Interview: Aparna Sen and Arpita Chatterjee get candid about their film, Bohomaan
Both of them have lived life on their own terms, be it personal or professional. Both are strong individuals and choosy about their roles. And, both of them are coming together on screen for the first time.
We are talking about National Award winning actor-filmmaker Aparna Sen, and actor Arpita Chatterjee. Sen, whose film Ghawre Bairey Aaj opened to rave reviews two weeks back, will be again seen with Soumitra Chatterjee in Bohomaan, which released today. Arpita, whose yet-to-be-released film Abyakto, directed by first-time filmmaker Arjunn Dutta, is earning laurels at national and international film fests, plays Aparna’s daughter-in-law in the film. Besides, Aparna will be seen playing mother to thespian-actor Bratya Basu.
We sat down with the beautiful actors for a chat on the film, and more, on a cool, pre-winter afternoon. Excerpts:
Aparna, what made you say yes to Bohomaan?
Aparna Sen: To some extent, persuasion. It was Sohag Sen who introduced me to filmmaker Anumita Dasgupta and she said she couldn’t make this film without me. I wasn’t keen initially since I needed time to read and think for my directorial work. First, I didn’t like the script that much, but then it was developed further and turned out nicer. There was a certain contemporaneity about the script and it delved into rather complex psychology, which I liked.
You play a mother-in-law to Arpita in this film. How different is this mother-in-law than the one you played in your film, Paromitar Ekdin?
AS: Paromitar Ekdin’s mother-in-law was from a very conventional, traditional north Kolkata Bengali middle-class household, where she chose a daughter-in-law who was beautiful. She was ill-tempered, suffered from hypertension and was quite a menace at time. What initially helped in bringing them closer was the fact that the mother-in-law had a schizophrenic daughter while the daughter-in-law had a differently-abled child.
Here, it’s different and my character belongs to a very emancipated family to start with. She is urban, literate, a retired professor who comes to live with her son and daughter-in-law but is not very comfortable with the idea and is still looking for a house for herself. Here, she knows Joyeeta (played by Arpita) as her friend Neela’s daughter, and they are more friends than like a mother and a daughter.
So, Arpita, how was it working with Aparna?
Arpita Chatterjee: My experience of working with Aparna is just a coincidence. I know her since the very beginning of my career in 1997, when I won a beauty pageant organised by a magazine, which she headed. She has been watching me across phases and I can’t see her as just a co-actor. It’s my first film with her and it’s really difficult to articulate the feeling in one line.
It’s a huge experience to work with her. As actors, we primarily adhere to what the director requires from us but Aparna is so involved and has such an eye for detail. She doesn’t work in a disjointed manner and observes and notices everything and tries to add value to enhance the film. And, we were discussing this a few weeks back that this wholesome approach is lacking nowadays.
Yes, in fact, even the new actors who have worked with Aparna, talk about how involved she is as a director and invests so much time, which is so different than the other filmmakers nowadays...
AS: No, it’s not as though all directors want to make as many films as possible, but they end up doing so because now more and more films are made on a shoe-string budget, and we can only change that if we address how we can reach a larger number of audience.
If we could do that, it could have ensured a better budget for films. If the filmmakers get paid handsomely, they can afford to make one film a year, and the same goes for technicians involved. So, often, you have to keep doing films to keep the unit together.
AC: So, in a way, quantity is damaging quality.
AS: Also, there’s another thing, but I can’t totally blame it, since it’s providing employment to so many people. It’s television. Thanks to TV, you don’t have to end up paying a thousand bucks for your popcorn and tickets, to watch a single movie, no matter what the quality of the content is. If your diet consists of fried stuff, you won’t want to have salads that are good for you.
AC: We are constantly hammered with nonsensical brainless stuff, which is changing the taste of the audience.
AS: Nowadays, people are making films to cater to that taste, and those films are doing extremely well, and the vicious cycle goes on.
How much do you think Bengali cinema has evolved?
AS: From a little later than the 1990s, there has been a tremendous exposure to global cinema among the audience, thanks to digitisation and so, now there are content-driven films and the line between commercial and art films is blurring and the producers too are asking for new ideas rather than the hackneyed plots.
Nonetheless, there’s also a mass celebration of lack of intelligentsia. Earlier, people were more in awe of the elite. Today, they just don’t care about the elite. I am not for the division between elite and mass, but what I mean is, there’s no intellectual guidance anymore.
How do you think the industry has changed?
AC: The way the language of cinema is changing is incredible. There is a rapid change of content, which is now the main crowd-puller, instead of the star factor. Also, censorship is no longer a concern since you have digital platforms.
AS: In movies too, there is much less censorship.
AC: Yes, the parameters have changed.
AS: My film, 36 Chowringhee Lane, was given an A certificate because of a kiss and now, every film has several kisses. In fact, at times, I really don’t understand the way the Censor Board works because my film, Ghawre Bairey Aaj got an A certificate that is hampering viewership to an extent, as people can’t watch it with family. Whereas, there are several other films that have so much more skin show and violence which get a universal certificate.
AC: Also, distribution is in a mess. For a long time now, this is an area of concern with more than 300 single screens closed.
AS: In fact, in single screens, films fare better. At one time, I was very much for multiplexes, as they had the possibility of turning into art theatres. But sadly, they now cater more to films with stars in them, and Hindi mainstream cinema. Arpita says that she can afford to be choosy, but I tell my junior colleagues who act for a living to always keep another source of income. I have brought up my two daughters single-handedly and so, I did commercial films and theatre as an actor, but when it came to direction, I made no compromises, and I stuck to that.
How have you grown as an actor? You are now seen in many films by new directors. How much of it is a risk, and how much has it paid off?
AC: My journey as an actor is the most sporadic one, because I never planned it, and I was fortunate enough to choose, as I never worked to meet any financial needs, before or after marriage. So, I could always freely say no to something that I didn’t like. That’s why, I am not visible in many films. And, there’s a first time for all directors. So, that had never been a consideration for me.
How has Arpita shaped up as an actor?
AS: Well, as she says, her journey has been so sporadic, that I have not seen her that much, but I was impressed by her act in Saibal Mitra’s Chitrakar. I love the way she sings, and I used her voice in Ghawre Bairey Aaj, where she sings along with Rashid Khan. There’s a singer in her, and I don’t know why she neglects that. I think she has developed herself nicely.
How has the way women are portrayed on-screen changed since the time you had made Paroma?
AS: Earlier, whenever women made films about women, it was always about women who are morally correct and flawless. Now, a woman can make a film on women who are flawed, and not run the risk of being labelled as anti-feminist.
But very few films are made in Tollywood with women in the lead role...
AS: Yes, I remember the film, Natoker Mato, with Paoli Dam in the lead, and it was a very nicely made film, but I don’t know why so few films are made with women as the absolute protagonist.
AC: In terms of numbers, they are indeed less.
Would you like to explore the web?
AS: Of course, if anyone agrees, I would love to make Mahabharata for the web in English.
Have you already written the script?
AS: No, and I am not going to write it unless it’s finalised, because there have been too many heartbreaks in my life with some excellent scripts including Gulel, which were almost made into films and then not.
So, will Draupadi be highlighted in your Mahabharata?
AS: I don’t feel any obligation to make Draupadi the central character. She already is the main character. Kurukshetra happened for her. There are many other interesting characters like Karna.
Have you thought of anyone as Karna?
AS: I have, but I’m not going to tell you now (smiles).
Arpita, any plans for the web?
AC: I am looking forward to it, let’s see what happens.