Aparna Sen’s Sonata celebrates women’s singledom
National Award winning actor-director Aparna Sen takes on an English drama for her new directorial venture. An adaptation of a stage play by Mahesh Elwkunchwar, Sonata shines the spotlight on the lives of three unmarried middle-aged women — Shabana Azmi, Lillete Dubey and Aparna Sen. Juggling two major roles and writing the screenplay was not easy, says the celebrated artiste, who made her acting debut as a 15-year-old with Satyajit Ray’s Teen Kanya (1961) and directed 36 Chowringhee Lane in 1981.
Why did you pick Sonata?
I had seen the play on stage and was impressed. All the action takes place in one space with three characters, in the span of one evening. It’s held together so well because of the interplay of moods. But I was primarily drawn to the story about bonding between these middle-aged women. It was attractive and dramatic to me.
Returning to acting is an interesting decision. How did that come about?
Actually, that was not my decision. The producers laid that condition down. They wanted this casting coup of these three names. I don’t act much, now that I direct.
How much did you have to work on the screenplay?
Mahesh Elkunchwar is a wonderful writer, so I didn’t have to do a lot. It was written a few years back, so I changed it a bit to make it more contemporary. I also tried to set the personal lives against what is happening in the world. We have stuck to the one space. That was the challenge – for it to be like a chamber piece. It challenges the director’s ability to choreograph the scenes and the cameraman’s lighting. I had done this before with Saari Raat and it worked well. So, I thought, why not try it again? Another addition to the script is the introduction of a couple of characters. Of these three women, only one has a love life, albeit abusive. The other two don’t. None of them have children and they all belong to the affluent middle-class. So I wanted someone from a different economic background too — who is a wife and a mother — that’s the bai (maid). There’s also a friend, who is a transwoman.
How did you decide on the casting?
Lillete was a predetermined conclusion — I wanted her, the acting coach and writer wanted her. Shabana is cast as a Bengali, and I play a UP-ite. This is because Dolon (Shabana’s character) sings Rabindra Sangeet and Shabana has a lovely singing voice. She has learnt Rabindra Sangeet too. The only part that was left was of Aruna, which I play. I tried to change my accent to remove the Bengali softness.
Sonata releases today.