Sunday, January 22, 2006
Where the sane live
I watched 15 Park Avenue a couple of weeks back. I can see why it could be panned as pretentious and austere. I can see why it could be heralded as good 'cinema', instead of great 'film'.
15 Park Avenue is a difficult film - to watch, understand, or apprise. And that makes it an easy film to remember for a long, long time.
While the movie is about several things, its story is rather simple. There is a family of three - the mother (Waheeda Rehman) and her daughters (Shabana Azmi and Konkona Sen). Shabana is a vociferous divorcee who teaches Physics in Calcutta University. Her younger sister, Konkona, suffers from schizophrenia that got triggered off because of her rape. Konkona believes that she has a family with several children and a doting husband waiting for her at 15 Park Avenue. She insists on finding it and returning home but there is no such place.
While that is the basic, plain-vanilla plot, there are several other flavours brought on by other characters. There's Kanwaljeet who plays Shabana's colleague. He's in love with her and tries hard to get her to see a life away from her mother and sister. There is the doctor who treats Konkona but ends up carrying the candle for Shabana. Then, we have Rahul Bose who plays the guy engaged to Konkona Sen. He later bails out because he can't take the weight of his partner's illness anymore. Several years later, he resurfaces to help Sen find her 15 Park Avenue. He is married at this time. Sheffali Chayya plays a role that would be excrutiating if this were a real life story. She's Bose's wife and must understand her husband's exorcism from guilt. She must take care of the children while her husband goes and takes care of an ex-lover....indefinitely.
What I liked best about the film was its pace. It's languid and is not rushing towards a conclusion. This could be because there is none. The movie ends with Konkona going off somewhere and Shabana and Bose looking for her. Slowly, they disappear from the screen and you see a man whistling across the road.
Personally, I thought the drama was not so much in the obvious portions - like Konkona's fits or Shabana's outbursts, but in certain scenes that were bang-on true. Like the fear in Konkona's eyes when she passes the lecherous men at the hotel. She knows that she looks afraid and she knows that the men have smelt fear. Later, there's a dead 'thud-thud' in a room as the men rape her repeatedly and leave her bleeding.
Or like the way she diffidently leans forward everytime she's talking to her elder sister. Obviously she has accepted her sibling's dominance and is only too glad to be serving it.
Then there's the bit where Kanwaljeet (who is fantastic, by the way) takes Shabana's hands when he breaks off with her. He is tired of waiting and must call of the relationship. In detached certainty so typical of men, he says, 'This is for the best.' And Shabana's eyes fill with a hundred questions - most of them being, ''Really?''
Or Waheeda Rehman who is always conscious of imposing on her elder daughter and frustrated about her younger one.
Of course, the movie has several esoteric symbolisms like a beggar woman staring a Konkona from time to time, or fragmented dialogues spouted in close-up shots and left suspended, or the end which is more ellipses than period. But I think a storyteller must be allowed such licenses.
The film definitely scores on the casting - the best casting being Shabana's eyes. That said, I think Konkona has pulled off a commendable feat, not so much in playing the schizophrenic, but in playing the making of the schizophrenic. On the other hand, Rahul Bose and Shefali Chayya seem to jar here. A bit too much posturing, I thought, what with that love making scene and soliloquies muttered under the breath. The others simply glitter.
But as it is with a book that's more than its words and characters, so it is with a movie that's beyond its story and actors. To me, this movie came disconcertingly close to my heart. I had felt a similar strange void when I'd read 'Catcher in the Rye'. I felt that I understood the world of the insane from within. It's like that email forward that gives a scenario of a murder and asks you a question. If you give the right answer, it means you have latent homicidal traits. When I watch movies like this, I somehow feel that I have it in me to be mentally unstable someday.
I know the fear and hopelessness and that drive to gouge out bits of joy from life so that someone takes the distress seriously. I know this in the way you can know something and never understand, much less explain. I've always wondered how can you negotiate your sanity with other people? Why should I be weird if I believe 15 Park Avenue has a happy ending - simply because a lost girl went home? So what if the lost girl was a schizophrenic and so what if home wasn't a 'real' place?
One lives in this world and understands it. At the end of the day, we go to a place that either replicates this world or dismantles it completely. That place is home. For a dramatic race, it could be Atlantis, for a fictive auteur, it could be Neverland, and for someone less celebrated, it could be 15 Park Avenue.