HYDERABAD: When it is Aparna Sen you are conversing with, the discussion is bound to redirect towards poetry and different layers of characters’ psyche. It was no different when we caught up with the actor-director Sen, who was in town for a programme organised by Hyderabad Bangalee Samity. She talks about her grandchildren, her experience with the larger-than-life director Satyajit Ray and celebrated Bengali poet Jibanananda Das, who was ‘the acknowledged successor of Tagore as Bengal’s Poet Laureate’. Even at 70, Sen is still a diva and thinking artist per se. Winner of three National Awards, she has acted in innumerable movies and has directed many. Excerpts from the interview:
Your role as a grandmother. Tell us more about it.
(Smiles) It’s not so new a role. I have my elder daughter and her children are now grown up. I am very close to my grand daughter. My grandson at 12 is a maths genius. The youngest one Haroon, Konkona’s son, is sweet and calls me Mummum Jaan. My husband is called dada! So he’s dada Jaan.
Is the name Haroon from Salman Rushdie’s book ‘Haroun and the Sea of Stories’?
Probably yes. When I met Salman at New York, I told him that my grandson is named Haroon. And his reply was ‘wow’. He was very happy to know this.
How was it working with legendary Satyajit Ray especially in Teen Kanya when you were just 16 years old?
It was great working with him. I didn’t do many films with him. Sadly, I did only one film with him which was Teen Kanya. Also, I acted in bit parts in Seemabaddha, Aranyer Din Ratri. I also did a telefilm with him called Piku which was nice. His vision was universal which he expressed within a small sphere. He would take an individual and put them in a universal context. I think that was the greatness of his vision because telling the story of somebody very ordinary at some stage it would take on a universal significance, and that I found wonderful about him. As far as his direction is concerned, he went into such details about his work that I imbibed the same from him. The way he’d handle the actors was very good. When I started working with him, I was 14. But he always treated me like an adolescent. He never treated children like children, but as equals. He would never say anything that would embarrass me. But I was frightened of him because of his huge stature. But he was gentle. Later on, I became good friends with him. I’d sometimes go to his house and chat with him. I gave him my first script to read 36 Chowringhee Lane. It was he who encouraged me to make a film out of it.
What is it like directing your own daughter Konkona Sen Sharma?
I have been directing her for a long time. And Konkona is any director’s delight. Because she is completely spontaneous and works on instincts. She never goes overboard and crosses the limit. She knows where to draw the line. She has also got a very good sense of rhythm. She understands me so well that it’s quite easy for me to direct her. At the same time, since she is my daughter, she is not in awe of me which is why I can’t scold her as much as I would scold some other actors because they are so much in awe of me. And she takes advantage of the fact that I am her mother. (laughs). But then she never gives me trouble with dates, she’s always on time. She is quite a professional that way. She trusts me completely. And it’s easy to direct somebody who trusts you completely.
Your lineage with great poet of Bengal Jibanananda Das. Are you going to make a movie on him?
Movie on Jibanananda Das? You have just given me an idea. (laughs). He was my mother’s first cousin, though much older than her. They used to call him bor da. His nick name was Milu. So, we used to call him Milu mama. We were quite young at that time. And he was always engrossed in his own world. I have been reading his poems since childhood. If you talk about ‘effect’, all that happens at a sub-conscious level. Admiring is a wrong word. I loved his poetry. I get deeply moved by it. I love reading his poetry all alone especially ‘Banalata Sen’, ‘Nirjan Hath’ and ‘Aat Bachhor Agey Ekdin’. I like the way he mixes history with romance. Places like Assyria and Magadha appear frequently in his works.
Loneliness is the undercurrent of many of your movies be it 36 Chowringhee Lane, 15 Park Avenue and The Japanese Wife...
That is perhaps where I was influenced by Jibanananda Das unconsciously. Now that I think about that, in retrospect it could have been Milu mama’s influence. Because there’s a lot of loneliness in his poetry. His poems are such verses that you have to read in solitude. His poems are not for huge gatherings. Yes, it’s true that most of my films have been about loneliness. It’s not him but his poetry that affected at the subconscious level.
You wanted to direct Sitayan your own take on Ramayan’. Is the project in progress?
It was actually a novel by Mallika Sengupta, who passed away recently. I think it is a wonderful subject and I started writing the screenplay without really thinking if it can be made into a movie as its sphere is huge. I had loved the idea. Maybe it’s the screenplay which will come out as a book. Who knows! At this time I can’t tell.
The scenario in the country is changing. We see Dalit student dying, and a man getting lynched over ‘food’. Your movie Mr. and Mrs. Iyer was against fundamentalism. Do you think the time has come to make more such movies and hold a mirror to the changing situations?
I suppose one has been able to do it. Even my last movie Arshinagar, though it was a musical, was about intolerance. Juliet is a Muslim and Romeo is a Hindu in the film. And there were riots and a lot of Sufi songs addressing the problem of intolerance and saying that everybody is the same and we have that in our Hindu religion Advaitavada, which is about everyday being the same. It says that you are the other person and between you there’s no ‘other’. Our hatred of the ‘other’ in these times is what is so terrible. When songs of the film talk of there being no ‘other’ everybody is ‘you’; everybody is an extension of you. This affects me deeply and I keep going back to that subject.
How was it like remaking Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in the form of Arshinagar? Do you think common people can connect to Shakespearean themes and plots?
At that time in ‘Romeo and Juliet’, Italy was fragmented with constant civil wars and intolerance. It can very easily be juxtaposed here. So, that’s what I did. I juxtaposed that to our present times. It’s very easily done because the same conditions prevail. The families had their separate armies. And some of them also had colours like white, black and so on. I used red and black in my movie.
And what is difficult about Shakespeare is that the language in his plays is what we don’t speak or write today. He was so popular as a playwright. He would write and stage plays that would always be houseful and commercially very viable. Today’s audience, if not used to something, don’t accept the same easily. He used rhymed dialogues which was musical and this is difficult to accept. I used ‘King Lear’ at the end of 36 Chowringhee Lane, the character recites from Shakespeare. People didn’t have a problem with that.
Which is the latest movie you are working on?
I haven’t yet decided. I can’t say anything about it.
How did you like Hyderabad? This city resonates with history, love
epics and poetry. Any plans to shoot a film here?
Oh, this city is so beautiful! I’m in love with Golconda Fort. Some day the story will come to me.