Let’s play with films

From Aparna Sen’s Sonata to Ashutosh Gowarikar’s next untitled film, filmmakers are tapping  plays from Indian literature to bring amazing stories to the celluloid. Sangeeta Yadav talks to the veterans about the trend

From Vishal Bhardwaj’sMaqbool adapted from William Shakespeare’s Macbeth or Omkara from Othello to Gulzar’s Angoor adapted from Comedy of Errors, Rituparno Ghosh’s The Last Lear from King Lear, Rohit Shetty’s All The Best from Marathi comedy play Pati Sagle Uchapati to just list a few. Filmmakers down the years have been bringing the plays alive on big screen.

As is the case with Sonata that has been adapted by veteran filmmaker Aparna Sen from a play by the same name written by 77-year-old award-winning Marathi playwright Mahesh Eklunchwar. The movie is slated to release on April 21, 2017 revolves around three women facing mid-life crisis. Sen has not only directed this film, she also essays the role of a Sanskrit professor, Aruna Chaturvedi, while Shabana Azmi is a Bengali, Dolon Sen, working with an MNC. Lillete Dubey will be seen as a journalist, Subhadra Parekh.

“The play contains a narrative which happens in a space during the duration of one evening with only three characters. Yet it holds everything so well because it is very rich in texture and is layered. It has tremendous and wonderful interplay of moods and emotions. It has very dramatic moments. I thought that it could work very well as a film. That’s why I selected this play for a movie,” Sen says.

This is not the first time that Sen has adapted a play for a movie.  “Plays have been made into film before. Two of Mahesh Eklunchwar’s plays have been made into film —Ketan Mehta’s Holi (1984) and by Govind Nihalani’s Party (1984). I made Saari Raat by late Bengali playwright Badal Sarkar and also adapted one of the Shakespeare’s plays Romeo and Juliet into a musical in Bengali. We have a treasure house in literature that can be a good story to tell on celluloid,” Sen tells you.

Actors feel that Indian literature is rich in good stories which has remained unexplored at large. “I hope that filmmakers use our wonderful literature, not just plays but short stories, poetry and novels as well. We write such bad screenplays and then we come up with an excuse that there are lack of good stories. How can we lack good stories? Even in Natyashastra, there are seven emotions which bind everything together. The entire world embraces the same seven emotions and create plethora of things,” Dubey says whose directorial venture on stage —  My Name Is Gauhar Jaan (adapted by a play by Vikram Sampath by the same name) will now be adapted by Ashutosh Gowarikar’s untitled project.

“I directed the play based on a book My Name Is Gauhar Jaan. It is about this the first Indian woman who sang on the wax record in 1902. Recently, I got to know that Gowarikar is making a movie on it and has bought the rights of the book. The play was screaming to be made into a film. The heroine of the play was such a fascinating character. I am sure that what was in my play will slightly influence him because he will see how we have culled all the material and made it for theatrical show,” Dubey tells you.

Films like Sonata which  talk about friendship and women bonding will have a universal connect. “Friendship is the only relationship in the world that binds people and lasts forever, be it between two women or a man and woman. Even a man-woman bond, apart from the lust and sex which fades away after a certain point, it’s the friendship that keeps them together. Why do people have long marriages and last forever? It’s because of the friendship in which we share similar interest, taste and make time for each other. All the elements that you need to make human beings connect with each other are all implicit in a friendship. We just call it by different names,” Dubey explains.

The off-screen chemistry between Sen, Azmi and Dubey has been beautifully reflected as one can see from the film’s trailers. “During the shooting of the film, I just remember eating a lot every few hours and wanting to know what was next on the menu. Sen makes lovely moori. She would get it for all and like a director, she would take the right amount. We have many things in common that makes for a perfect company to enjoy. For instance we love salad, soups, cheese, bread, olives and red wine. If I get all this, I’m happy and have no complaints from life,” Dubey says.

Talking about her love for cooking, Sen says: “I like to cook. I used to make moori every day on the sets. The crew used to get all the ingredients and my job was to mix it, make the crew eat it then eat myself,” Sen says.

Though Sen was busy with shoot, Dubey and Azmi would have lots of fun. “Early morning, Shabana and I used to go out and take our scripts on the pretext of rehearsing our lines. But I don’t remember we ever opened it. We would chat about everything else but the movie. It was only once we reached the sets, did we get on with our lines,” Dubey says and recalls how Azmi’s wig would give her a lot of trouble. So much that they had to re-shoot the entire thing.

“First day I saw Shabana with a white long wig, it was very funny. You could make out that it must be making her very uncomfortable. She was scared that her real hair would fall because of the wig. But she didn’t want her apprehensions to show in front of Aparna. She kept asking me: ‘How is it looking. Is it looking nice? I don’t think it is looking nice’. So I told her to tell Aparna. She finally told her and suggested that they shoot without the wig. The three of us, we have respect for each other’s work. And our commitment to this project made us have a lot of fun,” Dubey tells you.

Including having fun at the expense of an assistant director whose work was to give cues but soon became a butt of a joke. “He was very hard working and a nice gentleman. But nobody understood what he would say since he has a soft voice and his English had a lot of Bengali ascent. Even I couldn’t make out what he was trying to say. At the end, we would have to get the script and read it ourselves,” Sen recounts.

(The article also got published in Pioneer Newspaper –  http://www.dailypioneer.com/sunday-edition/sunday-pioneer/backpack/lets-play-with-films.html).

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