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Exclusive! Aparna Sen on India at 75: India is slowly but surely going towards fascism and that is my worry.

Aparna Sen talked about the Chidananda Dasgupta Memorial Award and Gopal Krishna Gandhi's lecture on India 75.

Exclusive! Aparna Sen on India at 75: India is slowly but surely going towards fascism and that is my worry.
Aparna Sen
  • Shamayita Chakraborty

Last Updated: 07.45 AM, Nov 21, 2022

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The last year, actress-filmmaker Aparna Sen, along with her friends and family members, initiated the Chidananda Dasgupta Memorial Award for debut film and film writing, along with a memorial lecture. Named after her father, eminent film historian, writer, and filmmaker Chidananda Dasgupta, the awards aim to encourage fresh talents across the country. In its second year, Gopal Krishna Gandhi presented the Chidananda Dasgupta Memorial Lecture on ‘India 75’. Meanwhile, filmmaker Girish Kasaravalli, actress-filmmaker Konkona Sensharma, and actress Suhasini Maniratnam were the jury members for the awards. The ceremony took place with full grandeur at a city auditorium on November 20. This year, Abhinandan Banerjee’s Manikbabur Megh bagged the Chidananda Dasgupta Memorial Award for Best Debut Feature Film. In a candid chat with OTTplay, Aparna Sen talked about the award, her vision, and a lot more.

Tell us about the idea of this award and lecture.

In the first year, we were all green. We did not know how to go about it. Without the help of Shamik Bandyopadhyay, Raju Raman, and Neel, I don’t think we could have managed. We also had a wonderful creating person, Shafat. He has been very cooperative. We rushed him and he managed to give us good work despite that.

The first year, the event was held at Nandan 2. It was fine but we found that we had more people clamouring to come in. Shamik Bandyopadhyay, who is a wonderful speaker, gave the annual memorial lecture.

Before that, a long time ago, there was another annual memorial lecture, delivered by Ashok Mitra. That was held at Ramkrishna Mission. After that Soumitra Chatterjee also delivered one lecture. But after these two lectures, such things did not happen anymore. After that many of my father’s friends and admirers, including Raju Raman and Shamik Bandyopadhyay got together with us and together we formed a trust – Chidananda Dasgupta Memorial Trust. Hence, this year it will be the fourth memorial lecture. But We are calling it the second year since the first two years’ lectures were not part of the trust.

We have introduced the awards. There is an award of Rs one lakh for the best debutant director. As of now, we do not have any corporate organisations joining us. Maybe they will join in the future. So, it's all family money – whatever we all could put together and we are doing with that. Apart from that, there is an award for the best writing in cinema (Rs 50,000). This year is my mother’s centenary year. And we have Supriya Dasgupta memorial award for the best costume design. My mother got the National Award for Costume Design in my father’s film, Amodini. To honour her, we are doing that. We are also coming up with publications. One volume of baba’s writing in Bengali was published. The second volume will be published in January next year. My mother used to write short stories. Maybe a collection of her stories, along with the translation done by my father will be published

Along with the awards, this year Gopal Krishna Gandhi delivered a lecture on 'India 75'. Is there any particular reason behind chosing Gopal Krishna Gandhi?

Gopal Krishna Gandhi’s worldview and ideology are very much in tune with what my father thought. My father was a liberal and radical humanist if you can call him that. For him, humanism was paramount. He had a love for cinema. Besides, he also had a love for literature, history, sculpture – Indian culture in general. Moreover, Gopal Krishna Gandhi is a wonderful speaker. His political views are in tune with my father's. My husband and I are great admirers of Gopal Gandhi. since so many people are interested to listen to his speech, we thought that a bigger venue will be the best for the event. Hence, it is happening at Birla Sabhaghar.

What are your thoughts on the topic, 'India 75'?

India is slowly but surely going towards fascism. That is my worry. But I still have faith in Indian democracy. I think the People of India, might at some stage, instead of looking at false nationalism constantly, will think about other nationalism like the economy, whether people are getting jobs, if the benefits of the government are reaching the maximum number of people, and so on. These are the things to talk about. Instead of constantly thinking of the bogey of China and Pakistan, we must focus on these. Of course, there is a need to pay attention to the Army but there is also a need to feed our people.

What are the elements of film writings you learnt from Chidananda Dasgupta?

He was one of the first serious writers of cinema. He was the first to see cinema as a text. He was also a great film historian who could put a film into historical and sociological perspective. That is what I learnt from my father – to read a film as a text. What does it contain? What are the director and actors trying to say? When my father used to do film reviews, they were proper reviews. It was not about him or how much he read. But would place the film and the filmmaker in a sociological context and compare him with others and what is happening around the world. And then try to analyse what he was trying to say rather than attacking him. When he did criticise, he used to do constructive criticism with a lot of heart. Not something that would decimate or destroy the filmmaker.

I am hugely influenced by my father. I used to read his review and his published works in global and Indian magazines. And I noticed baba wrote. I did not write about cinema that much. I gave a keynote lecture at the Ray Society. To do that, I had to read a lot of books. My subject was Satyajit Ray: The evolution of a master. I then realised that my father wrote almost everything. It was very difficult to write anything new. He always saw the family background, and the historical time the filmmaker lived in. In the case of Ritwick Ghatak, one has to take into consideration the Partition of India and Bengal and one has to see the film in that context. That is very important. Father taught me how to find the context.

What are your thoughts on today’s writings on films?

A lot of reviewers today write to show off how much they have read and seen. They talk about filmmakers of the world. Of course, you’ll have to talk about the filmmakers of the world. But rubbishing films made here is a style I don’t like. It seems the reviewer knows everything about cinema and the filmmaker doesn’t know anything. That is not the right way to go. The right way to go is to find out what the filmmaker is trying to say. Criticism should be constructive, not destructive.

What are your thoughts on contemporary cinema? Do you think today’s films can become socially relevant?

If we consider Indian films, there are a whole lot of films are being made. In Bengal also we are coming across good films. I want to watch Dostojee which has garnered a lot of appreciation. Everyone talked about it. I am going to watch Jhilli. It is a modern new voice and a different language of cinema. And that is very important to me. I will watch Ballavpurer Roopkotha today. It is a very healthy entertainment – Badal Sircar, a comedy. I haven’t seen it but from all accounts, I can say that if people like that kind of thing it means that the taste of the audience will get better. The audience unfortunately is always subjected to rubbish on television. I understand that television provides a lot of employment for people and my sympathy and respect for them in that area there. But having said that I will also say that it is important for the standard and quality of the works that are produced on television – the serials and so on – must go up. They are catering to the lower common denominator. General elderly people and their caregivers are compelled to watch it. My sister’s attendant watches serials and my sister is also subjected to that. Let them make serial for the general public but those can also be better. I saw one or two episodes of a TV show. The general quality of it was so bad, aesthetically poor. It ruins the audience’s taste and eye for good cinema. Developing the taste of the audience is a responsibility of a filmmaker. Similarly, for the members of the audience who want a good film, it is their responsibility to discard the rubbish. They should go and watch a good film and then producers will understand that there are takers of good films and they will make more of such good cinema.

About the awards, what are the criteria you focus on while selecting for the award?

The jury that we pick, we feel that their choice will be impeccable. We have an impeccable jury this year – Girish Kasaravalli, Konkona Sensharma, and Suhasini Maniratnam. last year we had Adoor Gopalkrishnan, Shabana Azmi, and Goutam Ghose.

Similarly, we give the freedom to our lecturer to select a topic. We are not going to tell Gopal Krishna Gandhi what to talk about. I am not going to tell Shamik Bandyopadhyay what to say. They know what to say. They know better than me.

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