When you are born to veteran film critic & director Chidananda Dasgupta and launched to the world of cinema by one of the best directors the world has ever seen – you are bound to be special. Aparna Sen never took these blessings for granted and showed to the world that she is the correct heir to the mentioned stalwarts. She was barely 15 years old when she performed that iconic role in Ray’s movie and then continued to dazzle with her power-packed yet subtle performances in various roles. She successfully swayed between that art cinema and commercial cinema, beautifully lip-synced some unforgettable songs, and perfectly fit into a variety of characters.
When it comes to her contribution to Indian Cinema – I must say I am more a fan of that director inside this woman. No one can come near to her sense of production design, her understanding of littlest human emotions, her treatment of sensitive psyche & issues, and her interpretation of life. Be it Sonata or Sati, Paroma or Paromitar Ekdin – her sheer elegance mixed with intelligence has always been cherished by the cinephiles.
On the occasion of her birthday let’s see some of her finest performances both in front and behind the camera.
Aparna Sen In Front of Camera:
Teen Kanya & Basanta Bilap (1961 & 1973):
Teen Kanya was one of the first anthology films in India. Directed by Satyajit Ray, this movie was based on the short stories of Tagore. Aparna Sen played the role of Mrinmoyee in the story named Samapti. A teenage village forced to marry a Calcutta returned educated guy. But Mrinmoyee is a child at heart who doesn’t understand the value of relationships because she is a free-spirit who loves to talk to the sky, wind, and her squirrel. She loves to spend time in her swing. The story is all about the trials & tribulations she goes through and finally unites with her husband. The immaturity of the tomboy character to the refined version of Mrinmoyee- Aparna really won hearts!
In Basanta Bilap, she is seen as a college student – a modern woman with rebellious thoughts and high-spirit. The notorious fight between boys and girls hostel, numerous funny scenes, sweet romance, and some amazing songs make this movie one of the most memorable & easy-going Bengali comedies of the bygone era.
Unishe April (1996):
The dancer Sarojini who is fiercely independent and a brilliant performer easily wins the hearts of millions outside the world. But inside her home address, she struggles every day to win the heart of her husband and later her daughter. Sarojini was always misunderstood by her late husband and her daughter and that’s why her dance became dearer to her with the passing days. One night all these misinterpretations dissolve & this movie beautifully captures the loss of death, the realization of life, and the spirit to own the self. The world saw Rituparno Ghosh directing Aparna Sen for the first time and what a terrific performance it was. No one can emote the emotional layers of women better than Ritu Da & no one could have been a better Sarojini than Rina Di.
Paromitar Ekdin (2000):
This is one of the finest performances of Aparna Sen who also directed this National Award-winning movie. She played the role of Sanaka and this movie is all about the deep bond that she shares with her daughter-in-law Paromita (unlike Ekta Kapoor tone). Sanaka has a mentally challenged girl child and later Paromita also gives birth to a mentally challenged boy. Therefore, they are tied by a common chord. Sanaka was that air of confidence which is why Paromita could later end her marriage with her son. A complicated story and a layered character – both were spectacularly presented.
Iti Mrinalini (2011):
Many critics slammed it but I find it endearing. Mrinalini – the superstar who is hopelessly in love with a married actor somehow gives up hope on him and moves on even after giving birth to a child. Later in her career, she finds love again in a much younger director but is ditched again brutally. This is a movie about finding love, losing hope, gaining spirit, wanting not to want to forget the past lanes, understanding platonic love, and realizing the uncertainties of life. I was mesmerized by her presence here.
This is my all-time favorite movie. Antaheen or the endless wait is about freeing your expectations for love. The characters here are all despondently romantic but they won’t admit to that. They all want love, had that very special person to love and lost them on some incidents. But what they didn’t give up is the wait for the time to love. There is a kind of bliss in waiting for love with hope. Aparna plays the role of a marketing head of a News Channel to perfection who is brave, strong, independent, but torn somewhere – all at the same time. That balance of loving and yet not revealing is beautifully captured by Sen.
The Special Mention from her stint on camera would be Titli, Chotushkone, & Ekanta Apon.
Aparna Sen Behind The Lenses:
Mr. & Mrs. Iyer (2002):
The lead characters – one austere Tamil Brahmin married woman & a Bengali Muslim unmarried man are on a bus journey. In that journey along with other people belonging to different socio-cultural-age groups become a victim of communal strife. Brilliantly shot and beautifully performed this one is undoubtedly one of the best that Aparna Sen gifted to Indian Cinema.
The Japanese Wife (2010):
A movie that tells the story of pure love – love where two souls connect over letters. A Japanese girl Miyagi and a village boy Snehmoy from Bengal fall in love and exchange vows through letters. He could never meet her but both remained loyal to each other till their last breath. Upon his death, the Miyagi comes to her husband’s place to stay forever. This movie celebrates incessant love over time and geography. They don’t make or believe this kind of love anymore. Rahul Bose, Moushumi Chatterjee, Chigusa Takaku, & Raima Sen were tailor-made for their roles here.
Goynar Baksho (2013):
A jewelry box and three women who own that box in different eras and how they perceive that box – is what the movie is all about. Based on a short story and a novel – this movie featured Konkona, Moushumi Chatterjee, and Srabanti Biswas. The impeccable production design is one of the big reasons to fall in love with this movie apart from the performances. The rage of a celibate widow, the fear of a regular housewife to hold her family & to fall in love with an unknown admirer, and the fearlessness of a college student – all are woven beautifully in the fabric of the film.
36 Chowringhee Lane (1981):
Aparna Sen’s first foray into direction is touted to be one of her best work to date. This movie about an Anglo-Indian school teacher and her desperate attempt to come out of her loneliness. Shashi Kapoor produced this movie and his wife Jennifer Kendal acted as Violet – the teacher who teaches Shakespeare in school. Her senile brother is ailing at the nursing home. Her niece is married, and her students don’t carry that passion for Shakespeare making Violet lonelier. She befriends an ex-student & her author boyfriend later to be deceived by them too. That scene where Violet recites aloud from King Lear, with stray dogs as her only audience would be remembered forever.
Long before the term “feminism” outburst and engulfed many, Paroma was made and made an impact. Paroma is one of those first Indian movies where a married woman – known as bahu, chachi, mummy, bhabhi, etc. is given an identity. A woman can do a lot more than just being tagged as someone’s someone and this is what Aparna Sen presented without any noise.
An ardent fan like me would love to include all her directorial work. Apart from the rest mentioned above, special mention would be 15 Park Avenue, Arshinagar and Sonata. Arshinagar because she dared to do something different with the template of “Romeo-Juliet”. The dialogues were written in verses and the brilliant mirror placement showing the alter-ego of the characters is something I cherish. Sonata is awesome because it is one of those rare movies that is shot in one space – the characters come and go to and from this place. 15 Park Avenue, of course, dealt with schizophrenia without beaing preachy or sympathetic.
Happy Birthday Aparna Sen – May you continue to enamor the cinephiles with many more creative presentations!