Aparna Sen remains an extended crush since childhood. It is an unending fascination for the woman she is and her contribution to the Bengal film industry.
I used to cut and glue photos of her from magazines in my secret scrap book. That little blue book was my secret window into the fascinating world of stars, that I often tried to emulate as a kid.
In my uneventful social life, in the rainy hills of Shillong, this was a great indulgence.
Looking back at the secret scrap book, it is like an essay on the growing years of my intellectual and emotional evolution.
I copied the style and sensibilities to upgrade my meagre middle class upbringing, with the local tailor and oodles of creativity.
Aparna Sen still remains one of the most important influences in my life in understanding the modern Indian woman’s narrative in society.
Her film protagonists were mostly women. They represented the ideal woman with oomph, beauty and intellect. They fascinated me, urging me to be creative, unabashed and beautifully vulnerable— a deadly combination of complete womanhood.
I was not aware the impact she had on my innocent preteen and teen years till much later, when I began introspecting about my inspirations and goals.
Aparna Sen never cowered to narrate her story with her radical views on sexuality, feminism, ageing and loneliness.
There’s a duality in my identity which still remains a disturbed part of my whole existence. I could identify with the cosmopolitan Bengali modern woman with an anglicized education, yet I also felt rooted in the age old mores of tradition. I took to her art for a feeling of culture and continuity like an inexperienced duckling takes to a placid lake.
I was extremely young when I was first exposed to her film Parama which left an indelible mark on my young, impressionable mind, questioning female sexuality, marriage and the sham of desire, that remains even today a man’s birthright.
I was torn watching Rakhee slit her wrists because she was caught being happy outside the four walls of her role-bound home, and I watched with eyes streaming and a lump in my throat as she eventually found the courage to break free from her golden cage.
At any juncture in a room full of cacophony, I can shut my eyes and silently find myself looking into Rakhi’s expressive eyes in Parama giving away the pain, the pleasure and the betrayal she was feeling.
36 Chowringhee Lane still remains my eternal favourite with Jennifer Kendall, who plays the role of a nondescript Anglo-Indian teacher, Violet Stoneham, and her quiet life in the city of Calcutta. The juxtaposition of the characters in that film and Jennifer’s eyes brimming with the loneliness of a spinster teacher, tears my heart with an yearning to embrace women who are alone and desolate.
Aparna Sen was friends with my mentor, the late Ram Ray. I recall seeing her in office in Calcutta, as she walked in with her sari, jewellery and her unmistakable grace. I knew I wanted to emulate her style forever and her attitude towards gender equality, love and womanhood.
Happy Birthday Reena Di, you are beyond beautiful and an inspiration to many women like me across the globe.
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