Interview with Aryama Sen

Aryama Sen is a final year student of engineering living in Kolkata. Her interest in a lot of things all at once led her to begin ind.igenous. Good films, books, and music are three of her most important driving forces in life.

What motivates you to write about the Indian Subcontinent? Besides personal affiliations, what is it about the region that speaks to you?

I have grown up with a lot of exposure to Indian art and culture. Music, literature, cinema, dance – all forms of art from the Indian subcontinent have shaped me into who I am. While I’ve continued to discover brilliant work from my country, I haven’t seen a lot of people around me being as attract- ed to it as I was. I started writing about things that are close to me because I wanted them to reach more people, and microblogging on Instagram felt like a good start to it. I wanted my 20-something friends to be as excited about a Shyam Benegal film as they are about the latest episodes of Game of Thrones, to have Ravi Shankar and Nikhil Banerjee on their playlists, and to appreciate Abanindranath along with Gogh.

What is your opinion on the decline of Urdu and how do you think it has affected Indian entertainment? Does it retain its essence through cinema and pop culture?

I cannot read or write the Urdu text, so I do not know if it is my place to comment on this. All I can say is, most of the Urdu I’ve learned and loved has been from films made a few decades ago – be it Gulzar’s Doordarshan series on Ghalib, Muzaffar Ali’s Umrao Jaan, or Merchant-Ivory’s Muhafiz. I haven’t come across a lot of films in recent times that have delved deep into the language, and there definitely should be more. On the plus side, however, there’s more online content than ever today, and websites like Rekhta make Urdu accessible to people like me who haven’t grown up learning the language. The anti-NRC-CAA movements saw the return of Urdu in protest songs and poetry. Perhaps there are brighter days waiting for the language.

Hindi and regional cinema have in the recent decade started exploring the values of femininity and the way we define it in mainstream culture. From your perspective, how has the female character arc evolved in films over time?

Strong female characters in Indian cinema of earlier times had emerged mostly from the parallel cinema movement – be it Mirch Masala or Mahanagar. The woman in mainstream Indian cinema was mostly portrayed as the wife, the mother, or the sister, with no agency of her own and blatantly conforming to a patriarchal mindset. That situation has definitely improved a lot. There are more women-centric films even in popular cinema, female characters have found voices of their own. This is perhaps also because the makers today feel answerable to an evolving audience.

India is a diverse country with cultural and communal identities varying from region to region. We’re interested in knowing the variations that different language’s cinema produces in “human behavior”? Is it true that some cultures portray human characters with more depth, more cadence than others?

I wrote about Satyajit Ray’s ‘Hirak Rajar Deshe’ a while ago – a children’s film which is inherently very political, and someone commented, ‘I think such a film could only be made in Bengal.’ Being a Bengali, as much as I would love to be happy hearing this, it isn’t true at all. In India, language changes every twenty kilometers or so, but the basic human emotions, experiences, struggles of the working class aren’t very different across the subcontinent. Watching a Telugu film may feel different from a Marathi one, but that is because of the language and culture of the region that the film portrays. I do not think there’s any difference in depth. Brilliantly poignant and powerful films have emerged from every Indian language.

In India, language changes every twenty kilometers or so, but the basic human emotions, experiences, struggles of the working class aren’t very different across the subcontinent.

You’ve taken quite deep and resilient takes on cinema. We’d like to know when and how your tryst with Indian regional cinema began?

I grew up watching a lot of films in my mother tongue, Bengali, and to me, that wasn’t ‘regional’ cinema, but simply an introduction to the beautiful world of films. Calling Bollywood films Hindi cinema and labeling films of every other language as regional cinema is one of the saddest things that continues to happen. It was my love for cinema as a form of art that gradually led me to discover Marathi, Telugu, Assamese films. Only when we carry on with the Bollywood-regional divide, we limit ourselves as an audience.

Referring to musician Suman’s songs, you’ve mentioned “these were songs that one could play at a protest march or on a first date, all alone in the middle of the night or with an old friend at a coffee shop.” We’d like to know more such gems, do you have any recommendations for our readers? (Any language, any genre of art will work)

So happy you asked this because I’m at my happiest when I give recommendations! You may explore the music of artists like Moushumi Bhowmik and the band Mohiner Ghoraguli from Bengal. A very different genre of music, but with this question I’m also reminded of Iqbal Bano’s renditions of Faiz – beautiful songs of love, freedom, and life.

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