Since the demolition of Babri Mosque, I have been deeply concerned: Aparna Sen

By Smita Sarkar
From The London Indian Film Festival

Smita Sarkar

Smita Sarkar

She is an actress, screenwriter, filmmaker and editor whose contributions to Bengali commercial and parallel cinema have been unparalleled for over four decades now.

She started her acting career in the 1960s and has worked with maestros of Bengali Cinema – Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak and Mrinal Sen.

Aparna’s film Arshinagar will be showcased in the upcoming London Indian Film Festival on the 16th and 17th of July, 2016 at the Crouch and Picturehouse and British Film Institute respectively.

The film is set in a fictitious slum of Arshinagar where two families – the Mitra and the Khans engage in violent battles to seize control for redevelopment of the slums.

Sabir Khan’s daughter Zulekha falls in love with Biswanath Mitra’s son Ronojoy and the film is an energetic (and violent) drama of the consequences of this Hindu-Muslim love affair.

The renowned Waheeda Rahman features in the movie, as Julie’s grandmother and wins the hearts of the audiences with her brilliant performance once again.

Written in lyrical format ( like Satyajit Ray’s initial films for children Gupi Gyan Bagha Byan and Hirok Rajar Deshe), the film has used sufi and Bengali folk Baul music beautifully to add flavour to the narrative.

A poster of Aparna Sen's film, Arshinagar

A poster of Aparna Sen’s film, Arshinagar, a tale where a Muslim girl falls in love with a Hindu boy while their families fight to gain control of land parcel in West Bengal

Bollywood Journalist spoke with the talented and legendary actress on Arshinagar, a musical adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet which Aparna tied with Shakespeare’s 400th Anniversary celebrations globally.

Bollywood Journalist: Why did you choose this particular format of lyrical scripting?

Aparna Sen: We never forgot that it was originally a play, and that play was written in verse, or rather blank verse. Since our characters were mostly goons and street fighters, we used a kind of raucous rhymed dialogue for them. I think it also went well with the musical format.

Bollywood Journalist: Your film Mr and Mrs Iyer was also based on a Hindu-Muslim theme. After that, you have revisited the theme in Arshinagar. Do you have any particular reason behind choosing this?

Aparna Sen: Ever since the demolition of the Babri Mosque, I have been deeply concerned about the growing communal disharmony in our country. I do believe love is the only answer to communal violence.

The narrative lent itself very well to conditions prevalent in India, and indeed, all over the world…the distrust and hatred of anyone perceived as the ‘other’ has taken root everywhere.

The answer to this can be found in Sufism as well as ‘adwaitavaad’ that is part of our Hindu devotional tradition. The is why I have used a number of Sufi and Baul songs at crucial moments in the film and juxtaposed them against the violence.

Bollywood Journalist: What was it like to direct an intense drama like Arshinagar?

Aparna Sen2

Filmmaker Aparna Sen revisits her Hindu-Muslim theme through Arshinagar; her dramatic interpretation of Shakespeare’s Romeo-Juliet in the contemporary backdrop of West Bengal 

Aparna Sen: Difficult. Challenging. Enjoyable. Exhausting.

I particularly enjoyed filming the scene where Tayeb (Tybalt) is killed and his mother swoops down upon her son like a character out of a Greek play. For me, that scene worked really well.

Bollywood Journalist: How involved were you in the various stages of the film – like the scripting, cinematography, art direction and music scores?

Aparna Sen: Very involved, but that’s nothing new. I always am, in every film. The screenplay was written by me, but a brilliant poet called Srijato wrote the rhymed dialogue with effortless ease. He also wrote the lyrics of the songs.

Debojyoti (Mishra), our Music Director, Srijato and I would spend hours in my home or at Debajyoti’s studio, going over the compositions. We had a wonderful time working together.

Bollywood Journalist: What aspects did you particularly keep in mind while choosing your cast?

Aparna Sen: I tried to choose good actors as far as possible. But sometimes the appearance of an actor (or even a non-actor) won over other considerations. If an actor looks the part, 50% is already achieved – unless he or she can’t act at all. It is also extremely important to have screen presence.

The girl I picked for Julie (Juliet) was practically a newcomer with little or no acting experience, But the natural innocence of her face was what made me cast her.

I also chose a lot of theatre actors because of their discipline, their grace of moveent and their acting experience. The actor we chose for Montey (Mercutio) was a particularly successful piece of casting I thought.

Apart from this, there are some reliable actors such as Paran Bandopadhyay (Mirza Saab in the film) or Kaushik Sen (Julie’s father) or Rupa Ganguly (Julie’s aunt) or Swagata Chatterjee (Fatema & Reshma Bai) that I can always fall back upon and relax in the knowledge that they will deliver. This is also very important for a director when there is such a large cast. After all, how many people can she supervise closely?







About LIFF:

The London Indian Film Festival, described as Europe’s largest Asian film event, is branching out to Birmingham this year. Cinemas and venues across the city will be hosting film premieres alongside screenings of specially-selected work from a number of acclaimed directors and producers from South Asia.

The Midlands Arts Centre and Cineworld Broad Street will host screenings as part of the growing film festival. Organisers say they included Birmingham in their line-up because of the city’s cultural vibrance. The festival will run here from the 20th to the 26th July.


Screening Dates:

15th July – BFI Southbank
18th July – Cineworld Haymarket

16th July – Cineworld Broadstreet

2 replies »

  1. Smita- very nicely penned. You have a beautiful style of putting things in an ‘easy flow’. I have seen the movie – it’s a nice one


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