By Tirthankar Mitra
Her acting is a combination of vivacity which gels completely with her natural acting style. This has earned Aparna Sen a place of honour among the greats of Bengali cinema. Here is a heroine turned director whose co-actors have ranged from Uttam Kumar, Soumitra Chattopadhyay to Shatrughan Sinha and Amitabh Bachchan (during her brief foray in Hindi filmdom) but unlike many of her more famous peers, she was never overshadowed by her male lead actor. The maverick film actor cum director turned 78 on October 25.
Aparna’s trait came to the fore when in her debut film, the Satyajit Ray trilogy Teen Kanya she essayed the part of a tomboy. Blissfully unaware of her femininity, even as she was gambolling with her pet squirrel while the hero Soumitra Chattopadhyay watched bewitched, there was not an iota of self consciousness in her maiden performance.
And all eyes of the audience cutting across the gender divide was on her. The teenaged girls wanted to be like her while the boys of the same age group nursed the ambition of taking her out for pandal hopping. .
It did not matter to the audience that Chattopadhyay’s presence had taken a back seat beside her. Of course, Ray who never failed to get what he wanted from his protagonists had arranged the script thus, but the fact remains Aparna Dasgupta has arrived.
Whatever be the role, she fitted it to a tee. Remember, Aparna’s cameo in Aranyer Din Ratri in which she acted in the role of Samit Bhanja’s aka Hari love interest.
Setting aside her attention to Hari, a sportsman who hadn reply of a letter in which she had poured her heart out to his beloved sent a “pygmy reply”, she appears to be in her element. Here was an attractive and urbane girl who beneath all her sophistication yearns for emotion even if it is only on paper.
Aparna’s role be it in Jay Jayanti, a not too successful take on Sound of Music opposite Uttam Kumar exuding all the qualities of a male lead, she never yielded ground. On the occasion of her birthday her acting in Basanta Bilap opposite Chattopadhyay leading a bunch of misogynist youths led by Soumitra all of whom turn over a new leaf, readily comes to mind.
Versatility appears to be her middle name. Essaying the role of one who seeks to settle down to domesticity in Aparichita with both Uttam Kumar and Chattopadhyay with a galaxy of character actors, Sen shines bright.
Once accused of not being able to fit in role of a conventional Bengali girl/woman, she silenced her critics for once and for all following her performance in Swet Patharer Thala. Here was Aparna in the role of a loving newly married wife, a heartbroken young widow and a single mother bringing up her son.
Sen did not need a hero in Nilkantha. Enacting the role of a sex worker in an house of ill fame, she poured her heart in a role having found her family members and her rejection by most of them.
Sen, the daughter of eminent film critic Chidananda Dasgupta knows the heart and soul of every woman character she depicted in screen. And never there was a false note in her direction even as Jennifer Kapoor’s heart wrenching portrayal of an Anglo-Indian teacher of English fighting loneliness brilliantly portrayed in her debut film 36, Chowringee Lane. The originality of the theme and the nature of direction showed that she had a long innings ahead.
Walk over to Parama, her film on a bored and attractive housewife of the same name as the title who finds love and discovers herself en route, is one of the boldest statements on screen on Indian womanhood. If it was a lifetime role for RakhiGulzar, the direction elevated Sen to a class of her own.
Sen’s direction and acting in Paromitar Ek Din cements her position as one of the leading film makers of the country. Her performance as a dragon like matriarch of a prosperous joint family who bonds with her beautiful daughter-in-law with a spastic child is unforgettable.
In the end, as Sanaka she seems to be present even in her funeral. Her indomitable spirit seems to have been implanted in Paromita, no longer her daughter in law, having tied the knot with another man and carrying his child in her womb as she journeys to happiness in confident strides. Her other directed films like Mr. and Mrs. Iyer, The Japnese Wife, The Rapist are all marked by hr complete command over storytelling and thematic excellence.
IBe it raising her voice loud and clear against Nandigram atrocities or the insensitivity of a subsequent dispensation, fearlessness and rationality seem to be the driving forces of her character. Aparna Sen has always been in the forefront of any protest movement to draw the attention on attack on democratic rights, be it on the writers, playwright or the peasants. Though brought up in left liberal environment, she has never tied herself to any political party. She has her own distinct view and that are reflected in her films as also in her personal behaviour.
Years may have greyed a few of her locks while a roller coaster personal life earned her the headlines for the wrong reasons. But Sen to this day lives up to the spirit of her landmark film Parama-The Ultimate Woman. (IPA Service)