...Aparna Sen's 15 Park Avenue. Punchy film, this; an intimate look at schizophrenia, differing perceptions and blurring lines.
Meethi (Konkana Sensharma) is in search of an address - 15 Park Avenue - that's proving elusive. Her sister Anjali (Shabana Azmi) is her reluctant driver, and something is amiss. There's no street called Park Avenue in Kolkata, and the exercise is one the sisters have been through before. Meethi is schizophrenic and her world is different from the one her sister and mother inhabit - hers includes her husband Joydeep Roy, five children, a job with the Illustrated Weekly and a home she believes is at 15 Park Avenue.
The story unfolds and we're given various threads: Meethi's latent mental illness as a child, her fairly normal youth, her engagement to Joydeep (Rahul Bose), and a gang rape that sends her over the edge. There is no resolution, of course - how can there be - but what Sen does is create so much sympathy for Meethi that we the audience are caught halfway between her world and the one without, able to look into both and understand exactly where she's coming from.
The film is performance-driven, of course. Konkana Sensharma is brilliant, yes, but the one that remained with me was Shabana Azmi's - the role and its execution. Because the movie then doesn't stay about mental illness, it begins to be also about its ever-growing ripples that ravage families and caregivers.
Azmi is superb as the much-older sister. A brilliant physicist and teacher, Anjali is pragmatic, sensitive, efficient and intense. She's the woman in charge, the one everyone depends on, and who simply doesn't have time enough to fully satisfy the demands of her sister, ageing mother, a career and the man-in-her-life. Balancing between empathy for her sister and impatience, caught up in one crisis after the other, there is no time for a life or indeed some well deserved self-pity.
There is one telling scene where, for one brief minute, it's about Anu. She has her head in her mother's lap, receiving succour, reassurance, praise. The women are weeping… and the bell rings. 'That must be Sanjeev,' Anu says, absently dashing away tears as she rushes to receive the emergency medicine. And that's all the time she has really, for anything.
If Shabana Azmi approaches this role intellectually, there was another performance that came straight from the gut - Waheeda Rahman as the mother. In fact, the only one among such a star cast, to sting me to quick tears. Sheer emotive power.
Rahul Bose is just ok as Joydeep and if the lines in the film are stilted, it shows up most when he speaks them. Shefali Shah plays his wife Lakshmi, and the script spends as many as twenty minutes letting us into her mind, contrasting her self-absorbed, insecure and rather trite preoccupations with the numerous layers that Meethi is buried under.
Can't talk about a movie and not talk about clothes and accessories when they're there to be talked about. Ms Azmi's 'look', superb. She wears the loveliest clothes and jewellery and that pink-red bag is to die for! As all of us who love psychobabble know, grooming is a very essential way of interacting with our world and its people. If you're dressing up, things can't be that bad, or you won't let them be. It's about making the most of things and that's what I loved about this character: she's a survivor.