The actor-turned-director was delivering the G Aravindan Memorial Lecture in Thiruvananthapuram on Sunday.

Hindu Talibans of today are vociferous liberal voice drowned Director Aparna SenImage Courtesy: IFFK website
Flix Cinema Monday, December 11, 2017 - 13:12

“When I started making films there was a great sense of joy and there was no limit to creativity, today there is a sense of fear,” was how Aparna Sen described the mood in the nation today.

The actor-turned-director was at Nila Theatre in Thiruvananthapuram on Sunday to deliver the G Aravindan Memorial Lecture.

Speaking of G Aravindan, Aparna said the unusual structure of his films and the daring to depart from conventional filmmaking made him a director who grew with time.

“My father was a great fan of G Aravindan. It was with him that I watched Aravindan’s ChidambaramPokkuveyil and Vasthuhara. I remember I was awestruck. He was a director who was ahead of his time. He always weaved in a unique, unusual structure in his films, departing from conventional filmmaking,” said Aparna.

With an enviable career graph spanning over 50 years, the acclaimed director amidst praising Aravindan as a moviemaker, got talking about her childhood, growing up with films, making her own films and much more.

The director who gave us remarkable films like Mr. and Mrs. Iyer and 36 Chowringhee Lane never intended to be a film director in her life! Well, that’s what she says. Raised in an environment that breathed good cinema, at the age of 10 Aparna declared with all earnestness that she wanted to be an actor.

“When I was just about 10, I acted in a play called Abol Thobol directed by Satyajit Ray’s father. The play was scripted as a first person narrative and I played the role of Aami. I even remember my costume – a red striped sari worn as a dhoti and a shirt to go with it. It was like a dream. The next morning, while brushing my teeth, I announced my decision to be an actor to my parents and they immediately said yes,” said Aparna.

Thus an actor was born, but more importantly a creative mind was being prepared for the future.

“My young parents decided that I could go to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) soon after I finished my studies in India. Well, but at the age of 13 I found I had something to worry about. It disturbed me that I would be learning western ways of acting at RADA and I was sure I would not get roles there. That meant I would have to come back to India and then begin the process of unlearning whatever I had learnt,” she stated.

Rather precocious thoughts for a 13-year-old. Nevertheless, Aparna did not go to RADA but instead took acting lessons locally.

“My career wasn’t a very colourful and rosy experience as I expected it to be in the beginning. When I felt that my graph wasn’t getting anywhere, I thought of shifting to advertisements. It was my father who triggered the fire in me and said go ahead and act,” recalled Aparna.

“That’s how I agreed to act in what was to be an adaptation of Idiot but I must say it was a rather horrible adaptation. But it gave me what I wanted, it sort of made me a star and marked a successful curve in my career graph,” said Aparna.

The successful, young, promising Aparna, however, would not last long in the world of mainstream cinema. Her career as a popular cinema actor would soon prove to be an agony.

“I was waiting for the lights to be done in Bombay. I asked myself if I wanted to do this for the rest of my life. The answer was no. I wanted to be a director because of my upbringing. I breathed cinema as a child, so did my parents. I had watched world cinema with my parents all my childhood. In fact, we were not allowed to watch Bengali films. The first ever Bengali film that I watched was Pather Panchali,” she recollected.

According to Aparna, filmmaking cannot be learnt, it has to reflect the nuances, tiny details of human life that one has absorbed while growing up.

“It’s not an art that can be learnt. You can learn cinematography or editing but filmmaking is something that you absorb from life. The key is to prepare a mind with creative strength and the exposure to good art,” she opined.

“You need not understand each frame that you watch, the point is to get into the habit of watching good cinema,” she added.

As she grew into a successful actor, Aparna’s love for quality art also grew. She soon found herself wanting to write short stories. What began as a temporary relief from mainstream cinema soon took the form of a screenplay.

“I wanted to write for my own peace, what I intended to produce was a short story, but it refused to be one. At the end of it all what stared back at me was the screenplay of my first film, 36 Chowringhee Lane,” she recalled.

That was not it, the next task was to get her film made. A producer with a taste for good cinema being a rarity in the industry, Aparna’s work was bottled up as an intellectual exercise at first. It was her mentor Satyajit Ray who gave her a break at last.

“I was planning to make my film in English. I gave my script to Satyajit Ray after a lot of people advised me to shelve my work as people would not watch English films. Mind you, I couldn’t rush him into reading my script. After a couple of months, to my joy, he asked me to come over to his place,” said Aparna.

“He thumped his heart so hard that it scared me. He then told me my script has got a lot of heart and that was a go ahead for me,” recollected Aparna.

It was Satyajit Ray who suggested Shashi Kapoor’s name for the production of her film.

“I put my heart and soul into writing the synopsis of the movie for Shashi Kapoor. He liked the synopsis but asked why he should trust me. I said I couldn’t possibly convince him over the phone. The deal was that I would fly to his place at my cost and if I were to make the film, he would fly me back at his cost,” recalled Aparna with a smile.

At the end of it all when Aparna boarded her return flight, she had the signed contract for her first film in her hands. That was her take-off in the world of cinema and the rest is history.

Talking of women in cinema, the acclaimed director said that a true artist is always androgynous in thoughts and that it is important for women to make films and translate their perspective on screen.

“It did not take much time for me to get branded as a feminist filmmaker right after my first movie. I have no objection to it, but my idea of feminism is close to humanism. It is important for women to make films for it is a necessity for society to see her perspective,” said the director.

“In my film Mr. and Mrs. Iyer, there is a scene where an old Muslim man is taken down from the bus by Hindu fundamentalists. There is no violence that follows that scene. In my opinion, had it been a male director it is most likely that a sequence of violence would have followed. Women are more compassionate in nature and it will reflect in their thinking,” said Aparna.

The director proudly hailed the initiative shown by the women in the Malayalam film industry to form the Women in Cinema Collective (WCC).

“I must say that I have had a privileged life. I never experienced any unwelcome attention from men for being my father’s daughter. I was always perceived to be sophisticated and scary. But I realise that is not so for all women. A case in point today being how Zaira Wasim was attacked on a flight. Little children are being raped every day. I was pleased to know about WCC. We need such forums at the workplace for women,” said Aparna.

Before she concluded, the director expressed her serious concern over the changing moral fabric of Indian society and the growing culture of Hindutva.

“During the Independence struggle I feel the moral fabric of our society was stronger than the times today. It is frightening to watch the idea of Hindutva forcefully sliced into almost every aspect of our lives. Suddenly out of nowhere we seem to be discussing a lot about lynching, religion, communalism, etc., etc.,” she said.

“Today there is fear at many levels. What bothers me today at the fag end of my career is – what can be the source of inspiration for future filmmakers who want to craft good cinema. At a time when creativity is crippled at the stage of vision itself, the youth is frightened to think for themselves. What Padmavati represents is a curb on freedom and creativity,” said Aparna Sen.

“People who are the Hindu Talibans of today are vociferous. They are loud. Unfortunately, the liberal voice is drowned. Freedom shouldn’t be taken for granted, it has to be said and heard,” added Aparna.

“I was very troubled back in 1992 when Babri Masjid was demolished. My heart shook on learning about Gauri’s murder. I am disturbed. May be there is a film lurking in my mind somewhere,” Aparna said.

Picture Courtesy: IFFK Website

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