New Delhi: Cinema has shaped the cultural, social and political values of people of this country. Cinema is believed to not only entertain but plays a key role in moulding opinions, constructing images and reinforcing dominant cultural values.
Raja Harish Chandra, directed by Dadasaheb Phalke was the first film in the history of Indian cinema. This film had men playing the roles of women. After Raja Harish Chandra, in Dadasaheb's second film Mohini Bhasmasur, Indian cinema had its first female actress Durga Bai Kamat.
Since Independence, Indian cinema has gone through a lot of changes including a shift from classic mythological blockbusters to depicting revolutionising concepts.
Women in the Indian film industry have played an important role in the success of individual films. Their roles however have changed over time, from being dependent on their male counterparts to very independently carrying the storyline forward.
The women centric films concern about the under-representation and misrepresentation of women in cinema. It adopts a critical approach towards gender bias on the screen.
The feminist approach to cinema asks a few pertinent questions like how women are represented on screen, how women's issues are treated in cinema, what does feminism mean to film-makers, how is the women portrayed and what is the role of women film-makers and women writers in depicting women's issues through cinema.
Aparna Sen is an Indian film director, screenwriter, and actress known for her work in Bengali cinema. She has been recognised with nine National Film awards and Padma Shri. Women in Aparna Sen directed films have never been confined in an ideological realm of modernity or progressiveness; instead, they travel their way into breaking all the boundaries of regressive society. “I don't make experimental cinema or so-called formula films. Instead, I make films which are true to my artistic vision,” Aparna Sen once said in an interview.
Here is a list of Bengali films directed by Aparna Sen which gave woman empowerment in Indian cinema a major boost.
36 Chowringhee Lane (1981)
36 Chowinghee Lane won the Golden Eagle – Best Feature Film Award at 1982 Cinemanila International Film Fest (Philippines). Jennifer Kendal won the Best Actress Award at the Evening Standard British Film Awards for her outstanding performance in '36 Chowringhee Lane'. The film drives us into the world of an aged Anglo-Indian teacher Violet Stoneham (Jennifer Kendal). Dhritiman Chatterjee portrayed the unusual character of author Samaresh Maitra, who is also the boyfriend of Nandita (Debashree Roy), Violet's ex-student. Together, they use the Anglo-Indian teacher's home for their own interest and ultimately leave her alone when she wants to celebrate her friendship with the pair. Even as an opportunistic and struggling author, the versatile actor won many a heart.
Aparna Sen's second directorial venture 'Parama'. Starring Rakhee Gulzar in the main role, who is a married woman whose circumstances force her to find out her own voice and confront the patriarchal domination in her traditional Bengali household. Aparna Sen herself reckons the film to be her most feminist one. How far can the mental tenacity go for a married woman facing her act of sexual liberation is the film all about and it still remains a must watch for any contemporary cine buff. This simple narrative conveys an intricate tale of an illicit affair that questions - why does it have to be a young person – as if the right to love, lust, and sex only belongs to the youth?
This film has clear influence of Satyajit Ray's style. The film stars Shabana Azmi, Arun Bannerjee and Kali Bannerjee. Their riveting performances make this film worth a watch. Sati is a heart-wrenching tale of a speech-impaired young lady Sati (Shabana Azmi), a girl of 19th century Bengal, who is married to a tree to be saved from untimely widowhood, as is predicted in her horoscope.
Being mute, orphan Uma has been exploited by her extended family. She does all the household chores without complaints but is still considered to be a perennial burden due to her disability. Unlike a woman from a wealthy family, who is capable of showering wealth on her prospective husband, she is unworthy of marriage - due to her disability and poverty.
However, Sen carefully secures a space for the expression of Uma's desire that is equally legitimate and valid like any other normal girl of her age. Her silent body expresses an urge to be loved and caressed, manifests anger at the unabashed verbal and physical abuses of her family and shows the power to nurture and care by hugging her tree husband or taking care of the cattle. When the respected village school master has forced sex with her in the absence of his wife, Uma returns to him for her sexual gratification. Uma's pregnancy banishes her from her family to a cowshed. She dies in a stormy night being crushed by the huge tree, supposedly her husband. Uma fails to avoid her fate reserved for her by patriarchy, religion, and history but Sen highlights her qualities that remain unaffected by her muteness.
Paromitar Ek Din (2000)
Paromitar Ek Din happens to be a house of memories. This Aparna Sen directorial tries to explore women of different generations and establishes a shocking difference and similarity at the same time between the women from a wider perspective. The crux of the story depicts unique friendship. Paromita (Rituparna), a modern woman and her mother-in-law Sanaka (Aparna Sen) develop a friendship bond. The differences in age and thoughts can't stop them from becoming each other's confidant. But, Paromita and Sanaka's son one day split away and the social structure creates a barrier between Paramita and Sanaka.
Mr. And Mrs. Iyer (2002)
Aparna Sen's daughter Konkana stuns the audience with her silently sledge-hammering portrayal of a conservative Tamilian Brahmin housewife Meenakshi Iyer, travelling alone with her infant son through a politically disturbed hilly region to join her husband.
Mr. & Mrs. Iyer seems to hold for us “a unique assembly of characters” seen in various cultural contexts. Sen said in an interview, “The film represents mini India and keeps focus on the subtle interactions of characters coming from different places of the country. Despite differences in language, customs and culture, the multifarious characters relocate their common bond. In other words, it is about human relationships.”
The protagonist in the film is Konkona whose eyes narrate a thousand untold stories and Aparna Sen develops a miniature yet epic world of powerful inner strength. The film addresses the issue of communal conflict. Rahul Bose's portrayal of a Bengalee Muslim wildlife photographer is also a must watch.
The Japanese Wife (2010)
One of Aparna Sen's unique qualities is that she highlights the rhythms of her characters' life so well that you can't imagine them doing anything else to get into the narrative. 'The Japanese Wife' has a bit of an improbable plot, based on a novel of the same name, which sees a Bengali school teacher Snehamoy (Rahul Bose) falling in long-distance love with his Japanese pen pal Miyage and it eventually turns into an enchanting romance in director Aparna Sen's skillful hands. Raima Sen as the young widow who arrives to stay in Snehamoy's house with her son, and whose occasional proximity to Snehamoy contrasts with the far-away-ness of Miyage, is effectively understated and the actress does well to portray such a challenging character.