15 Park Avenue picks a difficult theme and handles it superbly. In fact, it picks a number of difficult themes and does most of them justice. Schizophrenia, sister love, family bonds, responsibility, love, and the meaning of reality – the layers unpeel. Classic tensions are presented with refreshing honesty and weaknesses shown with devastating matter-of-factness. As usual, Aparna Sen provokes thought and tears with honesty and finesse.
What makes this movie particularly watchable are phenomenal performances by Konkona Sen Sharma and Shabana Azmi. Schizophrenia is difficult to depict without teetering into overt dramatics or shallow mockery. Konkona does a fabulous job. It is obvious that she has observed the nuances of what it must mean to be schizophrenic and she imbues her character with feeling and genuineness, raising her to much, much more than a mere caricature. Mithi is a person defined by her longings, fears and past, and not just by her illness.
Shabana Azmi as the responsible sister who works hard, smiles little, and worries much, wins both empathy and credence. The seething tension of someone who has ‘put her life on hold’ is a taut undertone through the movie and you clench your fists and wait for her to break – but she doesn’t, which is inspiring in itself.
Waheeda Rehman and Shefali Shah make an impact in small roles. Rahul Bose is a disappointment. He looks wooden and spends a lot of time trying to convey shock or stupefaction. Instead, he just looks plain stupid.
The story telling is sluggish in places and I’m not sure the surprise end adds much to the movie though it’s in keeping with Aparna Sen’s self-confessed need to leap over borders and question reality. Personally, I feel it’s abrupt and detracts from the seriousness of the theme.
But these are small flaws in a piece of work that is beautiful in many respects. If you’re a fan of good acting and not afraid of facing the dark, go watch it.