Cinefile

Celebrated Indian director Aparna Sen speaks about her latest film, the difficulties facing serious Indian filmmakers, and her interest in Israel's film industry.

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September 22, 2006 20:54
3 minute read.
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hannah brown 88. (photo credit: )

 
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Celebrated Indian director Aparna Sen, at a recent dinner in her honor attended by the Indian Ambassador to Israel, H.E. Mr. Arun Kumar Singh, spoke about her latest film, the difficulties facing serious Indian filmmakers, and her interest in Israel's film industry. Sen was in Israel to attend a screening at the Women's Film Festival in Rehovot of her latest film, 15 Park Avenue. It provides a look at the tragic life and perspective of a schizophrenic woman who searches in vain for a home she may only be imagining, "The film was very warmly received here," she said. Told that some viewers had difficulty with the film's open ending and wanted more answers, Sen laughed and replied, "I like that - it's always good if they want more of a film." Her laugh displayed the self-assurance that served her well throughout her career as an actress (she made her debut in the Samapti segment of Satyajit Ray's Two Daughters). She appeared in dozens of films before turning to directing in the Eighties and continues to act. Her previous film, Mr. and Mrs. Iyer, the story of a Hindu Brahmin woman and a Muslim man who meet on a bus trip and pose as husband and wife when sectarian violence breaks out, was shown all over the world and won awards in the US, Europe and Asia. Her daughter, actress Konkona Sen Sharma, who stars in 15 Park Avenue, also appeared in Mr. and Mrs. Iyer. Sen, who works as the creative director of a Bengali television network in-between films, said she wished she were more prolific. "About three years go by between each of my films," she said, adding that this was the case not only with India's women directors but with most serious filmmakers who work in the shadow of Bollywood, the world's largest movie industry, which churns out hundreds of musical comedies, romances and other formula pictures each year. "After I make a movie, I bring it to festivals and that takes time," she said. After attending the Women's Film Festival here, she took time out to tour Israel, a prospect that did not faze her in the slightest. Although her visit was brief, she had time to see Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa, where she was particularly impressed by the Bahai Gardens. She has not seen any recent Israeli movies but met Israeli director Keren Yedaya, whose film Or, the story of a Tel Aviv prostitute and her daughter, won the Camera d'Or Award, perhaps the most coveted honor for young filmmakers, at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival. As the dinner guests lingered over dessert, Sen was busy making plans to acquire a DVD copy of Or and said she hoped to watch it as soon as she returned to India. Charlie Kaufman, the brilliant screenwriter whose movies Being John Malkovitch, Adaptation, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind have surprised, excited and occasionally annoyed moviegoers, will be directing his latest screenplay, Synecdoche (pronounced "sin-neck-duh-key"). Jay A. Fernandez of the Los Angeles Times has obtained an advance copy of the script and raves: "If this film gets made in any way that resembles what's on the page - and with the writer himself directing, it will likely gain even more color and potency in the translation - it will be some kind of miracle. Synecdoche will make Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine look like instructional industrial films. No one has ever written a screenplay like this. It's questionable whether cinema is even capable of handling the thematic, tonal and narrative weight of a story this ambitious. But, as one character says, 'People starve for something of worth.' Well, moviegoers will surely be gorging on the power and depth of this film for a long time." The word "synecdoche," writes Fernandez, "is a figure of speech in which a part is used to describe the whole or the whole is used to describe a part (think 'threads' for clothes or 'the law' for a police officer)" and admits he had to look it up (it is also a pun on Schenectady, New York, where part of the film takes place). Telling the story of a theater director who is dying, it is "a wrenching, searching, metaphysical epic that somehow manages to be universal in an extremely personal way." Sounds like it will be worth waiting for, particularly given the lackluster nature of most recent mainstream films. The film is set to star Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote) and Michelle Williams (Brokeback Mountain). Filming will start in the summer.

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