One thing’s for sure – there’s not a moment of sannata in Aparna Sen’s latest offering ‘Sonata’. The loquacious and prosperous red-wine-loving Bengali banker Dolon (Shabana Azmi), who doesn’t waste an opportunity to spray herself with the choicest French perfumes, ensures that. Aparna Sen, who plays the role of a Brahmin Sanskrit professor, Aruna (Oru) Chaturvedi, is a study in contrast – politically correct and relatively restrained.
Complementing the duo is journalist Subhadra Parekh (Lilette Dubey), who lives with her boyfriend. The latter doesn’t think twice before giving Subi a black eye now and then. Instead of walking out on him, she struts about bragging to the others as to how she wouldn’t take things lying down. Single, working and childless, with a common philosophy is what the three have in common and bind them together. They freely discuss relationships, money matters and friends. There’s a scene of Dolon and Oru’s conversation on Skype with their friend Meera – who’s undergone a ‘sex reassignment surgery’, as Oru laboriously points out – which ends in her committing to come over to visit the threesome along with ‘her’ boyfriend for dinner later that evening, a tryst which tragically fails to take place.
Based on Mahesh Elkunchwar’s 2000 Marathi play, and shot mainly within the confines of a living-cum-dining room – with brief glimpses of a bedroom – Sen uses several metaphors to ensure that the three single women’s vulnerability comes through – their maid, when refused leave, blatantly tells Oru that as a childless woman, she wouldn’t comprehend the maid’s problems. Or for instance, when Dolon says ‘what awful creatures we are – we are not even feminists!’ Bach and Beethoven are discussed, even as Shabana Azmi croons, in perfect rhythm, a few Tagore verses in Bengali. Lilette Dubey, in the limited screen time she gets, is superb while Sen and Shabana play out their roles rather well.
A year-and-a-half ago, came ‘Angry India’s Goddesses’ touted as ‘India’s first female buddy film’. Sen, in ‘Sonata’, attempts something similar, but in a mature and different vein. But even at under two hours, the film ambles along predictably. Moreover, the film has all the trappings of a single-set play, from which the film is borrowed, all of which makes it a rather tedious watch. Sen, the acclaimed director, could have certainly done better.