Free Press Journal

Sonata movie review: Big words, small effect

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etc bollywood 3-april 21

Film: Sonata

Cast: Shabana Azmi, Aparna Sen, Lillette Dubey

Director: Aparna Sen


Aparna Sen’s film is based on Mahesh Eklunchwar’s play of the same name- about three unmarried 60 plus women living varying lifestyles yet bonding together with a tenacity that goes beyond individual weaknesses. Aruna Chaturvedi (Aparna Sen) and Dolon Sen (Shabana Azmi) have been sharing an apartment together for the past twenty years yet it takes one skype call from a college friend Samir – who turned female through a sex reassignment surgery, to stir up a hornet’s nest (sort of) between the two.

Aru is a repressed. Straight laced, conservative, Sanskrit professor/author whose origins are from highly conservative middle India while Dolon, a HOD(?) at a Bank is Bengali, the more touchy, feely, exuberant type who loves to try out new things and live the good life. They are supposedly chalk and cheese yet they’ve lived together harmoniously until this moment in time. The entry of a third woman, Subhadra Parekh (Lillette Dubey) a journalist who seems bohemian in her life choices, spices up the drama for a bit – what with her leaving her abusive lover (who she gives back to in the same coin) and him coming to the apartment block drunk and making a noise, trying to get her to go back with him.

The film is in English and it doesn’t feel alien as much as it does seem a little too prosaic for a cinema. Too much conversation, bandying about of big sounding words, the pronounced stress on accents and trivial nit-picking appears to take centre-stage when there’s much more potent happenings in the world outside.

Juxtaposing the drawing room hysterics against the 26/11 terrorist strike at the Taj (representing the world outside) Aparna tries to make her edict more meaningful and momentous but it seems a trifle contrived and exploitative. The narrative doesn’t flow naturally; it feels stagey and the conversations don’t sound natural either.

Eklunchwar’s play, as Aparna puts it, has a unique woman’s gaze and the film too is a fulfilment of that aspect. Unfortunately it plays out as trivial and in-affective – other than for Shabana’s tour-de-force performance replete with her mellifluous voicing of Rabindra Sangeet, in a construct dominated by Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.