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The jewellery box

After almost two decades of being hooked to the story and 11 years of wanting to turn it into a film, Aparna Sen is finally ready to get Goynar Baksho rolling from October. Penned by Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay, Goynar Baksho is a tale of “three generations of women and their changing position in society, seen in relation to a box of jewels, handed down from one generation to the next”. On Monday evening at Taj Bengal, Sen engaged in a storytelling session, hosted by Prabha Khaitan Foundation, reading out excerpts from her script, to be produced by Shree Venkatesh Films. Over to Aparna...

Sundeep Bhutoria of Prabha Khaitan Foundation greets Aparna

What kept Goynar Baksho on hold for so long?

I don’t feel like thinking about it, now that I’ve finally managed to get it rolling. I wasn’t getting the right house to shoot in, recession hit, those who promised to produce the film backed out, the first producer sat on it for 11 years… many, many reasons. I read the book for the first time in 1993 and that’s when I decided I would adapt it into a film someday. I’ve been trying to make the film for 11 years. I begged Shirshenduda to not give away the book’s rights to anyone and he kept it for me for all these years despite the project not taking off.

What made you determined to make this film despite so many hiccups?

There’s a kind of rasa in Goynar Baksho that I’ve found in Latin American stories — a kind of magic realism. Goynar Baksho unfolds in the form of a comedy but it is not just a mindless haashir galpo. It reflects the place of women in society and how it has changed over time. Every generation of women has shared a different relationship with their goynar baksho (jewellery box) and through that attachment, we will explore the history and evolution of women’s role in society.

Moushumi with Sohag Sen

How did you zero in on the cast?

The story is such that it demands very good acting and expressions. I wanted to cast prepared actors and that is how I chose for the various characters. We had a script-reading session yesterday and all of us were rolling on the floor! It was so much fun. I can’t wait for us to start shooting.

What made you cast Shrabanti as the younger version of Moushumi Chatterjee (Rashmoni)?

While working with Moushumi during The Japanese Wife, I couldn’t help but notice the dushtumi in her face. She is very mischievous! The character of Rashmoni as the dushtu buri pishima is just the same. I really wanted somebody with that dushtu-dushtu face to fit that character. Also, Moushumi has perfect comic timing. She fits into the role entirely. Young Rashmoni was supposed to be stunningly beautiful and Shrabanti is a very beautiful girl. Also, I think she can easily pass off as a young Moushumi.

Bickram Ghosh with Saswata Chatterjee

And your tale about three women would be incomplete without daughter Konkona…

See, both me and Sohag (Sen, casting and workshop director) have tremendous confidence in Konkona. That she can carry out anything. She has an uncanny ability to perform in the role of any character given to her. I don’t know how she does it but she surprises me at times. In Goynar Baksho she is supposed to play Somlata, a coward who stammers. Eta barabari na korey kora, that is what Konkona can do.

How much have you altered Shirshendu’s text?

Nabaneeta Dev Sen with Aparna

Those who have read the story will know that Shirshenduda does not drag the jewellery box till the end of the story, nor Pishima. That is something I wanted to do, keep them till the end. Also, Chaitali’s character (also played by Shrabanti) in the book is called Barshan because she was born during Barsha (monsoon). I wasn’t sure how much people today would connect with the name Barshan, so I changed it to Chaitali without changing the meaning. She was born during the month of Chaitro, therefore Chaitali. The first generation of women, Rashmoni as in Pishima (Moushumi), is shown as hoarding her ornaments, the second generation through Somlata shows women as entrepreneur. She puts it to use for the purpose of business and the third generation, which is Chaitali, is ready to give up her jewellery for a cause. It traces the change in women’s mindset. I’m not consciously trying to give out any message. It’s just about holding up the image of the changing woman.

Will it be shot like a period piece?

It’s a story based in the ’70s. Can we really call that a period piece? Maybe if it was set a little early, the era would have been more prominent... but yes there will be a sense of time travel.

When does Goynar Baksho go on the floors and where?

We go on the floors after the Pujas in October. We will be shooting in zamindar houses in Bolpur and Murshidabad and sets, studios and houses in Calcutta.

who plays what

Moushumi Chatterjee as Rashmoni or “Buri Pishima”:

Pishima is 72 years old, cantankerous, foul-mouthed and determined to do what she pleases. After a lifetime of celibacy, vegetarianism and having dressed in white with cropped hair, Pishima is resentful of the happiness of others, which includes her nephew’s wife Somlata. After her death she appears as a ghost — sometimes visible, sometimes not.

Moushumi speak: “I’m very excited about working with Aparna Sen after The Japanese Wife. In fact I feel fortunate that she has cast me because I really admire her as a director! The story of Goynar Baksho is written by Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay who happens to be my Meshomoshai, and Rashmoni is a very powerful character. Aparna jaaney je amar dara dushtu buri pishima hobey tai amay niyechhe (Aparna knows I will be able to pull off a naughty Pishima and that’s why she has cast me), and it’s totally Aparna’s credit. I have complete faith in her.”

Konkona Sensharna as Somlata:

Somlata is the wife of Pishima’s younger nephew Chandan. She is shy, soft-spoken and has a speech problem. After Pishima’s death, the box of jewels comes into Somlata’s possession when she is commanded by Pishima’s ghost to steal the jewellery box and hide it where it wouldn’t be found by anyone. Pishima lives vicariously through Somlata.

Konkona speak: “I'm so sorry I couldn’t be here. I have a shoot in Bombay. I’m feeling left out but my heart is with all of you. May this be the start of a great adventure.” [Her SMS that mother Aparna read out.]

Shrabanti as Chaitali:

Chaitali is Somlata’s daughter, who is a spitting image of Pishima, with the same blue-grey eyes. Somlata is convinced that Pishima has been reincarnated as Chaitali. Chaitali spends her time chatting with Pishima’s ghost and it is from her that Pishima learns all about “the freedom fighters of East Pakistan”.

Shrabanti as young Rashmoni:

Widowed as a child of 12, Rashmoni lives in her father’s home. Her brothers spoil her thoroughly since she will never have a husband again, neither a home of her own. She had got the jewellery box from her parents as part of her dowry. Though she can never wear any of it after becoming a widow, the jewellery box is very precious to her and she guards it with her life. Young Pishima is also quite “amoral”. At the age of 22, she tries to seduce their young servant Ramkhilaon, inviting him to her bedroom at night before he gets caught and beaten up.

Shrabanti speak: “I have a double role and I am very excited. I am a big fan of Moushumi Chatterjee and I have been told by a lot of people that my teeth are like hers!”

Saswata Chatterjee as Chandan:

Chandan is Pishima’s younger nephew and Somlata’s good-natured but lazy husband who spends his time fishing, mingling with dubious women and playing the tabla.

Saswata speak: “I’m very tense. So many big names around me but I’m sure Aparna Sen will scold us, correct us and direct us.”

Others:

Ranjit Mallick as Chandranath, Somlata’s father-in-law

Gargi Roychowdhury as Bandana, Somlata’s sister-in-law who has her sights set on the jewellery box

Pijush Ganguly as Chanchal, Somlata’s brother-in-law

Manasi Sinha as Annapurna, Somlata’s mother-in-law