New Release: Arshinagar Interview

‘Deep within, everyone is the same’

Arshinagar has 10 or 11 songs in all kinds of musical forms — pop, rock, heavy metal, qawwali, sufi, and more. Photo: Special Arrangement

Arshinagar has 10 or 11 songs in all kinds of musical forms — pop, rock, heavy metal, qawwali, sufi, and more. Photo: Special Arrangement  

Aparna Sen’s new film Arshinagar, based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, carries on where Mr. and Mrs. Iyer left, portraying love across the Hindu-Muslim divide.

“I let the images crowd my mind before I start writing a script,” says leading filmmaker-actor-writer Aparna Sen on the method behind her creative madness. Arshinagar, her musical adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, which releases this Christmas, came to her mind years ago through another version of the Shakespeare classic — Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins’ West Side Story, especially through its portrayal of the gang wars. “Though that does feel dated and slow now,” Sen says.

Actor Hema Malini was keen to have Sen launch her daughter Esha Deol in another version of the love story. “What better script and what better role than that of Juliet for a newcomer?” says Sen. But the project never took off.

A breath of life

And then, recently, while working on a rap song for Sen’s film Goynar Baksho (2013), music composer Debojyoti Mishra suggested that they do a musical together and Arshinagar was given life again.

Namrata Joshi
Sen says she tried to stay as close to the original in her first attempt at an adaptation of a Shakespearean text. This is quite unlike the recent Hindi adaptation > Ishaqzaade (2012), which went to the extent of showing Romeo wreaking vengeance on Juliet’s family by raping her. Or even > Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela (2013), where the two lovers turn into sworn enemies. Most of the original characters are retained in Arshinagar, includingTybalt (Tayyab in Sen’s version) and Mercutio. Romeo (Ronojoy Mitra) is called Rono and Juliet (Julekha Khan) is Julie. But Dadijaan, Julie’s great-grandmother, played by the legendary Waheeda Rehman who had earlier worked with Sen in 15 Park Avenue (2005), is of the director’s own imagination.

This is also Sen’s first attempt at a musical. The film has 10 or 11 songs in all kinds of musical forms — pop, rock, heavy metal, qawwali, sufi, and more. The compositions apart, all the dialogues are set in rhyme, something that has rarely been attempted in Indian cinema. In Bengali films, this has been done in a rare Goopy Bagha Phire Elo (1992), says Sen, and sparingly in the recent Bhooter Bhabishyat (2012).

Even though Arshinagar is in rhyme format , “it flows like normal speech, not something strange or out of the way,” says Sen. What’s more interesting is that the English subtitles of the film will be in rhyme form too. Sen has herself worked on the subtitles along with Madhuchhanda Karlekar, who had earlier subtitled her film Paromitar Ek Din (2000). The idea behind this was simple, Sen says. “We wanted the the entire experience and feel of the film to be conveyed in totality to a non-Bangla audience.” The subtitled version will release across India a week after the Bangla version releases.

For someone who has made intimate, inward-looking relationship films or for those looking squarely at socio-political realities, Arshinagar will be a flamboyant leap in a different, more mainstream, genre. “A musical by its very nature doesn’t allow for a lot of nuances,” Sen admits. So entertainment will be the main ingredient. Moreover, the film also boasts of Kolkata’s superstars Dev and Rittika Sen in the lead roles. Other actors include Jisshu Sengupta as the antagonist Tayyab, Roopa Ganguly, and Kaushik Sen.

Sen says the film, for which she has experimented with production design, is her biggest larger-than-life work. Arshinagar is a contemporary film which has not been located in any specific geographical context. It has land wars, private armies and mafia goons in the backdrop. “There were private armies in Verona of that time too,” says Sen. The film also examines religious orthodoxy and the Hindu-Muslim divide. Her Romeo is a Hindu, a member of the Garage Band, and Juliet is a Muslim. “In that sense, Arshinagar carries on from where > Mr. and Mrs. Iyer (2001) left; its core is no different,” she says.

Love across religion

Lalon Shah, the Bengali Baul saint, mystic, songwriter, social reformer and thinker, has been a great influence on Sen. She quotes his song ‘Mirrorland’ where he talks of a neighbour who he knows is around, but who he cannot see. This is about having another self within your own self — one that you are either not aware of or are in denial of. For Sen, the same sentiment echoes when talking of the Hindu and Muslim sides of the social, cultural and religious divide. Both are mirror images, so why the intolerance of the Other? “Sufism states that deep within, everyone is the same,” she says. Arshinagar furthers that thought. She adds: “Someone should tell the fundamentalists that even Advaita philosophy in Hinduism talks of oneness in all existence.”

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Printable version | May 24, 2020 2:15:01 AM |

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