It’s no secret that the numbers surrounding women as lead protagonists in cinema are dismal. Among the few notable films that provide stark and uncompromising images of women, The “Saints of Sin” deserves some praise. The raw emotions and unadulterated experiences of eight Bengali women are portrayed throughout the lyrical journey that the film is.
Residing all over the globe between Nairobi to New York to New Delhi and Bombay, the characters depict universal struggles of womanhood. Built on intimate conversations recorded over three years, the film delves straight into the lives of Debbie, Runa, Srila, Gopi, Shreya, Swati, Paro and Pradipta; where each of them acknowledges and elaborates on her inclination towards one of the seven sins.
The characters describe their battles against male centric ideas and norms, discomforts and desires and the weights of their own heart associated over hundreds of years. By meeting their transgression, they found the opportunity to frame new types of experiences.
While the monologues change temperament, from reflective to confessional, and to simply exchange, the film continues connecting them with icons from Jewish Mythology, Indian writing and history.
The stories are bound together by eight excellent melodies, sung by Bangladeshi artists Anusheh Anadil, Armeen Musa, Nashid Kamal and Aanon Siddiqua. The film additionally includes a song by Bangladesh's only all women choir, The Ghaashphoring Choir. These tunes enhance and adorn the setting of the discussions adding to the spirit and subtext.
Recently, the Dhaka Tribune was in conversation with the man behind the scenes- the director of Saints of Sin, Mr. Aniruddha Sen.
What were some major challenges you were faced with during the making of the movie?
For a project like this, the biggest challenge would be to find people who are willing to open up so easily. Fortunately, that wasn’t the challenge. We knew people who were very open and upfront about their stories so that got sorted quite easily. The dilemma for me lay in what to do with it. Generally in my profession, I work with a structured narrative where it is sort of a controlled storyline that I share. But this was unique in the sense that it was not the continuation of a single narrative. I had much more raw information to process, so I racked my brain to portray it in its most engaging form. You can walk the journey in a certain way; to find the most suitable angle, I spent about a year and a half. I must have edited this eight or nine times in different ways.
What inspired this piece of work of yours?
My friend Swati was the one who came to me with this project and initially I didn’t know if I wanted to invest my time in it. But once I started to ponder more on it, I discovered that the issues in the film are ones which are worthy of sharing with an audience for a lot of good reasons.
Because of the instant gratification of likes and dislikes accompanied by a lack of time on individuals’ parts, we have become very black and white as people. I either like you or I don’t, so essentially that decision is controlled by buttons too. We don’t stop to understand the subtext or the “gray” of a person. For example, in the movie if you have sat through Runa’s story, the first question to be asked would be “what kind of a mother are you?” But to understand that she has a right to choose her life how she wants inconsequentially is a message I would want our audience to grasp. If that is the case, then my job is done.
Among the diverse range of issues that have been depicted in the film, which is the one that affects a vast majority of Bengali women?
Firstly, the issues that we upheld are in fact very universal. It is not limited to our subcontinent but the biggest thing that affects us still is a sense of inequality. The fact that some attributes that are frowned upon when associated with a woman is in fact celebrated or seen as virtues in a man is troublesome. For a woman, the same attributes are considered to be sins. I think the women of this region still suffer harshly due to these biased perceptions of what’s acceptable and what’s not.
Where will the film be screened?
Right now, I am only doing closed groups or festivals. The screening at Jatra Biroti was a closed group one. Due to the nature of this film, we have only screened it in a select few places only but I am happy to have anybody watch it. I am leaving the film with Armeen Musa, so anyone who is interested in screening can do so by contacting her. I am not sure that I will be putting it on a public forum like YouTube and that’s simply because the women who have entrusted me with their secrets and life’s strokes, deserve that protection. I do not want them to be trolled unnecessarily and sometimes that can go out of hand. Therefore, I need to figure out a platform where you seek out and watch the movie, not abuse it.
What kind of reactions have you received so far?
The first time I screened this in Delhi was at the International Centre on a weekday in the winter. I didn’t expect anyone but our friends to show up. In the afternoon while I was doing a sound check I was absolutely unsure about whether this would be of any interest to my viewers. But I decided to run it anyway. Astonishingly, by the end of it, the auditorium that has a capacity of 300 seats was full to the brim and my producer had to stand outside to send people back. Some of the crowd was stationed on the floors even, determined to get a taste of “Saints of Sin.” It was an amazing response. The way people connected with this film left us overwhelmed. I remember an elderly lady was talking to one of my characters, Debbie to inquire about her state of life now. She was full of genuine concern and empathy. Similarly, another young girl approached me to appreciate another character that reminded her of her own mother. She told me the film would be a useful tool to understanding her better and hence, hopefully to reconstruct a debilitating relationship she shared with her.
To me, this was never a money making scheme as opposed to a good message to share. I think the audience was quite in line with that and made this a very satisfying experience for me.
Was there any negative reaction or backlash?
As the movie hasn’t been aired in public forums, I did not have any confrontation with groups that you generally read about in the news. But I did have some trouble with certain individuals who have come up to me and expressed their distaste, not over the quality of the film but the content itself. While criticizing cinematically is acceptable, I feel very disheartened when one attacks my characters. I got into an argument with one lady who had ideological issues and my response to her was, “Mam, it is precisely for people like you that I have made this film.”
What do you want people to take-away from the film?
There are basically two things. One is, as individuals the things which we think are not right about us, would in fact, through a different perspective appear to be our strengths! It would be fantastic if people had that realization. The second thing is that when you come across somebody who is different, try to read between the lines and you’ll see the most wonderful things in them. It will only enrich your experience on the planet.