In the spotlight
TWO decades after her masterpiece, 36 Chowringhee Lane, undoubtedly one of the top 10 films made in India, Aparna Sen is back with her second English film, Mr and Mrs Iyer.
A love story between a
Bengali wildlife photographer and a married Tamilian Brahmin woman, set
in the backdrop of fundamentalism and violence, the film stars Rahul
Bose and Konkana (Aparnaís daughter). The film had run into some
problems with environmentalists, while they were shooting in north
Bengal, but it appears that all issues have been resolved and the film
is well on its way to completion. The director was recently down in
Mumbai to record the music, which is composed by tabla maestro Zakir
Hussain. Amidst giving instructions to sound-mixing technicians in a
Juhu studio, he spoke about her new film and Bengali cinema.
Actually itís not only about violence and fundamentalism. Thatís just a strain running through the movie. Itís actually about a journey of two people ó a Tamilian Brahmin woman, Meenakshi Iyer, and a Bengali man, Raja Choudhury. Itís about what happens on a journey, when two people are thrown together in unforeseen circumstances, and that too something as destructive as a riot. Itís about how relationships grow and are nurtured when people are forced to be together on a journey. It leaves both richer. In a sense, it is a road movie. I have kept the geographical setting undefined and unstated, because itís a journey that can take place anywhere.
How important is the backdrop of violence to the film?
I think the backdrop of violence brings a little poignancy to the story. Itís about fear, about uncertainty bringing people together. Some of the timeless love stories, English Patient or Dr Zhivago was set in the backdrop of violence. The film is set in a period sometime after the storming of the Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001. I have been deeply concerned about the ugly head of fundamentalism that has been ravaging the country continuously. Violence once had no place in either Indian society or itís thought process.
Why did you choose English as your medium of narrative?
Because the film deals with characters from diverse backgrounds. While Raja Choudhury is a Bengali, Meenakshi Iyer is a Tamilian Brahmin. Very obviously, she canít speak Bengali. Even the other characters in the film come from different regions of India, they actually represent the countryís several parts and cultures. Like there is a Muslim couple, a Jew, even two Sikhs. Isnít it a fact that we tend to speak to people from our community in our language, but with people from other communities, we speak in English?
How do you react to the spate of English films being made by Indian directors?
I think itís a positive trend, since it reaches an audience that is beyond just one particular regional group. But I also believe that a film should be made in English only if the subject deserves it, if itís a universal subject, if to talks to people beyond a certain region.
How did you decide the cast?
I had seen Rahul Boseís work in English August and then Split Wide Open. He is a good actor, very controlled and very intelligent. He plays Raja Choudhury in the film. I had thought about some other actors before I focussed my attention on Rahul. I made him go through costume-and-make-up test, and felt he would be perfect for the Raja character. Mrs Iyer is played by my daughter, Konkana, who I feel is a very sensitive actress. She puts in a lot of research in her work, she takes the trouble of analysing her character. She has taken pains to portray the character of Meenakshi, a postgraduate in physics.
Among all your films, which do you consider your best?
Yuganto which dealt with subjects like ambition, ecology, politics and relationships. It was about how success makes us compromise with things and issues, how it hems us in. But I think in terms of making a difference, it has Paroma, which dealt with an extra-marital relationship that is not yet ready to accept a womanís right to sexual freedom. ó INFS