classic film

‘36 Chowringhee Lane’: The movie where it all began for Aparna Sen

The director’s debut movie, starring Jennifer Kendal as an Anglo Indian teacher in Kolkata, is a poignant look at a disappearing world.

Jouncing in hand pulled rickshaws to school, cradling a depressed and dying brother in a home for the aged, laying flowers on the grave of a lover long departed. Such identical days blur the calendar of life for the utterly ordinary senior English teacher, Violet Stoneham in Aparna Sen’s poignant directorial debut, 36 Chowringhee Lane.

The title of the 1982 film is Stoneham’s residence – a high-ceilinged flat in a grungy Calcutta mansion. Like Stoneham (Jennifer Kendal) and her grand black cat Sir Toby, this home has seen better days. Now there are frequent power cuts, the lift is often out of order, the stairs creak and a common telephone functions on the ground floor several flights below.

When ex-student Nandita (Debashree Roy) and her lover Samaresh (Dhritiman Chatterjee) burst in on Stoneham, they fill her two lonely rooms with energy and laughter. Suddenly, at the end of an unrewarding school day, Stoneham is no longer weary. Now there is the magic of coming home to warm smiles and a hot cup of tea served with care, of being whisked out again immediately for a film, of gulping spicy street phuchkas and trying not to dribble ice cream, of playing forgotten records on a equally forgotten gramophone and of tipsily belting out a tuneless version of Auld Lang Syne.

And then less suddenly than it came pouring in, the magic ebbs out.

Old acquaintances can indeed be forgotten once they outlive their purpose.

Dhritiman Chatterjee and Debashree Roy in 36 Chowringhee Lane (1982).
Dhritiman Chatterjee and Debashree Roy in 36 Chowringhee Lane (1982).

Sen’s film, shadowed by the spectre of decay from its silent opening scenes to the leaden grief of its finish, surprisingly holds as much life as lassitude. Classroom scenes effectively illustrate the energy of adolescent students. Staffroom grumbles along with other conversations reflect the socioeconomic climate which seems to edge the Anglo Indian community off the Kolkata map.

Stoneham’s niece Rosemary (a perfectly cast Soni Razdan) has quickly moved on from being the last-minute jilted fiancée of a Bengali sitar player. In six weeks, she looks to marry and make her life with a certain Cedric bound for Australia.

“But you don’t love him!” Stoneham says, astounded.

Looking defiantly at the camera, Rosemary says, “I do now.”

Other Anglo Indians gamble for exits from the country they feel cornered in – sometimes ending up worse for it, as their sad letters indicate. In spite of Rosemary’s repeated invitations to live with her husband and child in Australia, Stoneham cannot find it within herself to leave the land of her birth.

The dialogue niftily includes the mincing sibilance of Anglo Indian intonation as well as accurately subtitled Bengali banter. In fact, one of the most arresting aspects of the story is that one can hear its truth as well as see it.

Adding to the ambience is Vanraj Bhatia’s music, often a slow heartbeat that echoes the hollowness of Stoneham’s days. Bansi Chandragupta’s comprehensive art design (Stoneham’s artifacts , photographs and memorabilia make for what Samaresh calls the “antique shop” look of her home) is complemented by Ashok Mehta’s expert cinematography, which captures the fog of a winter morning or raindrops sliding off a corrugated roof with equal aesthetic.

The title music of 36 Chowringhee Lane.

Outstanding, however, is an almost Bergmanesque oneiric sequence in which we are given a tantalising glimpse of ’80s heartstopper Karan Kapoor. He plays Davy, the love of young Violet (Sanjna Kapoor). The dream unfolds in a meadow where youngsters Davy and Violet laughingly chase their dog. Suddenly, Davy is gone. Violet’s search for him takes her through surreal terrain – a forest of bare trees, a vacant white house and then a sea front where a solemn gathering has assembled. The camera holds on faces we know – Samaresh, Nandita, Violet’s brother Eddie in healthier days – and others whom old Violet has identified to Nandita in photograph albums.

The opening bars of Felix Mendelssohn’s Wedding Song play over a priest’s blessings for both a marriage and a funeral. We see a smartly uniformed Davy standing before an open coffin and a ghostlike old Violet sitting on the rocks. Davy steps into the coffin amidst gunfire from silhouetted soldiers and a shattered Violet rips off her wedding veil. It floats for a brief moment, the light of the evening glistening on the filigree work, and a graveyard of crosses rises in the distance. The sequence ends not in old Violet rising from a turbulent sleep. Instead, we see her in close up, a faraway look in her eyes as she takes on the challenges of a new term.

Aparna Sen’s directorial debut, ahead of its time when it was made, still stands as a unique entry in the context of Indian cinema. While weighing in favour of Stoneham and others of her community, there is no judgement on the lovers, thus making it possible to accept every character as real, for better or worse.

In later controversial attempts, Sen has grappled with issues that are social (Paroma, Sati), environmental (Juaganta) and political (Mr and Mrs Iyer). But for all its attractions and shortcomings (one being its overdrawn narrative), it is 36 Chowringhee Lane, synonymous with the heart wrenching performance of Jennifer Kendal, that lives on.

Jennifer Kendal in 36 Chowringhee Lane (1982).
Jennifer Kendal in 36 Chowringhee Lane (1982).
We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

Not just for experts: How videography is poised for a disruption

Digital solutions are making sure it’s easier than ever to express your creativity in moving images.

Where was the last time you saw art? Chances are on a screen, either on your phone or your computer. Stunning photography and intricate doodles are a frequent occurrence in the social feeds of many. That’s the defining feature of art in the 21st century - it fits in your pocket, pretty much everyone’s pocket. It is no more dictated by just a few elite players - renowned artists, museum curators, art critics, art fair promoters and powerful gallery owners. The digital age is spawning creators who choose to be defined by their creativity more than their skills. The negligible incubation time of digital art has enabled experimentation at staggering levels. Just a few minutes of browsing on the online art community, DeviantArt, is enough to gauge the scope of what digital art can achieve.

Sure enough, in the 21st century, entire creative industries are getting democratised like never before. Take photography, for example. Digital photography enabled everyone to capture a memory, and then convert it into personalised artwork with a plethora of editing options. Apps like Instagram reduced the learning curve even further with its set of filters that could lend character to even unremarkable snaps. Prisma further helped to make photos look like paintings, shaving off several more steps in the editing process. Now, yet another industry is showing similar signs of disruption – videography.

Once burdened by unreliable film, bulky cameras and prohibitive production costs, videography is now accessible to anyone with a smartphone and a decent Internet bandwidth. A lay person casually using social media today has so many video types and platforms to choose from - looping Vine videos, staccato Musical.lys, GIFs, Instagram stories, YouTube channels and many more. Videos are indeed fast emerging as the next front of expression online, and so are the digital solutions to support video creation.

One such example is Vizmato, an app which enables anyone with a smartphone to create professional-looking videos minus the learning curve required to master heavy, desktop software. It makes it easy to shoot 720p or 1080p HD videos with a choice of more than 40 visual effects. This fuss- free app is essentially like three apps built into one - a camcorder with live effects, a feature-rich video editor and a video sharing platform.

With Vizmato, the creative process starts at the shooting stage itself as it enables live application of themes and effects. Choose from hip hop, noir, haunted, vintage and many more.

The variety of filters available on Vizmato
The variety of filters available on Vizmato

Or you can simply choose to unleash your creativity at the editing stage; the possibilities are endless. Vizmato simplifies the core editing process by making it easier to apply cuts and join and reverse clips so your video can flow exactly the way you envisioned. Once the video is edited, you can use a variety of interesting effects to give your video that extra edge.

The RGB split, Inset and Fluidic effects.
The RGB split, Inset and Fluidic effects.

You can even choose music and sound effects to go with your clip; there’s nothing like applause at the right moment, or a laugh track at the crack of the worst joke.

Or just annotated GIFs customised for each moment.

Vizmato is the latest offering from Global Delight, which builds cross-platform audio, video and photography applications. It is the Indian developer that created award-winning iPhone apps such as Camera Plus, Camera Plus Pro and the Boom series. Vizmato is an upgrade of its hugely popular app Game Your Video, one of the winners of the Macworld Best of Show 2012. The overhauled Vizmato, in essence, brings the Instagram functionality to videos. With instant themes, filters and effects at your disposal, you can feel like the director of a sci-fi film, horror movie or a romance drama, all within a single video clip. It even provides an in-built video-sharing platform, Popular, to which you can upload your creations and gain visibility and feedback.


So, whether you’re into making the most interesting Vines or shooting your take on Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape of You’, experience for yourself how Vizmato has made video creation addictively simple. Android users can download the app here and iOS users will have their version in January.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Vizmato and not by the Scroll editorial team.