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#LIFF2015: The Power of Sen – Konkona dazzles in ‘Saari Raat’

On a stormy night a couple on vacation seek shelter in an apparently abandoned house.

A mysterious man appears from the dark and offers them tea.

The owner seems to hold mysterious powers, almost reading into their lives.

As the night unfolds the two characters are made to delve deep into themselves and face what is lacking in their apparently happy marriage.

The man (Ritwick Chakraborty) is practical and pragmatic.  The woman (Konkona Sen Sharma) holds a world of imagination and desire that she cannot share with her husband.

The mysterious stranger probes her with questions that go beyond probability.

She responds and acknowledges the self that was stifled behind mundane reality.

As dawn breaks the man disappears and the couple are left to deal with an unfamiliar reality.

The stormy night, the house and its inhabitant serve as metaphors to test the values of love, trust and happiness.  The narrative moves into a fantasy realm which for the characters is a psychological journey of reckoning.

Blurring lines between the real and surreal, the storm tosses the characters in an unknown sea of dreams and desires.

‘Saari Raat’ is a film adaptation of a play by the legendary Bengali playwright Badal Sarkar.  

The film is Aparna Sen Hindi-language debut and her personal tribute to the playwright, who was a veritable institution in Indian theatre.

Appropriately enough, the film is a cinematic challenge.

Sen loves to take up challenges and here she deals with a new genre with great assurance and psychological accuracy.

Set in a static single set, the characters walk in and out as in a play.

A vast room filled with objects, antiques, dusty furniture is cleverly lit in zones.

Outside, the thunder and lightning light up stained windows, force open doors and windows as the characters are forced to search within.

The dynamism is in the light design and subtle camera movements of cinematographer Shirsha Ray.

Opening with long static takes, the camera moves and edit accelerates as tension mounts.

The three cast members form the crux of the narrative.  Held within a confined space, the actors – all anchored in theatre training- draw on their considerable resources to give compelling performances.

Konkona Sen is riveting as she moves from the suspicious, scared woman to a woman who will lose the world for a taste of rapture. 

Compulsively drawn to the stranger who seems to know her intimately, she is now prepared to give up her familiar world for a link to the imaginary, to the improbable and immoral.

Subtle looks, facial expressions, a little gesture of hand or shoulder, change of tone mapped the character graph of the woman who chooses liberation at the cost of comfort and peace.

So it was a pleasure catching up with her during the on-going London Indian Film Festival. 

Sen has a great legacy behind her, growing from strength to strength in her mother’s films – ‘Mr. and Mrs. Iyer’ and ‘59 Park Avenue’.  She was also the principal cast in the magic realism of ‘Goynar Baksho’ (Jewel Box). 

In my discussion with Konkona she talked about being nurtured in a home which held great appreciation for world and independent cinema.

Her grandfather Chidananda Dasgupta was a leading film critic and writer.  Her mother Aparna made her debut with the great Satyajit Ray and worked with the Ray in tandem with her successful commercial career.

Konkona did theatre during her university years without any focused ambition of being an actor.

Her work in Mr and Mrs Iyer fetched awards and international attention.

Today based in Mumbai, she enjoys her work in Hindi cinema but feels more committed to the new and exciting work emerging from regional cinema.

She holds the spine for literary projects today.  Touring internationally with Suman Ghosh’s film ‘Kadambari’, Sen heads back to another Tagore adaptation, Suman Mukhopadhyay’s much awaited ‘Shesher Kobita’.

That nomad spirit was never more evident than at LIFF 2015 which is showcasing two of Sen’s films – ‘Saari Raat’ and ‘Gaur Hari Dastaan’ in which she plays the wife of the Indian freedom fighter Gaur Hari Das.

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