Film: “Sonata”; Director: Aparna Sen; Cast: Shabana Azmi, Aparna Sen, Lillete Dubey, Rating: **
Based on a play by Mahesh Elkunchwar, “Sonata” celebrates womanhood and explores the friendship among three single middle-aged friends from college, Dolon Sen (Shabana Azmi), Professor Aruna Chaturvedi (Aparna Sen) who share an apartment while their third friend Subhadra Parekh (Lillete Dubey), is currently away living with her boyfriend Sangram, a garage owner.
Set in their swish apartment in Mumbai, the film touches upon issues which afflict women of this age – loneliness, sexuality, past relationships, impending old age. While Dolon, who works as a HOD in a multi-national bank, is a free-spirited Bohemian, who is an epicurean and enjoys her food and wine and even sexually explicit talk, Aruna is the prude. She abhors talk about physical relationships, does not drink and disapproves of live-in relationships and is happier off with her college students and her Sanskrit scriptures. Subhadra on the other hand is a liberated woman, a journalist, but at the same time allows herself to get beaten up by an abusive boyfriend.
Largely through conversations one evening at home, between Dolon and Aruna, Sen lays bare these issues, albeit several times in a forced and contrived manner. The bai for instance takes leave stating that her daughter is pregnant but not before taking a dig at the two single women that they wouldn’t understand a thing about motherhood.
Another friend of theirs, Mira, who undergoes sex reassignment surgeries, is used as a reference to put forth the cause of transgenders and their right to freedom.
The dramatic moments are few and far between and the sporadic humorous lines too few to provide relief to the tedium. The film drags in parts although the conversations at times are insightful.
With a spirited and spontaneous performance from the articulate and expressive Shabana Azmi as Dolon, complete with her rendition of Rabindra Sangeet in flawless Bengali, Sen is unable to lift the basic tenor of the film which is very theatre-esque and thus becomes tedious to watch after a point. With a staid camerawork, the setting too gets monotonous, although she briefly uses a flashback and also a skype conversation, both of which appear forced and do not help.
Aparna Sen as Aruna is a bit of a misfit in terms of her UP accent, but performs with restraint which is in keeping with her character. Her expressions are measured and she never lets down her guard. Her chemistry and camaraderie with Shabana Azmi is palpable throughout. Lillete Dubey in a cameo, lights up the screen with her effervescence as always, but is a bit stereotypical.
The background score uplifts the mood of some scenes and has been used effectively.
Overall, “Sonata” misses the beat of an art-house film.