Lillete Dubey, Aparna Sen and Shabana Azmi to share the screen in Sonata

Lillete Dubey, Aparna Sen and Shabana Azmi in a scene from Sonata
Lillete Dubey, Aparna Sen and Shabana Azmi in a scene from Sonata

Even as bromance continues to be a much explored trope among filmmakers, National Award-winning director Aparna Sen’s upcoming film, Sonata, seeks to break pattern.

With three sixty-plus women as protagonists, the film, based on Mahesh Elkunchwar’s play of the same name, explores the interplay of relationships between three college friends played by Shabana Azmi, Lillete Dubey and Sen herself.

Had the director had her way, she would not have acted in the project. “But it was a deal-breaker for the producer, so I had to do it. He called it a ‘casting coup’,” Sen, 71, says, in a telephonic interview from Kolkata. As for Dubey’s role, the accomplished stage and film actress feels it was the “result of a conspiracy theory”.

“You know, one of the most seductive things a director can say to you is that they see you as the part, even if untrue,” she laughs. “Everyone wanted me to be Subhadra Parikh. I was not even given a choice,” shrugs the 61-year-old, adding that she’d have loved to play Dolan Sen’s role too, which Shabana essays. As Dubey had previously read and loved the play, she was familiar with the script. “But even if that weren’t the case, I could not have said no to a film about three women where I’d be working with Shabana Azmi and Aparna Sen. I had been waiting 15 years for her to call me!”

Picking up the poke on conference call, Sen retorts that she would have had a problem on hand had Lillete turned down the offer.

“She’s a very attractive woman, in her early 60s. Her character is that of someone who wants to hang on to her sexuality — she has to be with a man. She is in an abusive relationship, but the alternative of that, to be alone, is frightening for her. She’s as much in control of her career as she’s vulnerable in relationships.

Lillete in the role of Subhadra was a foregone conclusion, really,” Sen argues Interestingly, Dubey’s first detailed interaction with Sen was in the capacity of a journalist, when she had interviewed the director for a news channel. “That was years ago; we’ve known each other on and off. Thanks to this film, now I know her a lot more closely. Our sensibilities match. She is a voracious reader, is also fond of solving the Crossword and playing Scrabble like me. I admire her vision and clarity of thought. I remember for one scene, she said, no makeup. I made a feeble protest saying, that’s not flattering at my age. But she was clear that she wanted me to wear red lipstick, a red T-shirt and blue jeans and have smudged kohl eyes. She cracks down a scene to the last detail.”

Sen likes to ensure that her actors always meet at a workshop before she starts shooting. She did that this time too despite working with stalwarts. “[It’s] so that the actors don’t meet each other as characters for the first time on set. They know their own back stories, their motivation. We iron out the problems beforehand. That way we avoid the interminable discussions and flying tempers on set.”

For Dubey, working on Sonata reminded her of the Monsoon Wedding days. “After we were done shooting, I told Aparna, the biggest compliment I can pay you is that working for this film was like doing a play, because that is what I enjoy doing the most,” she says.

Sonata’s trailer has already clocked in over five lakh views. We ask Sen if she ever sees herself doing a full-blown commercial entertainer. “We all want our films to be commercial successes, because we want money to be returned to our producers, we want maximum people to see and appreciate it. But, if that means resorting to formula, then no. If I can make meaningful films and have them as commercial successes, which several of my films have been, then it’s fine.”


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