Aparna Sen: Pro-choice isn’t the same as pro-abortion

In this candid conversation, director Aparna Sen speaks about why it was important to not take sides in her new film, The Rapist
Aparna Sen: Pro-choice isn’t the same as pro-abortion
Aparna Sen: Pro-choice isn’t the same as pro-abortion

The Rapist, starring Konkana Sen Sharma and Arjun Rampal, has garnered attention for its portrayal of the life of an assault victim, Naina Malik, and her consequent nightmares. The question that haunts her is, why? Why did the man do that to her? The Aparna Sen directorial has been hailed as a conversation starter among critics, and the film has been appreciated for its treatment and the lead actors’ performances. Naina, who gets pregnant after the assault, has to decide whether she wants the baby, and this takes the film into the pro-life, pro-choice debate. 

In this interview with Cinema Express, Aparna talks about wanting to start a conversation with the film, and hopes that her film, with its documentary-like treatment, will provoke thought.

Excerpts from the interview:

Was it hard not to take sides as a writer in such a story?

I was determined not to take sides. This was an important decision for this premise. Also, I don’t know which side to take, honestly. This couple that are involved (Konkana Sen Sharma and Arjun Rampal)… it is very much their story. What started it all was the question, ‘Why does a man become a rapist?’ Nobody is born a rapist. When do they turn into one? Why? These questions have been bothering me for a long time. Also, I believe that killing them, or arranging a police encounter, is not the solution. Research has proved that the death penalty isn’t a deterrent for crime. Is it necessary? Maybe it is. I don’t know. I have handled this story as a director; but not an all-knowing one. I have played the role of a director who is looking for solutions.

What do you look for in characters?

Contradictions, mainly. I don’t think characters are black or white. I think there are many layers to people. Kanishka Agarwal, for instance, was wonderful in the role. Actually, we didn’t even rehearse. She somehow managed to open up all the suppressed emotions of the characters and allowed them to come out and inform the scenes.

What did you enjoy about Konkana’s performance?

There is one thing I knew about her, and that is she never goes over the top. She and I trust each other implicitly. She has a great sense of where to draw the line. She is an instinctive actor. I don’t see her preparing, but she obviously does that. She is always on top of her lines, and you won’t come across a bad shot because she forgot her lines. She learns her lines meticulously. Apart from that, she allows her character to marinate inside her and lets it come out in the scene. 

What did you seek from Arjun in terms of the complicated character he plays?

I chose him because he has a demeanour and an appearance that communicates something noble. I liked him very much in Rajneeti, Rock On… I have always thought he is an underrated actor. I have found him to be an understated actor as well. This is what I wanted for his character. I didn’t want the ‘acting’ to be evident. The characters must be seen to live their life. Arjun more than fulfilled my expectations… he was amazing.

Any reason why you haven’t really taken a position when it comes to the pro-choice, pro-life debate?

You may think you are pro-choice, but when it comes to a crunch situation, you may turn pro-life. You may think you are a liberal, but when it comes to a crucial situation, you may find that there is deep conditioning that makes you say things that you never thought you would. All through the film, you see that there is no one definite thing that anybody subscribes to. There are all these shades of feelings.

What’s your own take on the pro-choice debate?

When you say pro-choice, one can still think of pro-choice meaning pro-abortion. But no, that’s not the case. Pro-choice is that it is a woman’s choice whether she wants to keep the baby or not. There is a tendency in society that the moment a woman says, ‘I want to keep the baby’, people think that it is pro-life. No. She may choose either way. It’s not as simple as people think it is. 

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