Interview Bengali

I evolved as an actress after I started directing: Aparna Sen


Filmmaker Aparna Sen said she has often urged her Basu Paribaar co-star Soumitra Chatterjee to try his hand at direction, but he does not pay heed.

Roushni Sarkar

Veteran actress and filmmaker Aparna Sen will soon feature in Suman Ghosh’s Basu Paribaar with the legendary Soumitra Chatterjee, with whom she began her film journey almost six decades ago in Satyajit Ray’s Teen Kanya (1961) at the age of 16.

The pair was last seen together 19 years ago in the National award-winning film Paromitar Ek Din (2000) directed by Sen herself.

In a group interaction at the launch of the Basu Paribaar trailer, Aparna Sen shared her experience of working with the veteran actor as well as with director Ghosh and other co-artistes like Saswata Chatterjee, Sudipta Chakraborty and Sreenanda Shankar in the film.

In Basu Paribaar, inspired by James Joyce’s The Dead, Sen plays former teacher Manjari, who has been married to retired lawyer Pranabendu (Soumitra Chatterjee) for 50 years. On their golden wedding anniversary, the family reunites and the film narrates the story of one day, throughout which the drama and story of each character unfolds, bringing out various philosophical questions about the tradition of the family and its complexities.

With her co-star Soumitra Chatterjee

For Sen, even after all these years, Chatterjee was like a guardian throughout the shooting of the film. She said she always looks forward to working with him as it enriches her experience. “We are both quite aged now and it’s not about working as a hit pair," Aparna Sen said. "It is about working with an experienced and truly talented artiste.”

Talking about director Ghosh, she said, “Suman says he was initially nervous about handling a cast full of stalwarts. For me, what we have achieved today is due to our utmost professionalism. All of us approached the film with that professionalism. We made our commitments and made sure there was no delay in completing the shooting.”

She said the experience of shooting for Basu Paribaar was thoroughly enjoyable. The film was shot in Mohisadal Rajbari and their rooms in the palace became venues for adda sessions. “We would chat in Soumitra’s room, Saswata’s room while the shooting was on. There were adda sessions between shots as well,” said the award-winning filmmaker.

The adda sessions were enriching as the team would discuss its performances. “All of us were encouraged by one another’s performances,” she said.

Sen was not familiar with the Joyce story. “After Suman approached me, I read it with a lot of enthusiasm," she said. "What I liked most about the script was the way he adapted a story set in Irish culture into a Bengali backdrop.”

Sen admitted she is very picky in choosing her acting assignments. She said some directors push her by threatening to shelve the project if she does not agree to do it. “However, this was not the case with Basu Paribaar. I had told him beforehand that no matter how appealing the story, if the screenplay is not interesting, I won’t be a part of it.”

Sen believes films with storylines based in literature have strong backbones as the creators of literature are top-notch. “But that doesn’t mean films have to be dependent on literature," she said. "Tagore himself said cinema has to find its own language. However, it is also true that not all writers can create that language.”

Sen believes Bengali filmmakers can hardly opt for making experimental films and hence they have to get their hands on films with strong storylines.

“If it is imperative to work on story-based films it is better to depend on rich literature," she said. "In that way, this film has a strong story, as it is written by one of the greatest authors of all time, James Joyce.”

Sreenanda Shankar

Ghosh used a few suggestions from Sen, to the latter’s delight, “Suman is quite open-minded and I like that he incorporated a few of the suggestions I gave,” she continued. “I have seen a few clips while dubbing for the film and I am quite eager to watch the film.”

Sen was also all praise for Sudipta Chakraborty and Sreenanda Shankar who play her daughters-in-law. Addressing them as her sisters, she said, “Both have delivered brilliant performances. I love Sudipta in all her performances. I cannot name a single film in which I have disliked her.

"I am not saying anything about Soumitra as it is taken for granted that he will deliver good performances, but I often ask Paran da [Paran Bandopadhyay] and Sudipta how they manage to do so well in every film.”

Coming to her own acting career, Sen said, “I think I have evolved as an actress after I started directing.” She said films with certain fixed formulae were in vogue when she was primarily an actress. “Then I used to love performing in comic roles only. I was tired of dancing around trees and acting coy for no reason. I remember telling my mother that if I have to utter the lines 'I cannot get married to this man', I will commit suicide,” she joked.

“These days filmmakers are making different kinds of films and I am also not solely dependent on my acting career and hence I can choose my scripts,” she explained.

Asked if she would ever like to see Chatterjee working as a director, Sen said, “I have wanted to see him as a director for a long time. I know he doesn’t like all the films he has to be part of — which is quite natural for all full-time actors. Therefore, I feel, if he had done a few films on stories of his own selection, he would have been satisfied.”

Sen said everyone is aware of Chatterjee’s capabilities, “He is a theatre personality and he writes so well. There is no reason to believe he cannot be a good director. I have told him numerous times, but sadly he never pays heed.”