The craft of Konkona

Shoma A. Chatterji chats up the versatile actor, whose Iti Mrinalini,
directed by her mother Aparna Sen, was released recently

Konkona Sen Sharma has come a long way since her first appearance on screen as a three-year-old boy in a Bengali film Indira. She made her debut as leading lady in Ek Je Aachhey Kanya, a psychological thriller in Bengali, directed by Subrata Sen. The film established her as an actress of talent and versatility.

In the film, Konkona plays the young Mrinalini, who grows up to become a famous actress
In the film, Konkona plays the young Mrinalini, who grows up to become a famous actress

In Bollywood, she bagged enviable assignments like Madhur Bhandarkar’s Page 3 and Traffic Signal, Zoya Akhtar’s Luck By Chance, Vishal Bharadwaj’s Omkara, Anurag Basu’s Life in a Metro, Naseeruddin Shah’s Yun Hota To Kya Hota, Pradeep Sarkar’s Laaga Chunari Mein Daag to mention just a few.

You wished to be a director. So how did you become an actress?

I acted as a child in some films. But it never made me want to become an actress. Subrata Sen, a political correspondent, was looking for a new face for his first film Ek Je Aachey Kanya (The Girl). Filmmaker-singer-actor Anjan Dutt suggested my name. Sen saw me perform in a play in Delhi. He suggested a screen test. I did the test and faced the camera. The film was a hit.

Your first film under your mother’s directorial wand, Mr. & Mrs. Iyer in English, got you the Best Actress Award at the National Awards. What was it like being directed by your mother who is reported to be a very hard taskmaster?

I have never felt any pressure of being Aparna Sen’s daughter though on the sets, she is quite a hard taskmaster. I have always maintained a very positive stance about being the daughter of a formidable, famous and multi-talented woman. I feel great because everyone expects great things from me. I have worked in three films under her direction. Mr. & Mrs. Iyer fetched me my first National Award. 6, Park Avenue fleshes me out as a psychologically affected young journalist under medication subject to spurts of violence. In Iti Mrinalini, she has not only directed me but has also played the older version of Mrinalini.

What was it like playing "Mrs" Iyer in the film?

Till today, it is one of my favourite roles. I empathise with Meenakshi Iyer even now when I think of her. The character offered me scope for research — staying in Chennai with a part-Tamil Iyer family to invest the character with just the right regional flavours — a smattering of Tamil, the way the sari is draped, how long should the thali around the neck be, the works. I also taped a lot of Tamil conversation. Yet, the National Award was a bit of a surprise when it came.

What is your role in Iti Mrinalini?

I play the young Mrinalini who grows up to become a famous actress. She has a brief relationship with Abhijeet, a young Naxalite but the two worlds they belong to drive them apart. Shaheb Bhattacharya, who plays Abhijeet and I underwent a gruelling workshop before the shoot so that we knew the script. My mother is very workshop oriented. My mother’s casting me as her younger self where she plays the older Mrinalini was a conscious choice because of the similarities in our body language, appearance and so on. I was very excited because I got the chance to play what my mother used to in films through the 1970s and 1980s. It looks back at the cinema scenario within Bengali cinema over those two decades.

How do you define the term ‘acting’ and what kind of actress would you say you are?

The definition is subject to the type of film and the character I am playing in the film. In my first film EJAK, playing Ria Samaddar, a complicated young girl with a crush on a much older man was more like playing to the gallery. It was a glamorous role with negative shades. Titli needed me to underplay. It was a subtle character in a subtle film demanding a different approach. Mr. & Mrs. Iyer was the most fun film while Dosar opposite Prosenjit was challenging. I learnt a lot of profanity for my role in Traffic Signal while in Omkara, I learnt to deliver my lines in a typical Hindi dialect filled with cusswords. I am a combination of a director’s actress, a spontaneous actress and an actress by default. I don’t think I’d be able to fit into the song-and-dance routine unless it goes with a character that has some depth, some substance to it.