Planet Bollywood
15th Park Avenue
 
Producer: Bipin Vehra
Director: Aparna Sen
Starring: Konkona Sen Sharma, Shabana Azmi, Rahul Bose, and Waheeda Rahman
Music: -
Lyrics: -
Genre: Art-Film
Recommended Audience: Parental Guidance
Approximate Running Time: 116 minutes
Film Released on: 06 January 2006
Reviewed by: Aakash Gandhi  - Rating: 9.5 / 10
 
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Public Rating Average: 5.1 / 10 (rated by 411 viewers)
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From the critically acclaimed director of Mr. and Mrs. Iyer comes a story of a young woman imprisoned by barriers of imaginative reality, only to be left searching tirelessly for a home that ceases to exist…

Writer-Director Aparna Sen has left no stones unturned throughout her impressive career as an offbeat filmmaker. Her powerful vision, touch of creativity, and masterful storytelling abilities have not only been bewildering, but also grossly enlightening.

15th Park Avenue is a piece of cinema that deals with the disturbing condition of chronic schizophrenia. Aparna Sen takes on the task of scratching the surface of such a subject, as she gives us a peak into the most creative psyche of all…the schizophrenic mind. Starring Konkona Sen Sharma, Rahul Bose, and Shabana Azmi; 15th Park Avenue is nothing short of praise-worthy, and is art cinema quite possibly at its best.

Meethi (Konkona Sen Sharma) lives with her eighteen-year elder sister Anu (Shabana Azmi). Narrated in flashback scenes, Meethi lived a very secluded childhood. Genetically armed with the dormant illness of schizophrenia, Meethi would fall in and out of depression, possibly due to the realization that her elder brother and sister had a different father than she.

Much later in her life, while on an out-of-town assignment for her magazine, Illustrated Weekly, Meethi was brutally raped several times over by a gang of political goons. This, bundled with the fact that her boyfriend, Jojo (Rahul Bose) leaves her, causes the dormant illness to erupt, as Meethi soon becomes suicidal and delusional. From here on out is the story of a scarred victim who fights with the rest of the world to believe in her reality; a reality that only exists in her soul.

The spine of any film, whether it be commercial blockbusters or art-house cinema, is always the script. Written almost entirely in English by Mrs. Sen, 15th Park Avenue has a message woven throughout the screenplay and the characters shine on paper just as well as they do on screen.

When a film such as this one is stripped almost entirely of any aesthetic gloss or a background score, you almost exclusively rely on the performances and the script. 15th Park Avenue works on such a high level that you feel as if you’re watching the film through a window. Photographer Hemant Chaturvedi deserves immense credit for his rural portrayal of Calcutta and Bhutan. 15th Park Avenue is the first Indian film extensively shot in a setting as picturesque as Bhutan. He provides a beautiful canvas upon which Aparna Sen’s brush paints such a vivid landscape.

Reverting back to the script and direction of Mrs. Sen: So many scenes are evidence of the time and effort put into not only the dialogues, but also the execution of the film. For instance, the “scintillating” conversations between Anu and Dr. Kunal are so tactfully written that the viewer begins to fall into deep thoughts!

The hard-hitting rape scene was executed flawlessly. The precision and detail involved in that scene helps build a platform upon which Meethi’s schizophrenia structures itself.

Character development is one of the most difficult tasks in such a psychological film. Aparna Sen does a fantastic job in developing Meethi’s illness. First it was depression, then it was suicide, then delusions. Then, she was stuck on believing that everyone was against her. And of course the driving motivation behind her constant delusions was her imaginative certainty that she had a family at 15th Park Avenue.

Although there wasn’t much aesthetic gloss in the film, there were aesthetics. Editor Rebiranjan Maltra has created a very proportionate film, in that nothing was over-drawn out nor was there a lag in pace. 15th Park Avenue flowed seamlessly and it’s thanks to this man. Art and Costume Design by Bautam Bose and Bibi Ray, respectively, were essential in creating the rustic look that 15th Park Avenue embodies. Not only that, Konkona Sen Sharma’s makeup and dress were so realistically done.

In addition, Anu’s character was given such scope that we really sympathize with her situation. Her mental toughness and strong protective nature are so perfectly woven within the narrative.

As far as character timing is concerned. Jojo’s character enters the film at the perfect point. Mrs. Sen creates this mysterious figure in Meethi’s wandering mind. The arrival of Jojo’s character adds a third dimension to the film, as a figment of Meethi’s imagination enters in a physical manifestation.

Although Konkona Sen Sharma’s character is the nucleus of 15th Park Avenue, it is Shabana Azmi who steals every scene with her standoffish portrayal of a caring elder sister and caretaker. Her acquaintances with Dhritiman Chatterjee (Dr. Kunal) are a delight to watch, and her meetings with Rahul Bose’s character keep you wanting more of their interactions.

Konkona Sen Sharma squeezes everything out of Meethi and plays the schizophrenic role quite impressively. Everything from her tainted mannerisms to her innocent speech fit to perfection. Her acting workshops with Sohag Sen have definitely paid dividends, as Sharma has come out of this film a much better actor.

Rahul Bose is undoubtedly built for art-house cinema. However, his role as Meethi’s imaginary husband and ex-boyfriend is limited. Yet, he is simply remarkable in the scene where he has to explain himself to his wife (Shefali Shah) and when he takes Meethi for a walk towards the end of the film. His performance was nicely felt.

However, the most shocking aspect of the film comes at the very end. Aparna Sen has ventured into uncharted territories before, but she truly outdoes herself in 15th Park Avenue. Although audiences go to films for various reasons, there’s one underlying one: To know how it ends. But in 15th Park Avenue, Aparna Sen follows the theme and leaves us with a stunning open ending. For this reason alone, many viewers will scratch their heads wondering what the woman was thinking. But the reasons are but obvious…

Imagination is what made Meethi different. It was her mind that dictated reality, not her eyes. Aparna Sen deliberately created such a conclusion so that we, the audience, could decide for ourselves what happened. It’s time to free ourselves from visual realism and let our imagination run free. Why must there always be an absolute end to everything?

I also believe that Aparna Sen created this film to enlighten us once more. In someway, all of us are looking for our 15th Park Avenue that exists only in our minds. It exists only because we want it to. We all have dreams that others don’t see, and no matter what anybody says, we will continue to believe in that dream. Because what’s reality to you isn’t necessarily reality to me. Is it?

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