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Aparna Sen Talks Suman Ghosh’s Rotterdam Documentary ‘Parama,’ Prepares Film of Satyajit Ray Stories (EXCLUSIVE)

Revered Indian actor and filmmaker Aparna Sen is the subject of Suman Ghosh’s documentary “Parama: A Journey with Aparna Sen,” which has its world premiere at International Film Festival Rotterdam‘s Cinema Regained strand.

Sen came to notice as an actor with the “Samapti” segment in Oscar winner Satyajit Ray’s “Three Daughters” (1961). She acted in several more films by Ray and also worked with Indian cinema greats Mrinal Sen, Tapan Sinha and Rituparno Ghosh. Her acting credits also include Merchant-Ivory films “The Guru” (1969) and “Bombay Talkie” (1970).

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“36 Chowringhee Lane” (1981), Sen’s directorial debut, won her best director at India’s National Film Awards. She has directed several acclaimed films since, including “Paroma” (1984), “Sati” (1989), “Paromitar Ek Din” (2000), “Mr. and Mrs. Iyer” (2002), “Goynar Baksho” (2013) and “The Rapist,” which won the Kim Jiseok prize at Busan in 2021.

Sen starred in Ghosh’s “The Bose Family” (2019). Ghosh is a prolific filmmaker who is a Busan regular with his arthouse films and has just scored a major box office hit in India with Christmas 2023 release “Kabuliwala,” based on a classic short story by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore. “Parama: A Journey with Aparna Sen” follows Sen and Ghosh as they trace her directorial journey from “36 Chowringhee Lane” to the present day.

“Suman has been a friend for a long time now. When he proposed the idea of a documentary, I had no reason to say no,” Sen told Variety. “I particularly liked his innovative idea of my revisiting the locations of my films whenever possible.”

Alongside his filmmaking career, Ghosh is an economist with a flourishing academic career in the U.S. “Once I got to know her [Sen] at a deeper level I could realize from where her beliefs and passion about her work emanated. I sincerely believe that such people are becoming rare in the world that we live in. Honest, forthright, passionate, and immensely talented,” Ghosh told Variety.

“I am fortunate in my life to have interacted with people like Amartya Sen [Nobel-winning economist who’s the subject of Ghosh’s documentary “The Argumentative Indian”] and Soumitra Chatterjee [Satyajit Ray’s favorite actor] quite closely and I believe Aparna Sen belongs to that genre of human beings. I call them renaissance men [or] women. Liberal and humanist – in the tradition of Rabindranath Tagore. I feel we need more such people to navigate the complex world that we live in. And me being a filmmaker I wanted to explore Aparna Sen through her films. Her film aesthetic, her feminism, her politics – there is so much for me as a filmmaker which I could delve into. I think that is reason enough to make a documentary on her. My challenge was to explore her as a person through her films,” Ghosh added.

Ghosh also directed “Aadhaar”(2019), a satire on India’s identity card of the same name. After festival play including at Busan, Mumbai and Miami, the film was not released in India for allegedly political reasons. The indefatigable filmmaker bounced back and has since made “Searching for Happiness” (2021) and “Scavenger of Dreams” (2023), besides “Parama” and “Kabuliwala.”

“After the ‘Aadhaar’ release was stopped in 2021 I thought of leaving filmmaking completely. So from there it has been a tough journey to come out and hence it is pleasing to be in this state,” Ghosh said.

Sen regularly takes up against issues that bother her and is an outspoken voice for the oppressed in India against political regimes, no matter what their hue.

“That’s what I like about her. She is a person who still raises her voice against whichever government is in power. As a member of the civil society she believes in issue-based politics – which I question her [about] in the film since I am not sure of that politics. Nonetheless, her criticism is independent of her politics. Hence what you see in the film – she criticizes the governments both at the center and the state. Of course, it will not be kosher to both the governments, but I believe that’s the power of cinema and specifically documentaries. To raise our voice as artists, which we are increasingly lacking. I know times are tough but one has to navigate such times,” Ghosh said.

Sen is a fan of the ongoing renaissance in the Indian documentary scene and praises “Jhilli,” the Oscar-winning “The Elephant Whisperers” and the Oscar-nominated and Cannes, Sundance and IDFA-winning “All That Breathes.” On whether she would consider making a documentary herself, Sen says, “I have made fiction films all my life and the thought of filming a documentary intimidates me a little, even though I have toyed with one or two ideas occasionally. I don’t want to give those ideas away by elaborating on them, but I must say that the idea of eating fascinates me. How and what human beings and other animals eat is something I find very interesting. It is such a basic function in our lives.”

Meanwhile, Sen is working on two fiction features. “Suffice it to say that I am working on two film ideas at present, one of them based on three short stories written by Satyajit Ray,” Sen said. No further details were disclosed.

Ghosh has shared an exclusive clip from “Parama: A Journey with Aparna Sen” with Variety. Watch it here:

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