Interview Bengali Hindi

IFFK 2017: Issues like casting couch do not exist only in film industry, says Aparna Sen

A guest at the 22nd International Film Festival of Kerala, Sen will deliver the Aravindan Memorial Lecture today at 6 pm.

Anita Paikat

Aparna Sen has excelled at both acting and filmmaking. She has won a number of accolades in India and abroad for her work in cinema. With close to 80 films as actress and 12 as writer-director to her credit, she is one of the more celebrated woman filmmakers in India today.

Sen is a guest at the 22nd International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) where she inaugurated the stall for the newly established Women in Cinema Collective yesterday and will deliver the Aravindan Memorial Lecture todayat 6pm. caught up with Sen for a brief rendezvous, where she shared how her journey as an artiste and, later, filmmaker began and stressed the need to deal with sexual exploitation in all industries, not just cinema. Excerpts:

How did your journey as an actress and then a filmmaker start?

When I was a child, I did a school play and decided I wanted to become an actor. My parents, who were also very young at that time, because I was their firstborn, agreed immediately. Then I was supposed to be sent to a film school in England, The Royal Academy of Art. But when I was about 13 I told them I don’t want to do that because it would be learning all the ways of the Western world, plus I would not get many roles there. And when I come back I will have to unlearn everything, so there is no point. They said, ‘That’s true, what we can do is, we will put you in a theatre group with Utpal Dutt.’ Just after my higher secondary exams were over, without getting into college or without getting my results, I started going for rehearsals.

Now when I was in class VIII, four years before my higher secondary exam, I was approached by Satyajit Ray to act in Teen Kanya (1961) as a village tomboy, Mrinmoyee. After that he also asked me for another film, but my parents and I both felt I needed to concentrate on studies. So I finished high school.

When I was acting in Utpal Dutt’s group, I starting getting offers from other filmmakers – Mrinal  Sen’s Akash Kusum (1965), Baksa Badal (1965), which was scripted by Satyajit Ray and directed by one of his assistants. All these happened and then my full-fledged career as an actor began. 

First there was this determination to be successful. But once I became successful, I got bored of the kind of cinema I was acting in. That was not the kind of cinema I believed in. My father [filmmaker and legendary film critic Chidananda Dasgupta] and Satyajit Ray had together started the film society movement. So, I had been brought up with a completely different diet of cinema. I mainly watched world cinema. My taste had already been formed. I didn’t like the films I was making, so I decided to make my own film.

You have worked in both kinds of cinema....

Yes. I worked in mainstream films. I also acted in Mrinal Sen’s films, in Tapan Sinha’s films. I was acting in any film that I thought was good, even if it didn’t pay me well.

Online content has become a big thing now with the likes of Netflix, Amazon....

I think that is the future of cinema, particularly of artistic cinema and independent films.

The casting couch and sexual exploitation are in the headlines currently.

Yeah. It is happening all over the world. Even if you watch channels like CNN or BBC, you see how men you held in high esteem, producers and directors, they are all part of the same clique. 

There are also some who criticize the women, saying female struggling actresses are very desperate to get a break.

Sometimes it is very difficult, you know. You have to make a career. This doesn’t only happen in the film industry. It happens to so many women who are pursuing their doctorates, trying to complete their thesis. They have somebody to guide them and then the guide takes advantage. That also happens. The guide asks for sexual favours and if you don’t give it, you have a bad time. You want to do your thesis, it's important to you. You have spent so many years behind it. Sometimes, your guide will even take your ideas and publish a book on his or her own, without giving you any credit.

The Kazhcha Indie Film Festival is being held simultaneously with IFFK. They say indie films are neglected by IFFK. Do you think that is true?

I don’t know if that’s true. But the more film festivals the better!


Related topics

IFFK Casting Couch