A homecoming for the Iyers

Rahul Bose and Konkona Sensharma.  

IT WAS a sort of a homecoming for the Iyers at the lobby of The Park hotel on Tuesday. But Mr. Iyer is not your typical `Panchagacham' clad `Maama'. Nor was Mrs. Iyer the `Madisar Maami'. Only Rahul Bose and Konkana Sensharma will be called Mr and Mrs Iyer for quite a while to come by film lovers.

The actors were in the city to promote critically acclaimed director, Aparna Sen's latest film "Mr. And Mrs.Iyer", her second Indian English movie after a 20-year hiatus. Her last film in the genre was "36 Chowringhee Lane" in 1981, which is widely acknowledged to be one of 10 all time best parallel cinemas made in this country. Since then, Sen had made several Bengali films. Only the works whetted the appetite of a select group of viewers.

Now, the director has made her presence felt once again in the growing niche of Indian English films on a year that has seen surprise hits in "Bend it like Beckham" and "Monsoon Wedding". Sen had cast her daughter, Konkana, in the female lead as a Tamil Brahmin girl, Meenakshi Iyer. She falls in love with a Muslim wildlife photographer, Raja Choudary played by Rahul Bose. The story is a poignant narrative of the troubled times we live in when communal riots tear the couple apart.

Both Rahul and Konkana are no strangers to Chennai and have visited the city plenty of times before. But for Mrs. Iyer, the metro was of academic interest when she came over to stay with family friends to "prepare herself" for the role. "I had to learn the customs of Tamil Brahmins. The way they wear the saree and how the women behave. My mother suggested that I live in the city for a while to understand all that," Konkana says.

She was a sport to someone who tested her Tamil prowess. "I remember the few lines that I memorised for the movie". Ok, check. "Muthal Tharave Thaniya Poren". (For the first time I am travelling alone). Konkana transforms into the orthodox Meenakshi Iyer. Only the Kerala saree she was sporting was a slight mismatch.

So is the movie another critical, disturbing look at the communal riots that have become synonymous with newspaper headlines. Rahul guarantees us that the movie does look at communal tensions. "Only in the end, all that remains is the love story," he guarantees us.

It is the third film for Konkana.

Rahul, on the other hand, is a sort of veteran of the Indian English or the multi-lingual genre as he calls it. He reminds us that the 1994 Dev Benegal's adaptation of Upamanyu Chatterjee's "English, August", in which he played the lead character of Agastya Sen, actually had four languages in it including English.

With the release of "Mumbai Matinee" and "Jhankar Beats" before March next, Rahul says he would have completed eight multi-lingual movies. He is on verge of signing two more movies in the genre.

His own directorial debut, "Everybody says I'm fine" last year was termed a decent success and the actor says his next directorial could hit the screens only in 2004. "I am still writing the story but right now I am really busy shooting. Also I have to find time to play rugby," Rahul adds. (Psst: Bose is playing for the national rugby and takes the game with equal seriousness). The main reason for the `rejuvenation' of parallel cinema in recent times has been the creation of multiplexes in all major cities, according to the actor. "No longer do cinema halls have 1,000 seats. In multiplexes, the total capacity is just around 250 and now a critically acclaimed movie can run full house for a few weeks on the trot. This has enthused the exhibitors and they are no longer reluctant to screen parallel cinema".

He also pooh-poohs the theory that people are fed up with commercial cinema. "Some people tell me that movies like "Monsoon Wedding" or "Bend It like Beckham" are running because the audience is fed up with masala movies. That is not so. Make a good commercial cinema, it will still run. "Sholay" was mainstream commercial film but well made," he elaborates. On his work with Aparna Sen, Bose feels that the sensitivity of the actress-director coupled with her talent to extract work from the artistes is an "unbeatable" combination.

Mr and Mrs Iyer have already won International accolades at the Locarno Film Festival and Hawaiian Film Festival. It now remains to be seen how the home (!) crowd welcomes Meenakshi and her Iyer husband.

By Karthik Subramanian

Photo: K. V. Srinivasan