Review: You’d sooner see a flying saucer streak across the night sky than an Indian film with three 60-plus female protagonists who aren’t playing doting mothers, dying aunts or devious matchmakers. Kudos to Aparna Sen for pulling this lost demographic out of the shadows.
In Sonata, a movie adaptation of Mahesh Elkunchwar’s play, Sen casually invites us into the lives of three women in the their sunset years.
Aruna (Sen) is a linguistic scholar who won’t stand foul language; she’s comfortable living by the social code of a time whose scriptures she deciphers. While she’s in her prudish cocoon, her long-time friend and roommate Dolon (Azmi) is the butterfly that Aruna never quite morphed into. Dolon is the little devil on Aruna’s shoulder, always coaxing her into things that she’s uncomfortable with. The movie thrives on the nervous energy between Aruna and Dolon. The possibility of a subtle romantic subtext there is intriguing and handled smartly. Their third friend Subi (Dubey) flits in and out of their house and gives them something to think about with every visit.
The movie has an unmissable Woody Allen influence, where the plot is merely a crutch to display well-rounded, vibrant characters. So while you cannot summarize the story, you can best describe it as an evening spent chatting with friends – you being the designated listener – where you are amused by Dolon’s indecision, Aruna’s meekness and Subi’s bouts with her men.
And like all evenings with friends, there will be awkward silences when you will momentarily zone out when a character is droning about Beethoven, or an actor is delivering a heightened performance. In a play, this is charming. Sen hasn’t quite altered the screenplay or the treatment to fit this new medium. Static shots and indulgent conversations are Sonata’s bane.
However, it is rare for unapologetic narratives about older single women (who “aren’t even feminists!”) to find their way to the screen. This is the kind of movie that you need to sip and savour. It won’t go well with popcorn and soda, but it’s worth a visit to the theatre anyway.