A well-furnished apartment in Mumbai hosts two women, multiple conversations, and the audiences’ attention for roughly 103minutes. Aparna Sen has adapted ‘Sonata 2017’ from the play by Mahesh Elkumchwar. The film breaks free from the shackles of mainstream cinema by portraying independent and opinionated women. Aruna Chaturvedi (Aparna Sen) – a quintessential academician shares her apartment with her college friend Dolon Sen (Shabana Azmi)- a vibrant, bubbly banker. They wait for their friend Meera (Anashua Mazumdar)- a transgender filmmaker to come over for dinner with her partner Peter. Although Mazumadar has little screentime, her character Meera has a powerful impact on the audience. Meera forms the subject of their conversation. Subhadra Parekh- a journalist by profession and their friend joins them momentarily. She also provides very valuable insight into their lives.
Feminist Fame- Exploring Female Friendships in Sonata 2017
Indian Cinema has rarely ventured into portraying female friendships. The three friends battle out their inner demons over wine and long conversations. Their conversations aren’t all merry and mirth. The movie proceeds through a whirlpool of emotions of mutual love, respect, betrayal, and passion. Old women talking couldn’t be more fun when they are unabashedly, unapologetically, and obscenely happy. The social locus of each character challenges patriarchy by privileging their choices over social stigma. However, in this overtly progressive feminist narrative, Sen artistically depicts women to be challenging and upholding patriarchy simultaneously.
Challenging The Heteronormative- Conforming to the Non-Binary
The idea of two unmarried women living under the same roof is problematic enough for society. This is irrespective of their age. Aruna and Dolon participate in conversations characteristic of a common heteronormative household. . While Aruna and Dolon are opposites, the film doesn’t cast them into stereotypical dominant (masculine) -submissive(feminine) binaries. Sexuality and gender become central themes in the film. The film doesn’t shy away from the topic of gender reassignment surgery. It acknowledges the doubts and anxieties embedded within the same. The protagonists harp on political correctness and gender inclusivity in musing over Meera’s journey. Each character has sufficient room to express their sexual orientations, unbridled by the overtly non-binary narrative. The film clumsily engages with tender and sensitive concepts of ‘touch’. Though, a much-needed topic for conversation in our society, it simply drags the plot unevenly.
Mundane metaphors and subtle imagery (Sonata 2017)
Dolon observes their neighbor- a woman working at her computer throughout the evening. The ‘Typo’ -(above image) as she calls her continues with her work undisturbed and unaffected by the commotion that takes place in their apartment. The tornado of emotions that sweep across their lives in the fleeting moments is oblivious to The Typo. The ‘Typo’ is a metaphor for the outside world. One that doesn’t pause to acknowledge personal moments of grief, joy, victories, and defeats. The outside remains undisturbed and unhindered with the inner chaos. She is also symbolic of the patriarchy, and the fact that it refuses to befriend other modes of living.
The camera focuses on a portrait on the wall (above image). It shows a man bearing the face of another individual, probably a woman in her thorax. This happens while the movie narrates Meera’s gender journey in the background. It is symbolic of the womb as well as the identification of a distinct self within one’s body.
Prolonged trauma makes us numb. As Aru says “Devastation, deluge, rape, and bomb blasts you don’t even feel it anymore”. The numbness of the mind is artistically explored in the closing scene. The duo watches the news of the attack at The Taj. They consequently cling to each other motionless and expressionless.
Dolon’s imagination of living in little boxes holds much relevance today. Especially in a global pandemic, where most of us are within our homes. We let our minds wander, befriend strangers, and imagine their stories. It helps forge connections with the outside world through our perception of reality.
Conclusion of Sonata 2017
Sen takes us through a very nuanced emotional ride but the movie is slow-paced and often monotonous. Much of the conversation is too dramatized and unnecessary. The filmmaker must be credited for asking questions pertinent to individuals at some point in life. The climax could have been better plotted and carried out. Without catchy songs or young actors, the film fails to appeal to the masses. However, it resonates with our emotions and becomes quite worth a try!