Unusual on the current Indian scene for its contemporary theme and treatment, “April the Nineteenth” is a two-character daughter-mother tour de force set in modern Calcutta. Thematically, Rituparno Ghosh’s middle-class story could take place anywhere in the world — and particularly onstage, given its theatricality. Ground down by senseless repetition, pic doesn’t live up to the promise of its modernist opening scenes. It has won prizes in India, including the 1995 Golden Lotus, but will be mostly a curiosity item for Indian showcases abroad.
Film centers on Aditi (Debasree Roy), a medical student in love with a heel, who comes home to Calcutta for a few days just as her mother, Sarojini (played by noted filmmaker Aparna Sen), a famous dancer, is being awarded an important prize. The two have been largely estranged since Aditi was sent away to boarding school as a girl.
Aditi is childishly attached to an idealized image of her dead father, and the dramatic ball starts rolling when she reproaches mom for forgetting April 19 is the anni of his death. Caught up in congratulatory phone calls and telegrams, Sarojini doesn’t notice the girl’s unhappiness until Aditi swallows a jar of sleeping pills. In a long, tearful ending, the two finally open their hearts to each other.
Vaguely reminiscent in theme of the 1978 Ingmar Bergman film “Autumn Sonata,” pic examines the problem of famous-artist-mother/ugly-duckling-daughter in all its psychological variations. But these are not all fascinating: Ghosh’s keen interest in stagy dialogue often traps the conversation in a string of non sequiturs. Even worse is pic’s last half, which goes over the same territory in exhausting detail.
Still, compared with the staid standard of much of Indian filmmaking, Ghosh at least shows a nervous, high-pitched talent that, with more discipline, could mark him as a Bengali director worth watching. Roy won a best actress award at the Delhi fest for her role as the anxious daughter, but it is Sen who steals scenes with her innate glamour and starry highhandedness.
Cinematographer Sunirmal Majumder, who contends heroically with shooting the whole film in cramped apartment spaces, gives a modern look to the lighting.