Mother-daughter duo Aparna Sen and Konkona Sen Sharma both started their careers as actresses and went on to direct with Konkona just directing (and finally releasing) her film A Death in the Gunj. Aparna, who is quite a celebrated filmmaker in Bengali cinema started directing films at a time when the film industry didn’t have many female directors to boast about. But, Aparna, who has come all the way from Kolkata, promptly lists the handful of prominent female directors working at the time, “Sai Paranjpye and Vijaya Mehta were directing films back in those days.”
Growing up with her mother, Konkona soon realised that it was important to make conversation around subjects that are otherwise easily ignored. Recalling the making of Mr and Mrs Iyer, a film with communal strife as the background, Aparna says it is absolutely necessary to write stories about the uncommon narrative. “Our country is a secular nation. And there are thousands of voices throughout the country and it is difficult to know what your true brand of politics is unless you are faced with it. And every human being is political — the very act of voting is political,” she says, adding that today, the liberal voices are the ones that are left unheard.
What made Aparna make the move to the other side of the camera? “I actually wanted to be an actress since I was ten! I remember doing a play back in school and enjoying it so much. Then one day when brushing my teeth, I told my parents that I was going to be an actress,” she recalls.
The actress-turned-director who has films like 36 Chowringhee Lane, Paroma, Mr & Mrs Iyer and 15 Park Avenue among others under her belt, recalls a time when as an actress she was expected to be a certain way on the screen. “I was always expected to flirt with the audience — and it wasn’t good. The moment I started doing mainstream films, I realised it was important how I looked. Either my profile was wrong, my walk wasn’t right or my nose was too big, my smile was a problem — and all I had to do was stand in front of the mirror and figure out how I looked best — this is a bad thing to happen to an actor, you know,” she says, further explaining that if you repeatedly do that to an actor, they forget everything about acting. And this is why she opted out of acting and going behind the scenes.
“One other commonalty between Konkona and me is that her film (A Death in the Gunj) is also set in a place which belongs to Anglo-Indians,” says Aparna as she recalls writing her directorial debut with 36 Chowringhee Lane, which is a film that has the minorities of Anglo-Indians as protagonists. “So we have come a full circle,” she says.
Talking about her debut with A Death…, Konkona says, the making of her film was an attempt to go back to her childhood. “To go back to my childhood, my parents’ imagined youth. I remember this one morning when mum woke me up early at four and said, “Get up, we have to go to McCluskiegunj!” and I immediately woke up — the place was always magical for me,” she says. The actress tells us how the last she visited the quaint Anglo-Indian town was when she was six, only to go back thirty years later to finalise the location for her film.