How does one deal with 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 this with sensitivity possible only to a woman in “15th Park Avenue”.
One is queasy at 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 the Meethi’s; 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 the 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 is 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 are as real as anyone else, except that it does not pass the test of real life as voted by majority! Yet, the point is: how much she needs 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 and maybe you spare a thought on what are you looking for?
On a very practical level, the movie raises questions on the way we treat our mental patients; even when Meethi sister is passionately explaining the evolution of Grand Unification Theory, Meethi is being beaten up by witch doctor at home to get rid of bad spirits. We are impatient with our own people in psychological distress, they need to be put out of our sights, we want to “un-person” them. As Meethi’s mother remarks, we are a very stressed family!
Another aspect of dealing with psychiatric patients is: how much normalcy in terms of day-today behaviour is 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: “honestly, with sensitivity”. 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 chooses to be callous, than being a phony.
Joydeep returns in Meethi’s life years later, when the 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, falling short of love and her love surpassing the reality into what Van Gogh barely touched in his “Maya”. Sanity sucks!
Here’s to you, Joydeep! (Apologies! Rahul Bose, I am not a professional movie reviewer, just my 2 cents here).