'This film is dedicated to Gauri Lankesh'
Ahead of a screening of Ghawre Bairey Aaj, National Award-winning director Aparna Sen speaks about the need to include social commentary in films and changing contemporary Indian cinema
What about Tagore's classic, Ghawre Bairey inspired you to revisit the story in a contemporary setting?
Many old classics fit perfectly into what is happening in the world today. In this case, the original story is about how politics affects the intimate spaces in our homes, relationships, and lives. Though it's a love triangle, it is also very much about two friends, who have been close since their childhood but are now polarised politically. If you look around, you'll see that happens a lot these days. People are politically polarised and that affects friendships and even family ties and relationships. I've made some changes to the personalities of the original characters though. Bimala, the female protagonist, is an upper-caste Hindu woman in the novel. In my film, she is a Dalit woman. We usually show urban societies in our films; talk about upper and middle-class people. The Dalits and tribals remain largely unrepresented. While Tagore's Sandeep is nationalist, he's a bit more opportunist and darker than the character in the film, who has shades of grey. I've also included some right-wing element to his character because I believe some of these arguments have merit and need to be heard.
Is it true that the character of one of the protagonists is loosely based on the life of deceased journalist Gauri Lankesh?
Yes, Nikhilesh's character is. In the novel, the character is that of a liberal zamindar, who is compassionate towards his Muslim subjects. In the film, he's a publishing editor, known for his secular views. I had been thinking of working with a Tagore story for a while. I was very disturbed by the news of journalist Gauri Lankesh's murder (on September 5, 2017). I knew then that I wanted to make a film on present-day society. I have dedicated this film to her.
What are the biggest challenges of taking a fresh look at a classic novel and adapting it into a film?
Aparna Sen on the sets of Ghawre Bairey Aaj. Her advice to upcoming filmmakers is to follow their heart and dreams
Comparisons. I've chosen not to work with the classic as is, and instead, give it my own spin in a contemporary setting. People will expect a change, and will hopefully, not compare it with the original. That's a bit easier than remaking a classic, I believe.
As a filmmaker, how important is it for you to address political and social issues through your work?
It's very important. While there is certainly a place for comedy, mythology, supernatural and other entertainment genres, there's also a space for social commentary, and it is important for people to know and discuss what's happening in the world around them. Responsible filmmakers should encourage that through their work. With this film, the original story is political so there's no escaping that. My film Paroma (1985) talks about gender politics. Yugant (1995) broached the subject of environmental issues, back in the day. The film really speaks about the Gulf War and its impact on our environment, living creatures and humans; the deteriorating marriage between the film's protagonists is a metaphor for the deteriorating environment. Mr and Mrs Iyer (2002) looks at communal politics and how it affects our lives. Though not preachy and in your face, all my films are political.
You've seen Indian cinema change. Is this an exciting time?
It is. The audience has a lot more exposure to World Cinema, thanks to the Internet. They are more accepting of a variety of topics and we don't have to be simplistic anymore. The lines between commercial and what was earlier called 'art cinema', have blurred and films are being made for multiple platforms. It allows us to experiment and explore new genres and subjects.
And is it easier for women directors today?
There are a lot more women directors. Earlier a Kalpana Lajmi or a Mira Nair would be exceptions and you could count the names on your fingers. A lot more women have made their mark as directors, and that's great.
On November 10, 7 pm
At BARO, 12, Sun Mill Compound, Lower Parel.
There will be Q&A with the director post the screening.
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