Fans of Mr and Mrs Iyer will not be disappointed by Aparna Sen's latest offering. 15 Park Avenue is an intelligent and sensitive film, meticulously researched and scrupulously honest in its portrayal of the lives of two sisters. Shabana Azmi as Anu is as professional as ever: here a divorcee and a professor who gives up the chance to go to Princeton University with her colleague Sanjeev (Kanwaljeet), who is interested in her but unable to take on the responsibility of her schizophrenic sister.
Konkana Sensharma as the younger sister Meethi gives a brilliantly understated performance. If some people were disappointed with the linguistic clich?s she spouted in her debut film, there can be no fault-finding with her performance this time round. Her gesture and mannerisms are spontaneous and lively before her illness forces her into an institution. Later, when she is brought back, her hair shorn and features dulled by drugs, one's heart goes out to the suffering Meethi. The scenes in which she speaks to her imaginary children are especially striking.
Despite the exceptional research done by the writers, there are a couple of inconsistencies. Meethi suffers from fits as well, making us wonder if she suffers from epilepsy too. The more glaring problem comes in with the rape of Meethi, leading to the escalation of her illness. As Kunal, her doctor (played with precision and charm by veteran Dhritiman Chatterjee), points out, she was already genetically prone to the disease and the rape was not responsible for her complete withdrawal into her fantasy world. But this detail is overshadowed by the horrific gang-rape scene, which Aparna Sen pulls off with exceptional subtlety and starkness.
A large chunk of the movie is set in the scenic beauty of Paro, Bhutan, a small paradise in which Meethi's ex-fianc? is holidaying with his wife and children and where Anu takes her family for a much-needed break. There is perhaps a little too much focus on Rahul Bose's character Joydeep, and how his encounter with the ''ghost from his past'' affects his relationship with his family. Nevertheless, Bose does the role well, of a man who was not ''man enough'' to stay with the woman he loved after she was raped.
The secondary characters complete the movie's stellar star-cast. Waheeda Rehman is excellent as the helpless mother who even resorts to witch-doctory to try and cure her daughter. Kanwaljeet portrays a good man, who cannot make himself better for the sake of the woman he loves. Chatterjee is a delight as the man Anu is drawn towards because he understands what she is going through. Overall, it is the two sisters who steal the show. Azmi and Sensharma are both mature and vibrant, bringing out the dynamics between the two tormented sisters with passion and intensity.
Sen has a brilliant hidden reference to The Exorcist, the classic horror movie. In Sen's movie, Meethi urinates on the carpet exactly the same way as the possessed girl does in the classic. More than a coincidence, this action seems to be a comment on exorcism and other forms of belief in the supernatural, which are the results of the human fear of the unknown. Schizophrenia falls into the category of things we have to live with, but which we can't cure or understand. In many ways, movies add to the popular clich?s that exist in society about madness. This is one movie that seeks to be honest and objective about the issue.
The last scene of the movie creates cinematic history in terms of both plot and technique. Aided by her former lover (whom she no longer recognizes) and followed closely by Kunal and Anu, Meethi goes looking for 15 Park Avenue, the address where she thinks she lives with the Joydeep of her past, along with their five children and two dogs. What happens then? Watch the movie and see for yourself!