Saturday, January 14, 2006

15 Park Avenue

Has schizophrenia ever been looked into more intimately than this? I don't think so.

The best thing about Aparna Sen's film is that it could have been told from so many points of view. As it is, 15 Park Avenue doesn't stick to one and though we largely see the story unfolding from the elder sister's perspective, it’s not through her eyes. Anjali, the older sister-caregiver character is played by Shabana Azmi and she, like most of the other characters and the film itself, is so many things at the same time. A successful physicist and lecturer, a good daughter and excellent sister, a woman with a failed marriage behind her, an attractive woman who obviously takes care of what she wears and how she looks, and who is attracted to a man even while she has a steady relationship with another, though that seems to be on its last legs. And what’s most attractive about this character is that she’s so human, not a sacrificing saint but someone who is often irritated, angry, frustrated at the situation life has dealt her.

For me, what makes a good film really good is wanting to know more about each of the characters, the back-stories, the stories you sense are there, but being ultimately glad that they are left untold. It's also when you can really see the same situation from several different points of view, and feel each of them are right in their own way, and yet understand why the others involved in the drama can deny that.

Take Joydeep's (Rahul Bose’s) antipathy towards Anjali – he sees her as this dominating, overtly forceful woman who's jealous of any man who might threaten to replace her in her sister's life, while she sees him as a young fool in love who doesn't realise the enormity of the task he is taking on and as the factor that could upset her sister's tenuous hold on sanity, hence is a bit more aggressive towards him than is necessary.

Then there's Mithi, who's beyond points of view. Konkona is... well... she’s also beyond praise, really. I loved the way she portrays the schizophrenic’s certainty that it’s the world, not they, that is skewed. The patience in her voice when she’s explaining things that are obvious to her to the incredulous listeners. “No no I know Palm Avenue, my uncle lives there. I’m looking for Paaark Avenue, not Palm Avenue...”

The way her story unfolds in the film is superb. Not one straight flash-back but a gentle peeling away that reveals the whens and hows and whys. Though it leaves the chronology a bit shaky, one of the weaknesses of the film.

Oh yes, there are plenty. The dialogue, predictably, flags in places. It's mostly in English, and one would rather Anjali and her mother (played by Waheeda Rehman, who is competent in portraying the weak mother who relies wholly on her elder daughter for strength and who is, perhaps, a little afraid of the younger) spoke in Hindi, as they're shown to be a Hindi-speaking family. The bond between this mother-daughter duo is beautifully drawn out, and yet doesn't degenerate into saccharine sweetness. Anjali lashes out at her mother for not being strong enough to take charge of Mithi and her mother tries to placate her with a few soothing lies.

The minor characters are so well drawn-out that they become almost as strong as the protagonists, though I felt Rahul Bose’s wife’s character (played with her usual thoroughness by Shefali Shah) was a bit over-wrought. I thought she was reacting a bit too strongly to her husband’s interest in his ex-girlfriend, though I do know women who are pretty irrational when it comes to their men's past affairs.

A film really works for me when it makes me inhabit its world so completely that I have trouble coming back to my reality after the credits have rolled. After this film was over, I kept sitting in my seat staring at the empty screen, trying not to cry, and so did a young girl sitting next to me, while the people accompanying us stood around patiently waiting for us to snap out of it. Finally, a woman accompanying the girl said “Let’s go. She’s not going to come back.” I realised with a jerk that she’s not, and walked out.


At January 14, 2006 8:29 PM, Blogger Sheetal said...

Wasn't that a great scene - where Anjali is teaching her class, holding forth on some fine point in physics intercut with scenes of the exorcist working on her sister?

At January 15, 2006 2:03 AM, Blogger 4WD said...

Hmm .... i didn't really get your post. Which is why i think i concentrate onmore pointless movies like supercross, or the transporter 2, or king kong.

At January 15, 2006 3:12 PM, Blogger The Marauder's Map said...

Ya, that was one of the best. Though did you think she was smiling too much for somebody teaching quantum physics :D? But who says q physics can't be amusing, eh?

4wd: That's because you're a Boy, not Man!

At January 16, 2006 10:39 AM, Blogger Sheetal said...

he he, true true. Too smiley and I'd be pretty uncomfortable if a teacher loomed over me like that.
It does seem like these QP chaps are constantly bemused - the more they know, the less they know - really sorry state for a lecturer and all, so perhaps she was smiling in sheer self defence.

At January 16, 2006 12:48 PM, Blogger Ron said...

Oh Im glad I found someone else who thought Shefali Chaya's reaction to her husbands ex was a bit overdone. Slight discomfort etc I get, but a reaction as strong as that was a bit much. Otherwise a very nice movie, although the English dialogues did seem a little contrived at time didnt it?

At January 16, 2006 4:06 PM, Blogger Priya said...

I felt the movie was convincing in bits and pieces. For instance, Konkona in that world of her own, speaking to her children; her undeterred faith in the existence of 15 Park Avenue; and, of course, her conviction that Saddam would help her get Jojo back; Shabana and her human failings (including that smiling lecture session on quantum physics,lol)and that scene of contrast as Sheetal mentions above. But overall, Aparna Sen falls short of expectations.

At January 18, 2006 4:07 PM, Blogger Roshomon said...

I agree with you...the english dialogues sounded a bit contrived and I also had a difficult time coming back to 'reality'.

At January 21, 2006 12:51 AM, Blogger Inkblot said...

I thought it was technically wanting,in that it had so much potential for drama (in terms of special effects-camerawork,music etc) as opposed to melodrama and the script was decidedly poor.
The rape sequence was unnecessary and confuses the otherwise good range of information provided on schizophrenics.

At January 22, 2006 1:39 AM, Anonymous Wicked Witch said...

I simply have to watch it now.

At January 22, 2006 5:03 PM, Blogger n.g. said...

i thought the film was rubbish. i'm not even talking technicals, which were amateurish at best. the director uses konkona's schizophrenia loosely and so many things happen that completely leave it aside. it went completely awry with that whole long educational lecture about schizo from the doctor, kunal or karim or whatever his name was, to shabana over wine. their whole romantic angle, completely unnecessary, because it doesnt go anywhere and does nothing to the film. their conversation doesnt tell you anything more than you already know about schizophrenia, its no better than an item song in a bollywood film. and glaring jumps, one minute konkona is looking like a wreck coming back from a month in the loonybin and the second she's waiting for shabana azmi outside her lecture looking like a million bucks. no suggestion of time lapse, director doesnt even bother to ESTABLISH if ANY time has gone by. and terrible performances, what was waheeda rehman doing there? why did shabana azmi do this godawful one dimensional
'i'm-a-martyr-please-love-me' role? rahul bose's family - completely unnecessary, shefali chhaya comes and goes without doing anything. their conversations do little except give the audience time for loo breaks. and i cant decide if rahul bose needs acting lessons more or a personality. and the director has the audacity to bring in poetic irony in the end, suggesting that everyone else is now looking for the infamous 15 park avenue. i loved 36 chowringhee and mr and mrs iyer was alright, this was complete bullcrap targeting a foreign audience only because they know who aparna sen is and will probably watch it because she made the film. it'll make it to a couple of pretentious festivals and win standing ovations from people who will watch anything and applaud it because a bunch of posers seem to be doing it.

if you want to see a powerful film on schizophrenia, watch the atul kulkarni marathi film 'devrai'.

At January 27, 2006 6:51 PM, Anonymous Saptak said...

Below is probably what a typical Mumbaite thinks of the movie:

I have not watched the movie though.

At February 02, 2006 5:45 AM, Blogger gypsy said...

I completely agree with Nish on the "Devrai" bit..if you really want to watch a superb movie on mental health, you have to watch that movie..Atul Kulkarni is awesome!
That said, I loved 15 park avenue too..
sure, the english dialogues do sound out of place at times, but I thought some untold stories were so that doctor' his marriage on the rocks too? or did anjali's marriage split because of the attention she was giving to her family? etc...
also, I think Shefali's charectar is real..i have seen women who react like that..but the beauty of it was that underneath her insecurity and fears, she felt for the girl..remember the time she askes him if they have slept together? And how his answer just leaves tears steaming down her face??!
anyways..great movie..and a great review!

At February 16, 2006 11:20 AM, Blogger kaushik said...

More than you review I loved reading the link Saptak has sent. I cant stop laughing. Have any of you guys read it.

By the way 15 Park Avenue was good. BUT. With a stellar cast of Rahul Bose, Konkona and Shabana I was expecting it to go through the roof. For me it didnt. Mr & Mrs Iyer still remains etched in my mind.

It may be a sincere effort but it is the way they have tackled the issue of schizophrenia that I was not happy about.

At April 23, 2006 8:09 PM, Blogger nemo said...

Hi ,

I just saw the movie and i think its beautiful. Not much so for the beautiful potrayal of a schizophrenic but the subtle attempt to delve into the "unrealness of "reality".

Aparna sen at various instances tickles the viewer to question themselves as to how they perceive reality eg the restaurant scene b/w shabana azmi and dhirtiman , dhritiman saying that the baba who hears voices might be a schizophrenic, konkana sen asking shabana azmi " what if somebody tells you that you are just imagining to be a professor?").

The ending of the movie to me is the most touching and the most profound . Konkana sen finds her 15 park avenue ( finds her reality). at the same time rahul bose and shabana azmi who know that park avenue does not exist at the end actually start looking for 15 park avenue ( listen to the last dialouges of the movie - rahul bose says " there is park avenue - its probably a block away"

What is real , what is unreal? will we ever know?

At May 07, 2006 8:59 AM, Anonymous rusik_bulma said...

I dont think most people saw the movie from this perspective. think about this guys, it might disturb you a little first, but then you would findit convincing. Shabana Azmi is the one who is Schiziophrenic. The whole movie remains in her illusionary world. except for 1-2 scenes. Konkana Sen's character is figment of her imagination. This is indicated once in the movie, when the Shrink is talking to her in the restaurant and points towards that flower Vase. It is shown as flower vase from her view and in the immediately next scene, it is shown as a lamp as per doc's view.

Sounds convincing? think about it.

At November 28, 2006 9:49 PM, Anonymous rima said...

Am so glad that atleast one other person noticed the flower vase scene in the restaurant, which points to Shabana Azmi being the schizophrenic, and the whole Konkona Sen character being her "imaginitive" reality. Few other aspects in the movie also made me think on this line. How at the end, Konkona Sen disappears into the house and when the doctor goes to inquire, the maid says she has not seen anyone, when clearly Konkona Sen had just entered the house. Also how the doctor seems to pay attention to Shabana Azmi and not the patient at all.
Infact when I thought of the movie from this angle, everything made sense and even seemed obvious. Although no one else seemed to have picked up on those points.
Really would like to know if that was Aparna Sen's intention.
Fantastic movie, and the actors are impeccable.

At February 10, 2007 9:45 AM, Anonymous Srini K said...

"The emperor has no clothes", is what I will say after watching this movie and reading all the great comments on the movie at IMDB and blog spots like this.

What the hell happened to the mad girl at the end? Did the doctor hack her to pieces inside the house so that he could have a gala time with the sister after convincing them that she is lost?!

At April 22, 2007 12:37 PM, Anonymous murtuza said...

it can't be that shabana azmi is ill.. cause she finds rahul bose inside when he was actually out.. so it can't be that everyone in the movie is ill and only konkana is not .. the end is confusing ...

At April 22, 2007 12:39 PM, Anonymous Murtuza said...

and i did notice the vase and the lamp in the second scene.. the doctor was just trying to explain her that lamp is as real to the doctor's imagination as the vase is to shabana.


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