A chronicler of different aspects of Indian life, Sen has previously won global acclaim for her eclectic body of work, which includes “36 Chowringhee Lane” (1981), “Paroma” (1985) and “Iti Mrinalini” (2010) as a director.
Sen is also one of India’s most feted actors who has worked with the stalwarts of the country’s cinema including Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen and Rituparno Ghosh and internationally with Ismail Merchant and James Ivory.
Sen had the idea for “The Rapist” some 15 years ago, and decided to revisit the subject after the recent spate of rape incidents in India. “I began to wonder about why men rape. No one is born a rapist. They go through infancy, through the toddler stage and through boyhood in all innocence,” Sen tells Variety. “When and how do these persons then become rapists? Does social inequality have anything to do with it? Or is it just genetic? I didn’t have an answer then and I don’t have one now. But I wanted to explore the idea nonetheless. And so I made ‘The Rapist’.”
The film is nominated for Busan’s prestigious Kim Ji-seok award. In it, Sen’s daughter Konkona Sen Sharma plays a criminal psychology professor in Delhi who is the victim of a sexual assault and proceeds to fight societal prejudice.
As part of her research, Sen read books, talked to lawyers, and to feminist friends who are part of organizations that deal with sexual abuse of women.
The film also deals with the contentious subject of the death penalty. “Many countries in the world have abolished the death penalty and gone in for correctional methods of dealing with crime,” says Sen. “I too, am against the death penalty, though I confess that there have been times when I have felt outraged enough to think that death penalty is the only way out with some particularly brutal criminals. My own ambivalence about how to deal with such people was one of the factors behind my decision to make this film.”
The film’s treatment is deliberately clear-eyed and unsentimental and this is underscored by the subtle acting. Bollywood star Arjun Rampal plays the role of a liberal and Sen cast him for his ability to under-act in films like “Rock On” and “Rajneeti.” Sen spotted Tanmay Dhanania in “Cat Sticks,” where he plays a drug addict, and cast him in a pivotal role in “The Rapist.” Sen, who has worked with Sen Sharma in several films, disagrees that it was easier to cast her in the demanding role of an abuse victim , just because she is her daughter.
“I would have cast her even if I had not been her mother,” says Sen. “One of the reasons is that she never, ever, goes over the top. She has a very fine sense of where to draw the line and hardly ever needs any directing. What makes it easier because of our filial relationship is that we trust each other implicitly.”
The Kim Ji-seok nomination is significant for Sen. “It means a lot, especially since I had been on the jury in Busan many years ago and had met Kim Ji-seok in person,” says Sen. “So this nomination for an award in his name holds a very special meaning for me.”
The film marks the film debut of prolific streaming content producer Applause Entertainment, which has produced “The Rapist” alongside Quest Films. “The film spares no punches, and yet, isn’t in your face; with our three key protagonists delivering outstanding performances,” Applause CEO Sameer Nair told Variety. “We are thrilled that Applause makes its movie debut with an Aparna Sen film.”
In the film space, Applause has the remake of Tamil-language hit “Aruvi,” comedy drama “Sharmaji Ki Beti” and military drama “Iftikhar” in the works, alongside films in varying stages of development and completion with Nandita Das, Saurabh Shukla, Sonal Dabral, Shirsha Guha Thakurta, Sudhir Mishra, Prosit Roy, Shaad Ali, Ashim Ahluwalia and Rajat Kapoor.
After its festival run, “The Rapist” is likely to go directly to streaming, In India at least. “The reopening of theatres at full strength is still a little while off, and besides this movie is not your conventional mainstream theatrical fare. The streamers will also help give this important movie the global audience it deserves,” says Nair.