"15 Park Avenue" (Calcutta) visited...

A Movie Review by Rakesh Mawa


** Fair warning: The following review may contain plot spoilers. **


How does one deal with the rape of a schizophrenic woman traveling alone to report on post electoral violence in our badlands? I mean, how do you deal with it if you are a filmmaker? Do you want to convey the horror of the inhuman experience without pandering to masochistic viewership? Aparna Sen does just that with a sensitivity possible only from a woman in the film 15th Park Avenue.

One is shaken by the sight of the protagonist (Meethali, a schizophrenic, played by Konkana Sen) being gang raped in a hotel room, dragged into the lobby and her sandals being thrown at her, so callously, so very inhumanly. Yet, the visuals are not those of in your face rape or even violence, it just shows people moving about in the lobby, being deliberately deaf to the muffled cries, sobs and screams for help by the victim. The visuals are restrained, yet horrifying when Meethi is dragged to the lobby of the hotel and her sandals and a bra tossed at her body....

15th Park Avenue is a lyrical comment on the nature of reality itself. It portrays different realities of its characters and the price they pay for their chosen realities. At the center of these realities is Meethi; with her imaginary husband JoJo, five kids named NainTara, Vishal....a big cockerel Spaniel.. and a lovely house at 15 Park Avenue in Calcutta. The other real lives are of Meethi’s elder sister (Shabana Azmi) who has kept her life on the hold to take care of her sibling, Joydeep Roy (Rahul Bose) who is happily married with two kids of his own.

The movie is a study in contrast of these realities, the interplay of our perception. The cadence of the experiences we undergo and the truth therein, the music and the discord as well. The movie doesn’t have songs, very little background music, yet the aural experience haunts for quite a few days.

The visual imagery is mellowed down deliberately; even Bhutan's hills look pale (easily correctable by adding blue tinge, but, I think, deliberately not done.), Rahul's face looks expressionless as he closes his expressive eyes in too much ambient light! Aparna Sen remains true to raw _expression, as is, not touching up, even the cinematic experience.

Meethi’s experiences seem as real as anyone else’s, except that they does not pass the reality test as perceived by majority! Yet, the point is: how much does she need to suffer before she stops looking for something that isn’t there? Don’t we all suffer looking for something that isn’t really there, as Joydeep's wife remarks in the movie? Don’t we have a propensity to seek the unreal? Poignant questions.

Next time you see those expressionless eyes staring at you at a red light or near your home, you know that they are looking for a non-existent address. Maybe that would arouse you to spare a thought on what it is that you yourself are seeking in life.

On a very practical level, the movie raises questions on the way we treat our mental patients. Even when Meethi’s sister is passionately explaining the evolution of the Grand Unification Theory, Meethi is being beaten up by a witch doctor at home to get rid of bad spirits. We are impatient with our own loved ones who are in psychological distress. We want them removed from our sights, we want to take away their human status. As Meethi’s mother rightly remarks, they are a very stressed family!

Another aspect of dealing with mentally ill patients is: how much normalcy in terms of day-today behavior should be expected from them. How does one handle an engagement or a marriage with such a person, who sees imaginary people staring at her breasts. Well, Aparna Sen's answer is: you deal with it as honestly as possible, even at the risk of being called a spineless bastard! When Joydeep falls in love with Meethi, he goes ahead, in spite of all the warnings by Meethi’s sister, and gets engaged to her. But, when Meethi recovers after being gang raped, he is just not able to reconcile to the violation. He just can’t feel any passion in their relationship. He walks out of the relationship, when she needs him most. He prefers being callous to being a phony.

Joydeep returns in Meethi’s life years later, when they meet accidentally while vacationing in Bhutan. She doesn’t even remember him, but he becomes her only confidant! He understands her, her world, her JoJo, their dreams that have been so deep rooted that they became a living reality in Meethi’s life. What more can lovers ever ask of each other? His understanding, falls short of love and her love plunges past the reality which Van Gogh barely touched in his Maya. Sanity sucks!

Here is to you, Joydeep!

Rakesh Mawa is a mountaineer, climber, traveller, long distance runner, martial artist and an absurdist philosopher. He is an avid reader and writes poetry and short stories, occassionally. A communications engineer by profession, he has over a decade long experience in building satellite based communication systems. India based, he is working on starting "Ind-Parikrama" (Indian equivalent of Tour de france) and is contactable at rakmawa@yahoo.com.


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