15 PARK AVENUE (Aparna Sen, 2005)

“I am also looking for different levels of reality. . . . I’ve lived through the trauma of dealing with mental sickness in the family. I love dealing with the question of who and what is normal.” — Aparna Sen

Two sisters are at the center of writer-director Aparna Sen’s delicate, fluent 15 Park Avenue, which is set in contemporary Calcutta and Bhutan. Anjali, a university physics professor, suffers from literalism, a dearth of imagination. She cares at home for sister Meethi, a once-institutionalized suicidal schizophrenic, a traumatized (because gang-raped) former journalist who folds international political figures she sees on television into her imaginings. Unlike her sister, Meethi possesses a surfeit of imagination. In India, Meethi keeps searching for a New York City address where she is convinced her husband and their five children are awaiting her return. Her former fiancé, who broke off their engagement because he couldn’t cope with the demands of her schizophrenia, remarks, “She is looking for something she cannot possibly find,” to which his wife, who wishes Meethi had no residual claim on her husband’s psyche, retorts, “Aren’t we all?” At the last Meethi disappears into the located address, accompanied by spouse and kids—glimpsing an authentic “parallel universe,” a touch of Antonioni that has left me haunted.
     Meethi keeps trying to convince Anjali of the reality of her reality (quotation marks will not work here), at one point posing this question: “How would you like it if I told you you’re not really a professor?” While Anjali believes she has put her own life on hold to care for her sister, Meethi feels that Anjali is shutting her out for the sake of her insulated career.
     Konkona Sen Sharma’s performance as Meethi is beautiful and deeply moving. Sen’s film breathes with life.

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