Saturday, May 08, 2010

15 Park Avenue- The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Last night I watched 15 Park Avenue till 4:00 am. The first time they had shown the movie, I remember I had felt that it was bleak, barren, very serious even to the point of being repulsive, especially the rape scene of Meethi. But last night I watched it again. Strangely the movie turned out to be much more than simply the trauma of a schizophrenic and her family. It talked of the importance of friendship, relationships, family and life. "Aren't we all delusional in some way or the other"? This dialog set me thinking.

Aren't we all hankering after something? That something, which may not be real, which might simply be a figment of our imagination, which we may never be able to achieve...So where does our difference with Meethi lie? It probably lies in the fact of her not being able to distinguish fantasies from the real world. This makes her dysfunctional while we are able to distinguish between our fantasies and "reality", hence do not become dysfunctional. Even then does that make us a lot different from her?

15 Park Avenue, Calcutta-19. Calcutta has a Palm Avenue but not a Park Avenue. Park Avenue is present in New York. Where do you search for a Park Avenue in Calcutta then? The number 15 is also significant. 15 December was the day when Meethi got engaged to Jojo. Her sister spent her whole life caring for her. But this also did its own share of harm. Aparna Sen has brought in a complex set of relationships where the negative effects of caring for our loved ones are also brought to light.

Meethi gets gang raped while on an assignment in a remote village. Her sister, Anjali scares off Jojo when Meethi and he are about to get married, saying Meethi has been traumatized and needs her medicines and expressing her doubts on the fact that Joydeep won't be able to take proper care of her. Jojo gets scared and runs away. Who do you blame? Jojo or Anjali?

It is quite likely that Anjali, 18 years older to Mitali has a protective nature for her younger sister and does not find any man good enough for Mitali. The aggressive nature could also have been brought about by the sense of insecurity due to the feeling that she will not remain the only guidance in her sister's life any more.

Jojo is an ordinary guy. He gets scared off by the disbelief Anjali rests on him. Her conviction that he will not be able to take care of Meethi scares him to believe that he won't be able to. As he himself states, when he heard that Meethi got raped one part of him wanted to hug her tight, the other part never wanted to tough her again. What do we do when a person feels this way? We can curse him, we can accuse him, but what he feels is real. And there is no other way out. So in such a scenario it is a very pertinent question, should he have married Meethi even though he did not love her any more?

A lot of people might have different views on the above but one thing that truly holds 15 Park Avenue together is Aparna Sen's incredible ability to show many things at the same time. There is the complex mechanism of relationships and individual sentimentalities, there is the story of a schizophrenic person and her family, there is also a statement on life. What do we want? We all hanker for something. In the end do we get it? Even if it is not supported by the world and "reality" of others. I am reminded of the example of the table lamp Dr. Barua gives in the film.

While Anjali thinks a decorative piece is a vase and not a lamp, he asks what her reaction would have been had all the people in the room said that it was a lamp and not a vase. Would she have agreed? Or contested them like Meethi? Reality is like that. We all have our own versions of it. It is not possible to have an objective version of reality because each individual is distinct. This was one of the first things we dealt with in Comparative Literature and even now we have to deal with this repeatedly.

There is another of those exciting "comparative" moments when Meethi sees a lunatic on the side of the road. Both of them look at each other. The mad woman sitting on the street smiles at her, but Meethi looks away, visibly flabbergasted and bewildered. We used to be told by our guest lecturer, a mental health professional during our Conflict Management classes, that, clients come with all sorts of apprehensions.

One of the most common things they say is, "daktarbabu ami kintu pagol noi, amar kichu hoyni", ("Doctor, I am not a lunatic, nothing has happened to me"). She told us that the very idea of a "pagol" (lunatic) needs redefinition. Who is a lunatic? The mad woman who sits in rags at the side of the street or the perfect gentleman who tries to commit suicide in full senses? 15 Park Avenue brought back memories of how the idea of a "mad man" has changed for us after her class one evening.

One point which I would like to point out in this respect is the absolute realistic portrayal of scenes in Aparna Sen's movies. The portrayal of the rape scene particularly was so striking that I hated the movie when I saw it for the first time. Sexual abuse, rape has become so common in our society nowadays that people don't even think twice before committing such vicious crimes. Thanks to the Hindi Film Industry, rape has become a glamorous act to show the woman's dependency and the hero's strength.

Child sexual abuse thankfully has still not been glamorized so much yet. But thanks to the mainstream media, we all know what it is. One is reminded of Maninder Singh Pandher and the bones of the dead children found in his backyard in the Nithari case. How he was absolved of all guilt and his servant left to take the blame! How convenient! And to top it all, child sexual abuse is a common everyday phenomenon. Those who do it might themselves not realize that it is an abuse. One of my students, who is a bit mentally challenged went to play in the park. A group of older guys showed him their sexual organs. He is in class IV. He is still recovering from shock.

The purpose of this post was to examine the issues dealt with in 15 Park Avenue. But its purpose was also to talk a bit about the evils of child sexual abuse. I am still repulsed by the incident. I hope he gets well soon.


RAY7 said...

I can't say it was a nice read but I liked the way you expressed it. Doesn't mean am inclined to watch the movie more than I ever was though.

the silent observer said...

Didn't get you. How can you like the way I expressed it, yet not find it a nice read? It does take a lot of patience to watch a movie like 15 Park Avenue but it definitely is a worthwhile movie.