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15 Park Avenue: Mithi’s Magic Mind – A Human and Scientific Exploration

November 10, 2009 | By

I believe, the joy derived from the strong sense of commitment is the main factor that binds the two apparently different persons together. Therefore, as I still go on repeatedly watching 15 Park Avenue, the popular notion as well as the scientific definition of Schizophrenia is gradually becoming blurred to me. Slowly I start believing that Mithi is the most unified person in the film. All the decisions she takes are coherent.

15 Park Avenue : Mithi’s Magic Mind— A Human and Scientific Exploration

Through various stages of her search, we discover a beautiful structure of Mithi’s magic mind

The tale orbits around Mithi (Konkona Sensharma). Mithi, according to her doctor and others, is a schizophrenic. She believes that her real address is “15 Park Avenue” where her husband, along with their five children, is waiting for her return. Mithi fervently tries to find out the house (and, in the end, she is successful in her mission. We know it, as we have seen it. But her family members don’t yet know). The family and friends around her sometimes try to help her find the house. At times they try to dissuade her. Yet Mithi’s search goes on – at times openly and sometimes discreetly. And, through various stages of her search, we discover a beautiful structure of Mithi’s magic mind.

In the present paper we will try to see the blindingly beautiful formation of Mithi’s mind – blooming through interactions with the society and her family members.

Mithi, The Unimposing

The aspect that moves me most is Mithi’s easy and unimposing way of communicating her beliefs. The scenes where Mithi expresses her convictions about the existence of her husband, her children, her job in The Illustrated Weekly, her bank account and of her home at 15 Park Avenue are the most touching ones.

Mithi is an undemanding one, because, she does not expect others to care for her five children. She is confident enough about her capacity to raise them on her own. In a haunting night scene, we see Mithi expressing affection alone, scolding her children alone, consoling them alone and assuring them alone. This proves her sense of liberty.
Mithi is always positive, as she believes that someday she will certainly find her home at Park Avenue. Her natural self-reliance makes us sob in the privacy of the dark theatre. Why do the so-called “normal” people – all of us – lack this quiet confidence that Mithi naturally possesses? Why cannot we love our spouse and children so deeply which Mithi can so effortlessly? … The questions torment me at home and even during sleepless nights.

Mithi, The Unheard
15 Park Avenue : Mithi’s Magic Mind— A Human and Scientific Exploration

Others in the film – as in real life – vacillate several times.

Mithi’s opinions are never even totally heard, as she voices them in a tone of offering a calm reason – nearly never in the manner of a harsh protest. She succeeds in it more often than not. This is a remarkable progress for any human being – even more so for someone as marginalized as Mithi. In Aparna Sen’s film, Mithi shouts out her protest only once, and that, too, sounds philosophical in nature – ‘Who are you … look like my parents … who are you?’ (Mithi asks this when the people from the mental hospital came to drag her away from home.) The question is philosophical, as the same question we all want to ask to so many people so many times all our lives.

Mithi screams while being dragged away by a group of unknown men! After all, this is not a hotel in the suburbs, it is her HOME. That morning Mithi screams saying – ‘THIS IS MY HOME’. And it is for the “last time” in her life that she claims her mother’s place being her HOME. Having watched her parents’ deliberate reluctance to save her from the ruthless touches of strangers, a stunned Mithi forever changes her permanent address. The “new address” is 15 Park Avenue.

We have seen how refined Mithi generally is. Mithi goes to the Presidency College one day to propose her elder sister, Didi (Shabana Azmi), something very important. Mithi wants Didi to accompany her to a small town near Dhanbad. She is writing an investigative essay on the post-poll violence. Mithi does not impose her point. She just politely says – ‘My job depends on it …they’ll think I’m not tough enough…Jojo will be very angry…’. Mithi’s politeness is generally interpreted as her general lack of self-confidence. On the contrary – the more I watch the film the more I find – it is Mithi’s inner confidence that has made her polite.

As the film flows, we find Mithi gradually coming closer to love life and living. This is awe-inspiring. She is changing inwardly. Her family members do not know it. Only the spectators are given the rare honour to be the witness of the most intimate changes in a human being. This certainly is the hallmark of great cinema.

The Initial Phase
15 Park Avenue : Mithi’s Magic Mind— A Human and Scientific Exploration

Ironically, the person who is tired most in the film is Mithi , constantly trying to make her family members believe in her own reality – her new address

In the initial phase, Mithi is not so firm. We can feel this in the first scene when she is in quest of her “Home” through the windscreen of Didi’s car. There is a shade of perplexity in Mithi’s voice – withdrawn and faintly mistrusting – because she is now scared of her Didi. That is quite natural. Generally Didi is not outwardly tolerant of her. Didi shouts – ‘You direct me … it’s your house, not mine … I’M TIRED OF THIS MITHI !’. Ironically, the person who is tired most in the film is Mithi , constantly trying to make her family members believe in her own reality – her new address. Only she cannot raise her voice like Didi can. Never being totally heard, Mithi yawns, feels exhausted and withdrawn while reclining beside her Didi in the car. Yet she implores Didi to give her five more minutes, as – ‘My children also want to see the new baby’, says Mithi, ‘Let’s pick them up’. Therefore, Mithi somehow feels that she has come very near to 15 Park Avenue. What she needs is a few more minutes. Her feeling comes true in the last scene; so – ‘… Let’s pick them up’ – is an important line functioning as a poetic prophecy of the final scene.

Mithi’s Change

In the second half – the days and nights spent in Bhutan – Mithi, despite her spells of excruciating convulsions, becomes even more positive. Blissfully and surprisingly, Mithi’s poise comes back without any serious medical intervention. Even the influence of Joydeep Roy’s (Rahul Bose) presence cannot be the only cause. In Bhutan, he is merely a Mr. Roy to her (Or, does Mithi inwardly recognize him as her long lost Jojo? One cannot ever be sure). Only a great poet can unintentionally create such a metamorphosis in the heart of a character of her creation. Aparna Sen is a great poet of cinema. 15 Park Avenue is full of such poetic moments of illumination revealing Mithi’s mind, her conscience and her sense of responsibility towards her husband and five children. Does Mithi start discovering herself in Bhutan due to the surprising arrival of Mr. Roy in her life? Does she fall in love for the second time? Does Mithi’s unfathomable memory recognize Jojo’s face through the strange means unknown to us, and even to her?

We get a clue of an answer to the questions in the last scene.

Shesh Nomoshkaar

In the last scene, bidding a “nomoshkaar”, Mithi turns away and does not look back even for once at Mr. Roy (while Mrs. Iyer looks back to her ‘Mr. Iyer’). That is an indication of Mr. Roy (in everyday reality) being nothing more than a facilitator to Mithi. While bidding the ultimate “nomoshkaar”, Mithi’s gesture is an archetype of humility – expressed in the slight bend of her neck. There is a calm sorrow of farewell – expressed by the bronze-color shadow on her left cheek. There is also a hope of discovering the house no. 15 – expressed so well in her smile during the final “nomoshkar”.

When these three distinct moods – humility, hope and sorrow – are united, Mithi’s gesture is the final farewell not only to Mr. Roy, but also to the everyday world. After the “nomoshkaar”, Mithi suddenly starts seeing the white walls and, in a moment, she discovers the house no. 17 ! The white walls and the houses no. 17, 16 and 15 are not there when Mr. Roy and the crowd accompany her. The moment Mithi discovers a stretch of white walls, the crowd vanishes.

In the final lap, Mithi alone starts exploring.

Face To Face – With Her Own World

We see Mithi again in full frontal close-up when she is laughing and murmuring “Nayantara” – her daughter’s name. Now Mithi – with her old, non-ironed salwar-kameez and grayish unkempt hair intact – transforms herself into a young mother – delighted, stooping and feeling shy about the long awaited reunion. The unforgettable frontal close up of Mithi stooping and smiling is a cinematic expression of her coming face-to-face for the first time with her own world — the true world.

Mithi Does Not Miss The Moment

Paradoxically, Mithi – even being a schizophrenic – can instinctively sense how to respond to her inner calls at the right moment. She gives more importance to the inner voices calling her to join her children to rescue her injured husband. Yet, returning to Calcutta, Mithi becomes even more determined – and is surer of her beliefs. How can we feel it? Simple. During her first hunt, she was grim. However, during the final search, she smiles and even comes out of the car to talk to unknown people. It was quite difficult for Mithi, as she does not have the society by her side. True, Dr. Verma (Dhritiman), Mr. Roy, a “new” acquaintance, and her Didi accompany her in her final exploration. Yet they are either sympathetic or merely curious. Scientific curiosity and familial sympathy are not synonymous with love and trust that Mithi needs now from the close ones. A combination of curiosity and sympathy can at times be injurious. Yet that is what Mithi gets now even in the best of the situations. At this point Mithi’s struggle becomes very lonely; though one of the positive aspects of loneliness is the privacy inherent in it. Confidentiality intensifies the joy of personal exploration. Mithi feels this joy. When the people of the locality suggest Mithi that the name should actually be Palm Avenue – Mithi feels a pity for their ignorance. She smiles at them – a strange smile expressing a blend of mercy and forgiveness. Never getting rude or angry for a moment, Mithi, with a calm sincerity, tries to convince the people about the renaming of the road. Mithi’s quiet pity, her polite way of trying to convince, the way she slightly bends her neck, her benign smile, the kindness of her voice at the moment – all express together her compassion, her humanity and her unspoken self-belief.

Finally she finds the house no. 15. After that, Park/Palm Avenue, the boomerang shaped road – or, the blind lane – remains empty. The blind lane leads us nowhere. On the contrary, for Mithi, the road is neither blind nor a boomerang. It is open. It unbolts the wrought iron gate to welcome her. She alone is allowed to pierce the blind lane.

The real finding depends on the belief, passion and the personal necessity of the observer, i.e. Mithi.

Mithi, The Committed One

Mithi’s struggle is multilayered. On the one hand, she tries to keep her inner compulsions secret (she does not tell Didi in Bhutan that her children are in danger and are calling their Mom), and on the other, she is very emphatic about the real existence of 15 Park Avenue. Mithi expects that her kith and kin will not obstruct her from finding the house no. 15. These two motives are apparently conflicting. Yet Mithi can deftly handle the conflict mainly by her compassion and inner confidence.

Mithi is loyal to her duties. In the two phases of her life – before going to ‘Mental Home’ and after returning from there – she remains committed to her duties, as far as possible. Some may think that Mithi has returned from the ‘Mental Home’ as a person completely changed. However, it is a notion wide off the mark. She remains as committed as ever for the reasons given below:

  1. Political Journalism : Mithi has the courage to face the ground reality of politics. She does not do political journalism only to prove her worth to Jojo. That is a minor reason, while the main one is an urge to play a significant social role through journalism.
  2. The Children : Having returned from the ‘Mental Home’, her commitment shifts towards her five children. All her five are missing their Mamma. There is not an iota of insincerity in her attitude towards the little ones. She is now a proud mother.

I believe, the joy derived from the strong sense of commitment is the main factor that binds the two apparently different persons together. Therefore, as I still go on repeatedly watching 15 Park Avenue, the popular notion as well as the scientific definition of Schizophrenia is gradually becoming blurred to me. Slowly I start believing that Mithi is the most unified person in the film. All the decisions she takes are coherent. Others in the film – as in real life – vacillate several times. The night is unforgettable when Mithi promises her children – unseen by us as well as by Didi and Charu – that she will go back to them… Urmila, one of her children, says – ‘She was crying so much for you … Mamma, Mamma, I want you…’ – ‘Mamma Mamma I want to stay with you’ – ‘When will you come?’ Mithi never forgets the moving calls. Till the end, she remains committed to her promise to return to them and to stay with them.

At this point, one of Professor Anjli Mathur’s (Shabana) classes comes to my mind. She refers to Erwin Schrödinger who once tried to write a meaning of LIFE – ‘An organism has an astonishing gift of concentrating a “stream of order” on itself and escaping decay into atomic chaos – of “drinking orderliness” from a suitable environment. ...’ (Quoted from ‘What is Life?’). According to this definition, Mithi is more alive than others in the film, No other person in the film is so committed to her/his cause. Mithi can retain a stream of order by never changing her commitment. Thus Mithi defies Entropy. On the other hand once we find Anjli speaking over phone – ‘The signals are breaking … I can’t hear you …’ – signifying a looming collapse, an echo of Entropy. References to Thermodynamics and Quantum Physics in Professor Anjli Mathur’s classes are used as a significant metaphor in the film.

The Reality Of The Finale
15 Park Avenue : Mithi’s Magic Mind— A Human and Scientific Exploration

Mithi never forgets the moving calls. Till the end, she remains committed to her promise to return to them and to stay with them.

As per Quantum Physics, a sub-nuclear particle expresses itself in two forms – wave as well as particle Like ‘day’ and ‘night’, ‘trough’ and ‘crest’ – the ‘Wave’ existence and the ‘Particle’ existence of a sub-nuclear matter are equally true at once. Is ‘Mind’ an expression of ‘Life’? If so, ‘Mind’ must have a root in ‘Matter’. Since the activities of the sub-atomic particles fall in the domain of Quantum Physics, subtlest of activities of ‘Mind’ can logically be understood through this principle of duality.

Mr. Roy (Rahul Bose) is the Particle aspect of an ‘existence’, while Jojo is the Wave feature of the same existence. Mr. Roy, the particle, is palpable for all the people around him. Jojo, the wave, exists only for one person – Mithi. The irony is, despite being the two forms of the same existence, they cannot see/feel each other – like a day and a night cannot stay simultaneously on the same face of a solar planet. Only an observer, flying by a supersonic jet, can see day and night in a very short span of time. It is only the observer, i.e. Mithi, who can see both of them in a very short span of time – yet not simultaneously. Therefore, the observer herself does not know that both are dual existences of the same entity.

Truth is so subjective. The society knows him as Mr. Roy. To Lakshmi, he is Joy and Joydeep. To Mithi, and only to Mithi – he is Jojo, and only Jojo. The true exhilaration in Aparna’s film is – it is ultimately Mr. Roy who escorts Mithi to her Jojo – the Particle shows her the path to reach the Wave. Thus Mithi attains her liberation from the day-to-day world of particles, a handful of dust and ashes (as Tagore says in a song : ‘Shudhu Dhuli Shudhu Chhaai / Mulyo Jaar Kichhu Naai/Mullyo tare karo Shamorpan …’). 15 Park Avenue is a celebration of subjectivity – a celebration of the inevitable duality of any existence.

The theory, I have found to my unreserved surprise, is also applicable to understanding of the rational basis of Mithi’s individual sighting of 15 Park Avenue in the end. The wave functions are interpreted as describing the probability of finding a particle at a given point in space (that means, if “No. 15” symbolizes the said “given point”, then “Park Avenue” itself is “space”). Thus, if one (i.e. Mithi) is looking for a particle (i.e. Jojo) one may find one.

I have strong reasons to believe that in the World Cinema, few filmmakers before Aparna Sen – could accomplish this philosophical truth – both scientific and human – in a theme involving real characters in a real society set in a real period.

References:
  1. Davies, Paul, God and the New Physics : Pelican Books
  2. Bohm, David, Science, Order and Creativity : Bantam Books
  3. Penrose, Roger, The Emperor’s New Mind : Oxford University Press

(All pictures used in this article are courtesy the Internet)

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Ujjal Chakraborty is groomed in Italy on the techniques of Animation films. The author learnt the art of cinema by closely observing Satyajit Ray for many years. His book on film making, The Director's Mind, has brought for him a nation wide prominence in the field. He is a faculty member of Roop Kala Kendro, an Indo-Italian Institute of Films.
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