role of Parama and Rahul were Rakhee and Mukul Sharma respectively. The theme of the film is a friendship between the two.

We found through the lens of Rahul′s camera the unfinished 2nd Hoogly Bridge and the networks of adjacent flyover. The flyover was not totally constructed then. While balancing over the girder of the flyover Rahul says to Parama, “Try to live a little bit dangerously.” For the first time in any Bengali cinema this location was used and it would remain as a document of a constructing period of this flyover network and the second bridge.

We see in one sequence the city during the rain. Rahul and Parama were walking through the city streets in the rain. Though the rain was manufactured by a rain-machine, still we don′t feel any difficulty in understanding how the city streets look like in the rains.

At the end of the film Parama comes to meet one of her old friends who happens to be a social worker and believes in feminism. She speaks about the financial freedom of the woman. We find her in the balcony of her high rise apartment in the city. The normal city life was much beneath at that moment.

Juganta was made in 1995. The principal characters of that film were two young creative people of Kolkata who happens to be husband and wife. The roles were enacted by Anjan Dutt and Rupa Ganguly. Anjan is an advertising guy and Rupa is a classical Orissi dancer. The film deals with the contradiction between the two creative people. Though much outdoor Kolkata was not present in the film, the city people was very much present in the body of the film.

Kolkata was very much present in her next film Paromitar Ekdin. It was made in the year 2000. We find Paromita′s father-in-law′s house in North Kolkata. The terrace full of pigeons, and kite fights are quintessential signs of the northern part of the city, which is old Kolkata, and we see all these things in this film. We even see Paromita and her mother-in-law returning from an institution for the physically challenged in a hand-pulled rickshaw. We also see both of them in a city restaurant. After divorcing her husband Paromita falls in love with a film maker of the city. We see him shooting him in a Kolkata studio and at the end Paromita after attending the “shraddha” (funeral) ceremony of her mother-in-law comes with her husband in their car. We see the scene from a high rise roof-top. We found the car coming out of the small lane of north Kolkata and take the big avenue and their car goes away in the busy Kolkata traffic.

In her not yet released film Japanese Wife Sen has left the city for the first time. Her main protagonist lives in the Sunderbans, far away from Kolkata.

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Aparna Sen is one of the most sensitive directors of our times.
Posted by Pritam on  Nov 24 2009 5:29PM
I think there are some Satyajit Ray influence in her direction.
Posted by Square on on  Nov 25 2009 11:34AM
Neither Chowranghee Lane nor Park Avenue has its municipal existence in Kolkata. They are the symbolic contrivence from Mrs. Sen's fertile faculty. The former is Mrs. Stoneham's abode used by the couple for their selfish ends; while the latter is Konkana's "Utopia"or "Santa Maria". The journey for 28 years is from melancholia to schizophrenia,
Posted by Dipen on  Dec 18 2009 12:37AM

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