Thursday, March 16, 2017

To live and let go

Why is a woman called the original sinner? And, how does she cope with it? Filmmaker Aniruddha Sen talks about all this and more in his The Saints of Sin — Seven Sins, Eight Women, which is worth a watch.

At the recently-concluded Pune Design Festival in the city, The Saints of Sin — Seven Sins, Eight Women — shot by Aniruddha Sen, was screened. Our immediate reaction was: ‘No way. Who wants to watch sob stories of women?’

By some chance of fate, we did watch Sen’s The Saints of Sin... and was drawn into the documentary film almost instantly. In the following Q and A session, you will learn about Sen’s (popularly known as Oni) thoughts in shooting the documentary. And more importantly, why should we steer clear of labelling women as ‘shopaholic’ or ‘vain’. Excerpts from the conversation:

If a woman filmmaker had shot The Saints of Sin... perhaps she would have felt a sense of catharsis. What did you feel after shooting each segment/ or after the entire documentary?

I have faced this question before. This seems like a project that a woman filmmaker would naturally take up. In fact, the original idea of the film came from a woman, my friend Swati Bhattacharya. But when I took this up and started making it, I did not look at this as a film only about women. To me, it was more than that.

It was a film about human lives, of stories and triumphs. They just happen to be women. That said, this has been an overwhelming journey for me. Some of the stories are so strong, so raw and yet so beautiful… it was difficult being objective and I had to remind myself that this is a film I am making. The idea was not to be sensational or vivid for the sake of getting attention.

How did you go about identifying the ‘sins’ and convincing the women to talk about them?

When Swati came to me with the concept, she had identified a bunch of women. A few of them, I knew quite well, but all of them were known to Swati for a long time. That was a great start, to find characters who have interesting, inspiring lives, who fit into the structure of the film and are willing to share their lives and stories.

But once we started filming and putting it altogether, a lot changed… we changed some characters, reshot the segments with new characters. For instance, Pradipta in the ‘Envy’ section was not part of the original plan. I have known Pradipta for long, but did not consider her as a part of this film. It’s only after the first edit, when I was looking for someone else for that section, I happened to chat with Pradipta and realised how apt and powerful her story is. That’s when she became a part of the project.
Even though all the characters were known to either me or Swati, I still wanted to keep the sessions intimate and personal. Therefore, I did not use a crew; I shot it myself. So the only people in the room, apart from the woman being interviewed, were Swati and I. This ensured in keeping the realism, warmth and ease of conversation intact.

In Shreya’s (gluttony) segment, the audience laughed a couple of times. Did that upset you because they couldn’t realise the real story behind her gluttony?

Shreya is a young woman and, like many we know, is spunky and full of life. What makes her character beautiful is that, in spite of going through extremely unpleasant moments in her childhood, she has not let that dampen her spirit and joy for life. She knows herself, she is honest enough to admit the path she chose. While it seemed frivolous to others, for her, it was important. It helped her heal the wounds and move on in life. It’s not a conventional path, but it is “her” way of dealing with life. And she does that with spunk, style and no regrets. That’s why when the audience laugh or get amused by some of her stories, I don’t get upset at all. I believe they are not “laughing at her”. It’s a laughter of being amused and feeling what Shreya felt.

The documentary was shot for three years. Was it because of lack of funds or allowing the women time and space to express their thoughts?

This film took time to finish because of the nature of the project. When we started, we did not have a specific form in mind. The film structure and form evolved through the project. We have edited the film at least five to six times before we arrived at a structure that made sense. We also re-shot segments that we thought were not in sync with the tune of the film. And halfway thorough the process, I realised that the film needed ‘songs’… that would add the correct colour to the segments. That took a while — to identify the songs, the singers and then to shoot all of them in Dhaka. All of these added to the time taken to finish the project.

All the segments were shot in the women’s homes. Was that a deliberate setting?

I wanted this film to be very intimate and real where the camera is non-existent. I wanted the characters to be comfortable with the camera and the space, because for some of them, this was the first time they were opening up and talking about their lives in detail. That is one of the main reasons I decided to shoot in their homes.

The other reason is of course to present a complete image of the character and surroundings. For instance, the somewhat bare, cold surroundings of the ‘Wrath’ section, the beautifully ornate home in the ‘Vanity’ section, the colourful, raw yet warm and inviting home in the ‘Lust’ section…. They all add to the narrative in a subliminal manner. This cannot be ‘created’. It has to be ‘there’. That’s why, I decided to shoot the segments at the characters’ homes.

In fact, the songs have been shot the same way… mostly at the home of the singers. Because, even for the songs, I wanted them to be a part of the same realism.

You have used Dr Aruna Chakravarti’s comments to explain the original sin. Can you elaborate?

Dr Aruna Chakravarti talks about Sins and Women. She mentions a mythological story where Lilith and not Eve was the first woman created along with Adam, and how she was considered a sinner only because she demanded her rights, which made her a woman, the original sinner.

This also underlines the core of the film. ‘Sins’ is just a word. We end up adding a colour of ‘wrong-doing’ to it. It’s just a human trait, it’s circumstantial, it can also be a virtue. The women in this film acknowledge this trait — some of them have coped with it, some are learning to live with it and some are celebrating it. To some, it adds colour to their lives and to others, it helps them heal their wounds.

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