Smriti Kiran: Konkona Sensharma stumbled into acting while on a film set with her mother when she was just four years old. The film was Dinen Gupta’s Indira that released in 1983. Her mother, Aparna Sen, is an actor, director and writer; her father, Mukul Sharma, was a journalist and writer; and her grandfather, Chidananda Dasgupta, was a film critic, scholar, professor, and writer, who also co-founded the Calcutta Film Society with Satyajit Ray. She was almost genetically destined to be an artist.
Her first feature film as director, A Death in the Gunj, was the opening film of the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival in 2016. In MAMI’s 21-year long journey, 10 of her films have screened at the festival.
Konkona, you were offered your first film as an adult (Ek Je Aachhe Kanya) when you were in second year of college. You went into it with great apprehensions about both acting and the character you were meant to play. What were the learnings from that experience?
Konkona Sensharma: I was not at all prepared to be an actor when I did that film. There was a lot of resistance within me to do that film. I was very uncomfortable with myself. I was uncomfortable being on set. The director, Subrata Sen, is a lovely human being.
I slowly got used to my profession. I was in denial for a long time because I always thought, ‘Okay, I’ll do this film, then I’ll do something else – get a job, maybe.’ I was in denial about being an actor for a long time.
One thing I learned early on is to dissociate myself a little bit. When you get very involved with filmmaking, as an actor it’s important to dissociate yourself to get some objectivity and clarity. Because I don’t want to be so much in my own reality, or the reality of what’s going on on-set. Sets are such chaotic surroundings and so fragmented that it’s very important to have a certain focus or a certain attention span. Also, not asking questions like, ‘Why have they done it like this?’, ‘Why is the set looking like this?’, ‘Why am I wearing this?’ Too much of that was detrimental to me. So, it helped me to detach a little bit. It’s a very important life lesson as well. It has helped me a lot.
Another learning was having empathy for my main characters. I didn’t like the character I was playing in that film. I was constantly questioning why she was behaving the way she was. I was like, ‘Why doesn’t she have more self-respect and dignity?’ There was a lot of resistance and a lot of judgement, which my mom helped me out with at that time. I was very young. We also did some rehearsals, readings and workshops with Subrata Sen. That helped me to understand this person without being very judgemental about these two things.
Smriti Kiran: Your perspective on acting changed after Titli and Mr. and Mrs. Iyer. What was it about these films and their making that convinced you to stay on and continue to work as an actor?
Konkona Sensharma: I enjoyed these two films a lot more. That certainly helped. Actually, it was a few years later that I became comfortable with acting. I enjoyed Titli (by Rituparno Ghosh) because I was working with a lot of people whom I knew really well for a long time. We shot the film very fast. We were on location somewhere in North Bengal, and it was very pretty. I have to say that I enjoyed the shoots of these two films a lot more partly because my mum was involved. I was in very familiar terrain. Rituparno Ghosh was a family friend. We went to a lovely hill station and shot the film in some 15-16 days. So, it was a very pleasant experience.
“For me, it’s always been the path of least resistance. I don’t know how inspirational or motivational that is.”
Again, with Mr. and Mrs. Iyer, I told my mother, ‘Why are you taking me? You should take a Tamilian girl.’ I suggested some names to her as well, but she was very smart and she tricked me, as I like to say. She sent me to Chennai to do some research for her – about Iyers and Iyengars, Shaivites and Vaishnavas. I went in with a list of questions and I stayed there for some time, I did workshops, and I got involved in that process and really got into that character. I enjoyed myself in that film but even after that, I was still looking for a real job. I didn’t think I would really be acting for a while.
Then, the film released; it did well. I got the National Award for that film, and that actually got me a lot of attention from the rest of the country in terms of the media or other film offers. Then I thought, ‘Okay, let’s just do it.’
For me, it’s always been the path of least resistance. I don’t know how inspirational or motivational that is. I’ve always been the kind of person to go with the flow. So, I just went along with this for a while until I could sort some of the things out. After a few years, I was just like, ‘Let’s just accept that I’m an actor.’
Smriti Kiran: You were 23 when you got the National Award. What does it do to the mind of a budding actor?
That day and the next day it were a bit overwhelming. There was press outside our front door; there were a lot of calls and things like that. But the people who were closest to me were really not making a very big deal about it. So, that helped me, because they were like, ‘That’s great. You know, a lot of really good actors have not gotten any awards.’ So, I was like, ‘Oh, well.’
It was a little bit of a thrill as well. It was so unexpected – it’s not something I had worked towards but it was a lot of positive encouragement. Not that I really thought, ‘Now I must be an actor!’. I have this imposter syndrome where I find it hard to believe that I’m good. Whenever my family and close friends would tell me that I was a good actor, especially when I was young, I’d just be like, ‘They don’t know. They just love me – that’s why they are saying it.’ So, it was good to kind of hear it from outside as well. ‘Acha theek hai. This is what people are considering to be good.’ That was good to know.
Smriti Kiran: Your early years were almost like you were helping out family. You were working with people you were comfortable with. Do you think it helped that you never had that pressure of being an actor?
Konkona Sensharma: Not that I had planned it like that. It was just an extension of my personality, you know? I am not one of those people who believes that you must have one goal and you must pursue it, and it must come through, and it’s only not coming true because you didn’t work hard enough. I don’t believe that because there are many talented people and who’ve worked very hard who still haven’t gotten the recognition that they deserve or that’s due to them. And sometimes things don’t work out, and a lot of things are luck by chance. It’s a combination of many different factors, too many variables – some things are in your control, some things are not; those things keep changing and shifting. So, it’s impossible to really say.
I also believe that it’s great to not have all your happiness tied up in one dream or one individual. It’s best to lay eggs in different baskets, so, you can derive happiness from several different things. If you can know yourself well and understand that, identify that, it’s generally helpful.
Smriti Kiran: How did Page 3 (by Madhur Bhandarkar) happen?
Konkona Sensharma: After I got the National Award, Madhur Bhandarkar got in touch. At that time, after Mr. and Mrs. Iyer, I had also done Chai, Pani, Etc. (by Manu Rewal) in Delhi, and I had also done another film called Amu with Shonali Bose. During that time, I got a call from Madhur, who had just made Chandni Bar, which I had loved. So, I was really excited.
It was a call out of the blue, as far as I remember. He said, ‘Will you come to Bombay to shoot?’ I agreed. I had finished college; I had started my M.A., but I got disillusioned with it really quickly because firstly, they were repeating all the things that I had done in my A-Levels and the building was very ugly. It was not how I thought an extension of college would be. So, I abandoned it really quickly, and then I did Mr. and Mrs. Iyer, and then I went to Bombay to do Page 3.
That was an interesting and very different experience because I was in a vanity van for the first time in my life. I didn’t know anyone in Bombay. We shot the film over several months in little, little bits. At one time, I told Madhur, ‘I really don’t know what you’re doing,’ because I couldn’t keep track of all the little things we had done so far. Obviously, he knew what he was doing. Until then I had shot everything from a start to finish schedule, and this was unlike that, but it came together really well.
Smriti Kiran: Konkona, you decided to shift to Mumbai in 2005. What were the first few years of navigating the industry like?
Konkona Sensharma: I resisted moving to Bombay for a long time. Even after Page 3, I was still not living in Bombay. I was going between Delhi and Calcutta because I did Naseeruddin Shah’s film at that time, Yun Hota Toh Kya Hota, and Rajat Kapoor’s Mixed Doubles, too. I was living in and out of hotels. These were all small budget films. I was also at one time living in somebody’s apartment. So, I was a little tired of going around with suitcases. It was very destabilizing. I resisted it for a while. But then I found out that I was spending so much time in Bombay that it actually made sense to have some kind of a setup here. I thought, ‘Let’s try it out for a year.’ It was a practical need at that point because I was in Bombay so much.
“It’s great to not have all your happiness tied up in one dream or one individual. It’s best to lay eggs in different baskets.”
There was a cousin of mine who had shifted to Bombay from Delhi, and so we decided to rent an apartment and see how it went since I was very non-committal anyway. I didn’t want to be like, ‘Bas abhi main Bombay aa gayi hoon.’ I didn’t want to do that. I was like, ‘Let’s see how it goes. Let’s just take this apartment and see.’ I delayed it so much, by then I was really in the thick of things and I was already quite busy at that time.
So, the first few years were just figuring out who my doctor is in Bombay or who’s the person to call for this, that, and the other, and also working all the time. I was single and I didn’t have children, so I was travelling a lot and I was working a lot. So, the early years were like that. Several of my friends had moved to Bombay at that time as well. So, that was nice for me.
Smriti Kiran: When you started working, was there a plan in place? Did you make calls? Did you go for auditions? Did you try and get work, or work just kept on coming, and then you chose whatever worked for you?
Konkona Sensharma: I was actually so shy. I just couldn’t call anyone. Firstly, I didn’t have anybody’s number. I just couldn’t do it. I could still, maybe, do it now, even though I still don’t. I feel embarrassed to do that; but sometimes I’d say, ‘Well, I love your work. I’d love to work some time with you,’ just very casually, by-the-by, half hoping that they didn’t hear it. At that time, I didn’t have anybody’s number; I didn’t know too many people; I was too shy to do that. So, I didn’t do that. I didn’t have a roster. Maybe if I’d been a little more organised, it may have helped, but I wasn’t. I just did what came my way. I tried to choose the best of what was coming my way, which is really pretty much how I’ve dealt with stuff, and even today, I pretty much do that.
Luckily, I did Page 3, and Life in a… Metro (by Anurag Basu) happened soon after. I didn’t have to do any auditions because I had done quite a few films by then, and I’d gotten some awards as well. So, I didn’t actually have to do auditions at that time.
Smriti Kiran: Konkona, you’ve collaborated with your mother, Aparna Sen, on nine projects: three as a co-actor, and in six, she directed you. What is your working relationship with her? The early years are all about finding one’s own voice, but now after 20 years in the industry, do you look back and see the influence she’s had on you as an artist and on you standing on your own as an independent artist?
Konkona Sensharma: The influence she’s had on me overall as a person is huge. It’s in so many different ways, starting from my upbringing – both my parents, actually, but especially my mother. My working relationship with her has been by and large really harmonious. It’s because she’s really cool. She doesn’t tell me what to do and leaves me alone, and expects me to do the same to her. That has worked out really well.
Her being a director is an extension of her being a mother. It’s a personality. You have to nurture your actor; you have to provide that kind of an environment; you have to encourage them to grow. You’re in command of many people, like being the head of a family, or the captain of a ship. So, I somehow found many personalities. I was used to dealing with a strong personality from a young age. I had found my way around that quite well, I think, and cleverly.
She says that I bully her, and I say that she bullies me. So, I don’t know who’s bullying who, but there’s a lot of mutual trust and there’s a sense of being in a team – that I have her back. This has also helped me with other directors, where even if I don’t completely agree, I feel like if I have taken on the job, when I have agreed to do this role, it’s my job to do it how my director wants it even if I don’t agree.
That kind of discipline was really good for me. Also, because we have so much prep in her films, whether it’s workshops or just reading – she would read the script – or do improv, what happened before the scene or what happened after the scene, all of that was actually ironed out. So, by the time we were on set, there was not a lot that we had to figure out.
Smriti Kiran: Mukul Keswan did this wonderful piece on you – he said that we’re not a country that is good with accents, and said that you played these really difficult characters and got the linguistics right. How has your process as an actor evolved over the years?
Konkona Sensharma: I don’t have a specific process because I’m quite adaptable. I adapt to what my director wants from me. I’m not very strict with that. I’m not like, ‘Mujhe toh ye karna hi hai.’ It’s like being in a new school every time I’m on a new project – I always get a case of nerves. It’s like being the new kid on set, and just adjusting to what the set is and adjusting to who that director is.
I cannot overemphasize the importance of prep for me. I’m a big believer in rehearsals and prepping. Even on set, I will constantly be doing my lines, because I don’t want the remembering to get in the way of the acting. Some actors can do it very cleverly, where they take a pause and they’ll say the thing. I actually did a lot of theatre in college. One of the exercises we used to do was to do the whole play in gibberish, like really fast. I found that very useful just to have the dialogues pat because then you can say it however you need to.
Also, Hindi is not my first language. I’ve always struggled a little bit with Hindi. Of course, I could have taken Hindi classes, but I never did. I watched some Hindi films and spoke in Hindi. I was also like, ‘Why is Hindi the national language? Why should we all have to learn Hindi?’ But I rehearsed a lot, having said it, having to put in that extra work.
I am actually not very good with accents and that is why I say prep is so important because I know actors who do it at the snap of their fingers. They do it naturally. You can ask for this kind of a person or that kind of a person and they will just do it. But I wasn’t. So, with Omkara and Mr. and Mrs. Iyer, it was because I did a lot of prep.
“I find that when I have my lines recorded that just hearing that really helps. So, if I keep hearing it then it just sits in my brain.”
In Omkara, what Vishal (Bhardwaj) had done was, he’d given all the actors their lines recorded in advance. So, that was very helpful. That is something I adopted. I ask for my dialogues recorded because I like to keep hearing it; way before the shoot even if you keep hearing it, then you don’t even have to bother about memorizing it much because it just happens. That is one important thing that I found very helpful – to have your dialogues recorded, to keep saying it and to keep rehearsing, because I’m not naturally good with accents.
Smriti Kiran: And these dialogues are recorded in the manner in which you are supposed to speak them?
Konkona Sensharma: Yeah. But you can change the intonation a little bit. The thing with me is, when I was growing up I’d had an unconventional childhood, I was raised by a single mother, she didn’t let me watch a lot of Hindi films, especially growing up in the eighties and nineties, when a lot of the popular mainstream films were not that great, whether in Hindi or Bengali. I was not watching. I didn’t grow up hearing a lot of Hindi. So, I find that when I have my lines recorded, just hearing that really helps. And you almost never really say it like that; somehow I’m unable to in any case. I’ll always make it my own, regardless. But I guess that would be something to watch out for, that you don’t just copy that. It’s extremely useful because I’m not used to hearing Hindi as much. So, if I keep hearing it then it just sits in my brain.
Smriti Kiran: You directed a short film in 2006 called Naamkaran. But it took a while for your feature, A Death in the Gunj, to come together. Why did you decide to take the film to a script lab when you already had access to almost limitless talent around you?
Konkona Sensharma: I did Naamkaran because the Kala Ghoda Festival asked me to do it. It’s not like I was dying to make a film. They asked me to make a half an hour film or something, and I was like, ‘Oh, this is a great opportunity, and I should.’ Then, a very close friend of mine, Ankur Khanna, wrote the script. It was really more of an exercise than anything else like a creative expression. But it was useful for me. So, that’s why there was a long gap: because I wasn’t ready to make a film up until that point.
I never thought I’d want to really direct films. I hadn’t started off thinking that I wanted to be a director or anything. I actually knew how difficult it was being behind the scenes, seeing how difficult it was for my mum to direct films which are perhaps slightly different, not exactly mainstream. I knew that the challenges of that all too well. So, I didn’t want to do that. I did it because I became obsessed with that story.
“I became attached to the project. I became attached to this character, Shutu.”
I am generally very excited about workshops and script labs. I had heard of other films that had gone to script labs, and somebody suggested this to me. I had heard of the NFDC script lab and was really excited by that. There’s something about having objective feedback. Marten Rabarts was my mentor. Can you believe that I’d actually written three other characters into that script and he just said, ‘Pick them out and throw them away.’ That was so great because I already had so many characters and I had three more. Many times, even after the screening or a preview, you can’t really take people very seriously because they are very nice and polite, or they don’t want to hurt your feelings, and they want to make it into an easy thing, and so I don’t always trust the feedback that I get. It’s nice to get some objective feedback from somebody who doesn’t know you and who’s not trying to spare your feelings.
Smriti Kiran: You took a written film to the lab, right?
Konkona Sensharma: So much of it happened before I actually started writing the script because that’s the main work. When you know in your head what you want or where you want to go, like I have to go from this point to this point, from the start to the finish, once you have that chalked down nicely and you know vaguely how you want to get there, I find for me that that’s really important to know, to have a handle on the whole thing.
Smriti Kiran: Why did you get into direction?
Konkona Sensharma: I didn’t really want to get into direction. This story is something that I’d been hearing since my childhood from my dad. He’s such a charismatic personality, who used to tell many different stories. Some of them were very funny, and then some of them were a little spooky, and this was one of his spooky stories, which I’ve been hearing since I was six or seven years old. And every so often, periodically, I would ask to hear it again and he would tell it. When a loved one tells a story, they imbue it with a lot of emotion and you can get to relive it through them. Sometimes it’s very nice to hear some stories again and again because you missed certain details and every time you’re adding a layer or you’re asking different questions. And so, it had already fascinated me so much.
I had more time when I had my child. I was working less, on purpose and partly not. I remember my house was being renovated and I was staying with my dad for some time, and we really jammed on this a lot. So, I knew what that story was in my head. Initially, there were three acts: the first act was that they all go to McCluskieganj, in the second act they’re in Kolkata, and the third act was where we go back to McCluskieganj, where the finale happens. But that wasn’t working for me. So, I changed it.
At that time, I didn’t think that I wanted to direct. I didn’t even think that I wanted to write a screenplay. I was just obsessed with the story of why this boy did what he did. So, I was just trying to crack that in my head. Then it became bigger and bigger and it came to a point where I could tell this whole story. And then I realised that I’m going to have to get someone to write it.
So, I asked a few screenwriter friends, who then said, ‘No, no, you know it really well, so you must write it.’ Then I actually tried to get Disha Rindani, an assistant on board, who turned out to be so fabulous that she became an associate. Then I kind of had to write the screenplay, and I realised that since I put in so much effort in writing the screenplay, why should I give it to anybody else to direct?
I became attached to the project. I became attached to this character, Shutu, to begin with. So, I thought of getting somebody else to write it, and then maybe I’d direct it, but then I wrote it and I was like, ‘Now I’ll only have to direct it.’
“There’s an element of me in all the characters. I’ve seen these people, I’ve known these people, I’ve been these people.”
Smriti Kiran: While you were writing it, did you see yourself as one of the characters?
Konkona Sensharma: As all. Definitely, Shutu. I didn’t know the real Shutu – he’d passed away before I was born. I’d only heard little bits about him from my family. So, I had to invent him, and I relied on my own personality a lot. I wouldn’t say that there’s all there is to me, but that is a large portion of me, especially, when I was younger, because as you grow, you’re going to develop defence mechanisms or you learn to cope or deal with things. A lot of that was already in me. But there is an element of me in Kalki’s character, there is an element of me in Tilly’s character, I have seen characters like Vikram, the one Ranvir played – I’ve seen these people, I’ve known these people, I’ve been these people.
Smriti Kiran: One of the reasons many women turned to direction because they were looking to create their own material and a space for themselves to get opportunities that others were not creating for them. Was that one of the reasons why you also fleshed out the story and has that become one of the motivations to direct?
Konkona Sensharma: No, not in my case. Although I think it’s a wonderful thing to create your own content, especially if you’re not satisfied with what you’re seeing out there. You can also encourage and back the content that you like. There are different ways to go about it.
“I’ll only direct once I’m truly ready, until I really feel like I must and I have something to say.”
For me, it wasn’t that. I’m always thrilled when people create their own content, and they’re able to do so, but it is not easy to put your own content out there. It is a difficult path. I actually had it really easy, because I was already an actor and I had done many roles. So, many doors were already open to me. Having said that, most people rejected A Death in the Gunj when I took the script to them. Most people said no, and I took it to many, many different people. Thank God, I found MacGuffin, and Honey (Trehan), Abhishek (Chaubey) and Studioz IDrream.
But that was not the reason at that point, the only reason was that I was obsessed with Shutu. I was obsessed with Shutu so much that I couldn’t write at night because I really thought that he’s sitting next to me, waiting for me to tell his story.
Smriti Kiran: But how wonderful that lots of films are getting made on women. You are getting exciting roles not just because of the longevity of the career.
Konkona Sensharma: It’s wonderful. I’m very happy that people are making films about women. It’s also important to examine men because a lot of the problems are stemming from there. So, we need to examine that masculinity and where that’s arising from. I don’t think that women are the problem – women are facing the problems, of course. We must examine why those problems are arising, and what men are facing. Those are equally valid.
Smriti Kiran: What did you learn from working with first-time directors that you applied to your own directorial debut?
Konkona Sensharma: More than learning from first-time film directors, having worked on so many films really helped. I have been on film sets since I was a child. Obviously, that is not possible for everybody, but the more film sets one can be on whether as an intern or an assistant, it’s really helpful, because it is such a chaotic environment. It seems like it’s chaotic, but there is some order, or at least some semblance of order – to know how these different parts are fitting in; to find your place in that chaos, and being comfortable with it, and to just sit in on different jobs as much as possible.
I was really lucky, really privileged that I was able to often accompany my mum. My mum was also that kind of a mother. She took me everywhere. When she was a women’s magazine editor, I would go to that office. If she was editing, I would be there. If she was dubbing, I would be there. But that really helped, and that is a very useful thing for anyone.
Directors come from all kinds of different fields: they can be editors or music directors, et cetera. But it’s really helpful to come from that background because then it’s not alien to you, and then you are comfortable in that medium. So, one can do that by assisting many different kinds of people across, whether it’s a production designer, editor, or costumes. That’s really helpful in understanding how the whole comes together.
What I took with me on my first film was that I knew things were going to go wrong, because I was terrified. Also, because I have no technical experience in the sense that I never studied or learnt filmmaking. I was like, ‘Okay, everyday things are going to go wrong and I’m not going to lose my shit, and we’re going to try and sort it out.’ I have been my best self on this shoot, in some ways, than I have ever been before or after.
Smriti Kiran: Are you going to direct again?
Konkona Sensharma: After I did that, many people were like, ‘Make another film,’ ‘Isn’t your next script ready already?’ I didn’t have another film. I’m not going to direct a feature film until I am dying to, until I really feel like I must and I have something to say.
I don’t need to really be a career director. I still get acting assignments. I’m much more comfortable being an actor today than I ever was, and I don’t mind playing older women. I get a lot more interesting parts, actually, now than I did in the first half of my career. I get creative satisfaction from it as well. I also like that it’s project to project. It’s finite. You’re not stuck on one thing endlessly. It works out really well for me. That’s why I’ll only direct once I’m truly ready.
Smriti Kiran: In an industry that is risk-averse to a fault, you have worked with 14 first-time directors, out of which four are women. What made you take a punt on them?
Konkona Sensharma: I never thought of it otherwise. I must’ve liked the script. And I love working with first-time directors. They have something special because they’ve been dying to make that film. It’s been sitting in their heads. First-time filmmakers can really be quite magical. It’s because they’ve really thought it through. It’s not like they’re by then a career director ki acha iss saal toh film banani hai, or that it’s time to make another film. It’s not that. They’ve just been living with that story and are very passionate about it.
And I’m used to working with women, in the sense that I’ve been working with women since my childhood. So, that was never an issue for me, that wasn’t even a concern. ‘Oh, this is a first-time filmmaker,’ ‘Oh, this is a woman.’ It was also never a congratulatory pat on the back for me. Maybe I wasn’t so aware at that time, but also because it was so normal from where I was coming.
Smriti Kiran: In an atmosphere that is all about quelling voices, what is an artist’s role?
Konkona Sensharma: I had heard that a spate of Iranian films, which were so popular some time ago, actually came about because their government at that time was really rigid and one wasn’t allowed much artistic expression, but you got grants for children’s films. So, a lot of creative people even if they weren’t going to make children’s films just made a lot of children’s films because you were getting money for that. And they found ways to make that meaningful and to make that relevant.
“We’re so many people in this country. We can’t be identical.”
It’s really shocking and distasteful that things are as they are today. You should be allowed to do what you want to do, and nobody should be going to jail. If everybody’s sentiments are getting hurt so easily, then we’re not going to have any kind of meaningful films or shows. Then, it’s going to be this kind of very sanitised version of things.
Artists are going to have to get really clever about this and just find really subtle ways of putting out the kind of messages that they want to see. We’ll probably have to get very creative about it so that one can still communicate. The thing is to communicate certain key ideas, and perhaps that can be done cleverly, hopefully.
Smriti Kiran: What are those key ideas for you?
Konkona Sensharma: It’s not like I have certain key ideas that I know and I stick to my whole life. I didn’t know that I wanted to make a film about toxic masculinity. I didn’t know that. I was just telling the story of this boy, but it turned out to be about that. It’s also a little bit about being different. It’s about being able to accept people who are different.
I would be really happy if those key ideas were things like tolerance. We’re so many people in this country. We can’t be identical. We’re not identical in what we eat and how we live and who we love and what we want to watch. People are going to be different from you, and that’s okay. That is a key idea which I wish they would teach in schools. But maybe those kinds of things can be communicated.
I don’t think it is incumbent upon an artist to be socially responsible. It would be ideal if artists or anybody could just be free to be able to make what they want to make. It could be experimental, or pushing some boundaries, or not necessarily having an important social message. It’s great if it does. That increases its value, of course. It’s like, you don’t have to make films only on women just because you’re a woman.
Q&A with Dial M For Films Participants and Viewers Watching Live on YouTube
Vibha Singh: As a director and an actor, do you take into consideration whether or not the story has a female gaze? How important is it for you?
Konkona Sensharma: I have to say, Vibha, that it’s not always possible. It’s really sad. If I actually looked for that, then I would be making very few films. I wouldn’t be able to make too many films, especially in the early part of my career. Sometimes, you didn’t even get scripts! Even now, sometimes when you get a script, if you want to show that a man is a lech, or is being lustful towards a woman, you can have that in his dialogue or you can describe him maybe in a line, but you don’t have to have it when you are describing the woman because that’s the screenwriter whose writing it, but that is often done.
Unfortunately, I can’t be so particular. I wish I could be. I feel like pointing it out and saying, ‘Why have you written it over here like this?’ But I can’t. So, I don’t know how much one can take out the male gaze, but if one can find one or two good reasons to do a film, then some of these things you can address in your performance sometimes.
You can’t solve it in a performance only, but if you find one or two good reasons to do the film, like if it’s raising some important question, talking about an interesting woman, talking about somebody who’s going through a particular kind of an experience or who’s going through a period of transition or something like that, then you can do the film. You try to find good reasons to do a film because, unfortunately, I don’t think that too many scripts would pass that test.
Dipti Gupta: Would you agree that portrayals of women are much more positive in movies directed by women? Do female directors frame female characters better?
Konkona Sensharma: I don’t think that’s necessarily true. I think that women can often be proponents of patriarchy. They can have internalised misogyny. There are men who are particularly woke, empathetic, sensitive or more understanding in the way they view women. But because it is so skewed and statistically there are so few women who make films, I would like to see what women make. They don’t have to write about women. Let it be their choice. I would just like to see what the output is when 50% of filmmakers are women. Let’s wait for that and see what would come. I don’t think all of it would necessarily immediately have to be progressive because we have a lot of expectations from women, right? I say that I made a living playing earnest, morally irreproachable women – I’m just so good, by and large, especially earlier on.
I’m interested to see what women would make and how they would portray women or men or certain issues. Most importantly, some issues which are glossed over or some issues which have never had a light shone on them. Maybe we’ll find out more interesting things. That’s what I would love to see: more women making films, writing films.
Meiyang Chang: Do you think that diversity in casting and representation is more a domain of regional films and not of the mainstream? Do you think it’s limited to only certain kinds of films but not overall?
Konkona Sensharma: I can’t speak on behalf of mainstream films but it seems to me that there’s a default type that we always stick to. It’s always an able-bodied, often male, often Hindu. Even the extras you have in the background. I’ve only found Alankrita (Shrivastava) who asks to see somebody in a wheelchair or a burkha. I know it because I’ve seen that. She asks for that. Maybe when you’re thinking of many other things, you don’t remember, but it would be great. But there’s a default of what a person is supposed to be like, and then we just stick to it. There’s this lack of imagination.
It’s there because it’s not something that is rewarded. Imagination in casting or even in taking some leaps in who can be cast, how a film ends, and being open to different kinds of endings or different kinds of people are not rewarded. It’s definitely not monetarily rewarded. That is a bit of a disadvantage.
In my case, what happened is that I needed those people. For example, the Oraoni people cast in the film were people from that region. There are songs from the region as well. Then there’s an Assamese actor because the character is Assamese. So, she sings an Assamese song (Jiri Jiri). We were shooting in a place where there are Oraon tribes, so there is an Oraoni song. Maybe that is not a priority in some films, unfortunately.
It’s really important to keep talking about it and keep asking about it as well so that these questions are raised from time to time so that people are more aware.
Shivani Tibrewala: Have you played a character that has dramatically altered or changed your worldview, that has had you revisit a key idea of your own in life?
Konkona Sensharma: I can’t immediately think of one character that has dramatically changed me. Because I started acting so young, I got to know the world a lot because of my job. I did get to see a lot of places, meet a lot of different kinds of people and be many different kinds of people because of the job I do. All of that stays with you always. For example, the Iyers and their culture, to a certain extent; or in Amu, I had to learn the American accent, and what her life would be like. There are some films like that, which I have done, where I have learned more about a particular kind of person, maybe, that I normally would not have, or a particular culture that I normally may not have interacted with as much had I not played that part.
I did enjoy playing the character, Meethi, from 15 Park Avenue (by Aparna Sen). That is the only time I’ve played a character who has very serious mental health issues, and who has schizophrenia. So, that was very interesting for me because she is not operating from within the parameters of reality that everybody else is. It’s very oddly liberating as well. I’m talking to you, but I don’t even have to listen to you. I can just turn around and start doing something else. So, that was a very unusual and a different thing for me to do. I really enjoyed playing that, because otherwise one has always been rooted. This character was just not affected, or not consistently affected by the same reality. That was a really strange and interesting thing that I had to do.
Shruti Parthasarathy: How has your research process evolved over these years? Does it vary as a writer, director, or an actor? Additionally, how do you feel at the end of a film when you’re associated with it in different capacities, and does that feeling vary?
Konkona Sensharma: I’m a big fan of research. Even when I’m writing something, I think it’s really important to research and interview people. Sometimes, you don’t need to research. It depends a little bit on what kind of part you’re playing, especially, in the first half of my career, often they were very generic characters. The most common being this earnest, bubbly girl in the city, or bubbly girl-next-door with a good heart. If your character is not very removed culturally, economically, then you may not need to do a lot of research. But I really enjoy that process.
It really helped me even with Mr. and Mrs. Iyer, and even down the line depending on what kind of a role I’m doing I will research. Even for A Death in the Gunj, research was involved, in terms of Anglo-Indian culture, and whatever was relevant in the seventies. For example, I had a scene where Shutu makes a phone call to his mother, which was from the house because some houses had telephones in Calcutta, but in McCluskieganj, the houses didn’t have telephones. So, we had to change the scene. We have to rewrite it, which was great, which was really fun and interesting. Some of that research is not even that easily available. It’s not like there are things online about what McCluskieganj was like in the seventies, anyway. You have to talk to people, and it’s great fun to interview people and find out. You also have to interview many people because nobody is really reliable—they have their own biases and failing memories because of which you don’t get an accurate picture.
As for the second part of your question, it does vary. As a writer-director, it’s completely different. It’s you who has created this world. I still think about Shutu sometimes. It’s not like it’s completely out of my system. I still think about things from the film. The most fun part was recreating this world for me. That was one of the most fun aspects of the job: the production design, the look, the costumes, even cinematography – all of that was really exciting. So, of course, you relate to it completely differently. You can see it in its entirety.
As an actor, sometimes you haven’t even seen some parts of the film because you could be in some parts of the film and not others. You may have read it in the script, and then it’s a discovery, it’s a revelation. ‘I had imagined it like this, but they’ve done it like this,’ which is amazing or not. Your relationship with it is completely different.
Prosari Chanda: You’ve used beautiful little excerpts like Mimi’s seduction of Shutu, where she throws him against the chair and a piece of paper comes out, dislodged from the foot of the chair, and also, Shutu’s insane obsession with his dead father’s cardigan, and how the house helps feed the dogs from their share of the meal in silence. What made you and how did you come up with impeccable excerpts like these?
Konkona Sensharma: When I was imagining these characters, it seemed like how these characters would behave. Mimi seemed like that kind of a person. I wanted to see the dynamic if Mimi was a man and Shutu was a woman. I was also interested to see the other way. Not because it was right or wrong – I wasn’t getting into that – but simply because I was interested in seeing it the other way. That was one. I also felt that this was done keeping with Mimi’s character. I felt that that is part of her personality.
They are all different things. For example, the piece of paper which comes out from under the chair is deep from my subconscious. From my childhood, I remember that the dining table was a little wobbly, and my dad would put a folded bit of newspaper underneath, and once I was throwing all my vegetables under the table, and the table started shaking, and then he saw that. That was an incident in my life. So, when I was writing, I really reached back. I borrowed things from my own life and other people’s lives as well, things that I found out from other people, which may have affected me in some way. It felt like the closing of a cycle, or the closing of a journey – like, those E-words are words that I used to collect. I had a notebook on which Shutu’s notebook was modelled, where I would scribble lyrics, poems, some notes or doodles, and these lists of E-words. I reached into the depths of myself. In a way, it found fruition in other things in the film.
That was deeply satisfying to me. I don’t even know if it is possible every time. Maybe not if I direct very regularly. But that was so deeply satisfying to me that I’d like to be able to do that if I were to do it again. Also, because the directing itself is so exhausting and so stressful.
The moth that is in the notebook is something that I found on the steps on the day of the shoot. When we were going to shoot that scene, we were going inside the house, as I was walking up the stairs, I found this moth, picked it up and said, ‘Let’s just use this in a scene.’ It worked out really well between the two of them. It’s such a beautiful little intimate moment.
Maybe, it’s a little bit about knowing your own self or being receptive to your own ideas or other ideas, or knowing your material so well that you know what fits and what doesn’t. When you know what fits and what doesn’t you can make that choice.
Shubhankar Bhattacharya: Could you discuss the specific visual references behind A Death in the Gunj when you were scripting it with Disha? When you were writing it, you’d said that you had created a mood board. I know Picnic at Hanging Rock was one important visual reference. Also, you’d said in an interview that India lacks a viable and sustainable go-to financial model for independent cinema. How do you think this can be addressed and negotiated so that people who are indie filmmakers, who want to work in the left of mainstream space don’t feel disenfranchised?
Konkona Sensharma: My answer was going to be Picnic at Hanging Rock, but you already know that.
I’m not a big fan of references. Honestly, I’ve never really understood why people like references so much. Maybe it’s useful to get information across departments, but I would prefer a conversation. I don’t personally get references so much because I don’t want to refer to already existing material. That doesn’t make sense, because that’s already existing material, so we don’t want to do that anyway, ideally. I’m not that kind of person who’s like, ‘I want that blue from that film.’ That’s not something that I relate to.
When we finally got into prep when we got the funds, the question came up sooner or later about the colour palette. I’ve always been second-guessing myself because I have no technical knowledge. That really didn’t make sense to me because I was still trying to find out and figure it out, because I was like, ‘Look, it’s McCluskieganj. It is ‘79. It is winter. So, it is what it is.’ I mean, that’s the mood board and that’s the colour palette, right? That influenced some things. For example, Shutu’s sweater. When I first wrote about it in the script, it was always going to be like a dirty olive green. When I did my first recce, I saw that there was still a lot of green around. Even though there were also a lot of browns, there were also a lot of greens. Then I realised that I needed the sweater to be khaki. I needed to change it to khaki. I don’t know if it answers your question, but that’s one specific example that is based on the reality of the place.
I didn’t actually create a mood board, but Rohit Chaturvedi, the costume designer, created the mood board, which I was so thrilled by. He had such a lovely mood board with some dried leaves and some fabric swatches and things like that.
I looked at a lot of existing, old photographs, which really helped me. And not just mine, but other people’s as well; from that time – from the seventies. That was fun as well. And just talking to a lot of people and interviewing a lot of people from that time. Also, looking at the clothes that belonged to my friend’s dad: shorts that a friend’s dad wore, or sunglasses that an old aunt wore. So, going to their houses and looking through their things was so much fun, and then choosing those kinds of things.
So, Picnic at Hanging Rock was definitely a huge influence. It was something that I saw very young. I love Peter Weir. He’s very underrated. He was a big deal in the seventies. I love Picnic at Hanging Rock because it’s so atmospheric. I was really in love with the visuals as well as the music, which was so haunting. I wanted to have that kind of impactful music. Of course, it’s very difficult because I believe that was a pan flute and I don’t think we had access to it. Sagar Desai did a fantastic job of creating something piercing and impactful, which is what I’d said.
As for what people do to make films which are perhaps a little alternative, if only we knew the answer to that, Shubhankar. I don’t. Of course, I wish there should be funding in different departments, not just for writing and direction but also exhibition. I’ve heard people say this before that you have a cinema screen which is exclusively just for films of a certain budget. I feel that could be a great idea.
If you have only watched one kind of film growing up, then it’s not easy to watch anything else. It’s important to watch all kinds of different films growing up, you know? We should have film studies in the school curriculum. We should teach about feminism and casteism, but also teach film studies and show films from different regions of India and world cinema as well so that we educate ourselves.
Not to say that we should watch one kind of cinema, we should not watch mainstream cinema and only watch films that are supposed to be intellectual. It’s just that it would be great to have a choice. It’s like you learn Hindi. It’s almost like you don’t really have a choice in the matter. But you have to make that extra effort to learn Marathi or Bengali, or wherever you are. So, it’s good to have that choice.
At times, some films are so fantastic that they open your world, like how certain ideas are so powerful that they can open your world. It has to be very specifically curated, like for example, with a younger niece or a cousin, I will specifically tell them a film which I know would astonish them. So, it has to be specifically curated, and I feel like you can do that with children in schools, and open their minds. Then they can watch whatever they want to watch.
Swati Chugh: What is the most important thing that should be kept in mind while making your first feature?
Konkona Sensharma: What really helped me and what people told me was, to not lose your cool on set. As an actor, I really dislike it when directors or anybody starts screaming and shouting. Once in a while, maybe, the first AD will have to shout to get order, but there are certain directors who just scream at people.
You don’t have to humiliate anybody. I honestly don’t believe that. I don’t thrive in that kind of environment. I don’t think it brings out the best in people. Both Vishal Bhardwaj and my mother told me that specifically.
I remember once there was a huge mess up – something that we had foreseen and tried to plan around, and it didn’t happen. It was on the second day of the shoot. I remember calling my mom and saying, ‘Can you believe this has happened?’ It was a really important prop. She was just like, ‘Don’t get angry because it’s not going to solve anything.’ What happens is you have that person’s unwavering loyalty to you post that because they didn’t want to mess it up. I really believe that true character comes out in moments of crisis. I don’t know if you can undo what anger does, or I don’t know what that could necessarily achieve. But I found that really important to me, to not lose your cool. And you have a first AD to do that, right? The first AD is supposed to take control of the floor and the set and shout at people so that you can concentrate on what you are supposed to do. That is one thing.
I remember I had given Jaideep Sahni, the writer, my script to read, and he’d taken time to read it. He got back to me the night before my shoot and told me, ‘Gunde ki tarah likha hai, ab gunde ki tarah shoot karo.’ That was really important for me, because basically what he was saying was, the way you’ve written it, don’t compromise on that, and trust your gut and intuition. There were times that this had happened to me because it was my first one, ‘Maybe this is not allowed in filmmaking,’ or if somebody would say, ‘Don’t hold the shot for too long,’ I’d be like, ‘Really? Maybe I shouldn’t hold it for so long,’ even though my instinct is to hold it. So, for example, the shot of the tree at the end of the film holds for 30 seconds. It’s ridiculous that it holds for thirty seconds because I was just like, ‘I have to see till when I want to watch it.’
Also, if you’re using sample music or reference music, don’t get too attached to it because it gets difficult for the music composer to come in and do their bits; you may probably be so attached to the reference music that you’ve edited to it.
Anshul Gupta: In a country like India, how do you use your voice through cinema in an environment where there are so many restrictions about what you can say and what you can’t? Also, your show with Nikkhil Advani premieres in March. How was it different from the films that you’ve done before and how was it to be a part of a show as opposed to films?
Konkona Sensharma: I actually can’t even process or believe that it’s even come to this because it literally changed in front of our eyes. This wasn’t the way we grew up, right? I grew up in the eighties and nineties, and people used to criticize the government all the time. That was just how we bonded. But now you’re an anti-national if you do. So, I haven’t figured it out yet. I can’t even believe that we are here.
I mean, we’ve seen it all over the world. Art has really flourished under dictatorial and fascist regimes because truly expressive people or creative people find ways – they find ingenious ways. I’m sure there are many inspiring examples of this. I’m sure that we have to find ways to communicate ideas, and maybe we’ll have to really dress it up, so we can hide it. We just have to learn to hide it better, I guess. But it’s just so tragic that it’s come to this. It’s changed in my lifetime, in my country. I have not even totally accepted it, and I don’t know how I’m going to deal with it.
I worry about the work that I’m going to do in the future, especially work that is not necessarily only acting, like if I’m writing or directing. I can’t imagine that these elements are not going to seep into the work. How much can you protect yourself from random FIRs from all over the country? There’s already been an FIR against me and my mom once. It’s an assault. Every day is an assault on your reality. It’s not what you thought it to be.
Nikkhil’s show will premiere on Amazon Prime Video. I’m really excited about it. It was just a question of time before one started doing shows. I chose that because it read really fast. That was really the reason why I did it. I was just turning pages. It’s not like I have such an amazing role in it or anything. It wasn’t one of those once-in-a-lifetime kinds of roles. It was a page-turner for me in terms of the plot and how gripping it was. That’s how I really decided that I wanted to do this, because I felt that it would be engaging, especially for audiences who might want to binge or watch two episodes together. It was different because it was a long schedule. I have to do season two and season three now.
I also did a short film with Neeraj Ghaywan, the director of Masaan, which I am really excited about. I think that’s going to be on Netflix. It was wonderful to shoot with him. We shot it in October or November last year. And my major shoot is going to be with my mum’s film, which is with Arjun Rampal. We don’t know about the title. I start shooting that at the beginning of March, and we start prepping in February.
Siddharth Menon: You’ve been privy to a lot of directing styles over your two-decade-long career. How did you ensure your individuality while you were coming to decide on making your directorial debut? Did you feel like you needed to be an amalgamation of all the directing styles you’ve witnessed?
Konkona Sensharma: It was not a concern at that time because there were so many real worries. There were so many practical concerns. So, that wasn’t something I had thought about. I don’t have any fixed ideas of who I am. I don’t think I fully know myself; I am subject to change. As you said, we are pieces of people who we’ve interacted with or who we’ve been with. We retain some bits of them, possibly, and that’s okay.
At least with A Death in the Gunj, I honestly feel like the film is more me than anything that I’ve acted in. If somebody wanted to know what I’m like, that film is the closest to me than any film I’ve acted in. I feel it is me. It’s a question of really knowing yourself, and you can go really deep in knowing yourself – there is no limit to that. It’s how open you are, or to what depths you can go, and it helps not to be fixed. I’ve had this kind of interaction with people where it’s like, ‘Well, I’m this kind of a person, so this is authentic me.’ I’m not this kind of a person. I’ve always been like, ‘But this is not the kind of person I want to be.’ It can happen that I can feel very angry with somebody, and I want to slap them momentarily. Obviously, I won’t. I haven’t. I’m just saying as an example. But that’s not the kind of person I want to be, you know?
I’ve been much more of an individual and more individualistic than belonging to any group, whether it’s my family or a Bengali or as an Indian or as a Hindu. I function in an individual capacity. If people ask me about Bollywood or the industry, I’m like, ‘I don’t really know.’ And honestly, very respectfully, I don’t really even care, because it’s not really my concern. What the industry is doing, what the trends are, I don’t really know. So, in that sense, maybe one has some faith in being your own self, and I don’t know where that comes from. It can waver; it can come and go as well. But maybe it’s like a journey about knowing yourself. I’m just guessing the answer.
Tushant Mattas: Kabhi aisa hua hai aap ke saath ki kaafi preparation ke baad bhi aap ko kisi character ka sur nahi pakad mein aa raha hai?
Konkona Sensharma: Ye mere saath aksar hota hai. Not just in acting, but even in real life. If I have to talk to somebody or speak about something, sometimes it so happens that because I start observing myself, I lose what I’m actually doing. This happens to me a lot in life, and I don’t know how to solve it, frankly.
I don’t necessarily know what the answer is. In films, you can keep doing different takes. You can do different takes to get it just like you can do different shows. Some of it is just disciplining the mind to know that I’m shifting and to come back, shifting and coming back to what is there. Another thing is to listen very deeply to what your co-actors are saying, or being in tune with the environment. To be in the moment, basically, is what I’m saying – to train yourself to be in the moment. Meditation could be an answer. That’s what meditation does: you go away every time and keep coming back. That’s what it is. It’s just mental discipline. And apparently, it’s like a muscle – the more you train it, the better you become at it.
I find it easy to be in the moment, by and large. If now I’m doing this, I’ve forgotten about everything else, or if I go to a shoot somewhere, I can just get involved with the shoot and forget about everything else. If other people are involved, then it’s great to be able to listen to them deeply without planning what you’re going to say next.
The other thing is, not to plan your own performance. Usually, I never do that. And it’s very annoying sometimes if another actor tells you, ‘I’m going to do this, so can you do this, please?’ How do you get out of that without hurting their feelings? I don’t have any solutions, but I’m glad you shared.
Udit Joshi: Almost every industry has had to face a new normal. What would be the new normal for actors and storytellers? So, say, as an actor, how would you pick roles or projects now that streaming has come into the picture? Or would a writer writing today include the present circumstances in the script that they are writing in any measure?
Konkona Sensharma: One thing is, we are all doing more shows than we did before. Earlier, I wasn’t even offered shows much, but now I am. I have already shot one pre-COVID, and I am looking at more scripts. I am totally happy to do more shows. That’s going to be a new thing for me as well, such a long format. I’m excited about that.
You know, we’ll be processing this kind of an event in hindsight. We are watching more shows, we are acting in more shows, more shows being written is one practical aspect of it. In our psyche, these kinds of events would trickle down over many years, like people are still writing about partition, we hardly deal with 1984, although those are much more man-made, and this, in all likelihood, is not. It will take time. Not everyone is going to react in the same way. There may be filmmakers who may have it in passing; there may be filmmakers who’ll take it head-on; and others who would just be sick and tired of it and want to move on. So, people would respond to it in different ways, which is always what makes it exciting – to see how people respond to the same situation. I am excited to see how people respond to that in art.
Abhishek Pandey: What kind of an actor are you – the one who likes to improvise a lot or the one who prefers sticking to the script? Also, what has been more challenging for you: acting or directing?
Konkona Sensharma: I have to say that because I don’t think in Hindi and a lot of my roles are in Hindi, I am very particular about my lines. Usually, I learn them exactly, because I don’t always trust myself to improvise. Of course, I do improvise small things. But by and large, I don’t improvise, especially in Hindi; I might a little more in Bengali or English. That’s because I want to be correct about the Hindi I’m speaking. So, I am a little limited like that.
But what happens is, invariably, as you keep shooting, you just become more and more comfortable, and then some improvisation just happens on set. It’s amazing when that happens. I don’t improvise a lot. Once in a while though, if it just happens – because you can’t plan an improvisation, right, it’s just something which naturally happens at that time – it can work or it can’t work. The few times that it happens I’m totally open to it. I will go with it. So, I don’t do it very much. I wish I could do it more. On every project, I must’ve done it a few times. It’s like that. The few times that I do, I really enjoy it.
What is more challenging? Directing is definitely more challenging. Directing is not any one thing. According to me, it’s almost like when they ask what motherhood is like. At times it is very frustrating, at times it is very rewarding, and at times it is physically exhausting. It’s many different things at many different times. Even the directing experience is like that. It’s not consistently one thing. I have experienced many different emotions while I’ve directed. It’s also very stressful.
I’ve found in life that many things which are meaningful are not necessarily easy. Sometimes, to get to something that is rewarding or meaningful is not necessarily a very easy path. It needn’t be.
Prachi Jog: Do you choose characters that are different from you or similar to you? What is your process to get into the skin of characters?
Konkona Sensharma: I don’t choose on the basis of whether the characters are similar to me or not. Mainly, it is on how much I’ve enjoyed the script. That’s the most important thing. A badly written script is very difficult to read because it’s such a pain, like reading a bad book. One way of measuring or one way of understanding is how well a story is told or well-written because there’s no point reading a great part and some good scenes and everything else is terrible. That is the most important factor. Also depends on what the director is like. Have I seen their previous work? Is it easy to talk to them? Am I able to communicate? That’s another thing.
I often like characters who go through some kind of change. I like characters who go through some kind of transition, characters who change their point of view from the beginning to the end, or who grow in some way. I enjoy those things a lot. Perhaps, something I’ve not done before. In Dolly, Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare, I got the chance to play a character who lies, cheats and steals, and she’s not faithful to her husband. She wasn’t a morally responsible character or somebody you could look up to. So, those kinds of things.
It doesn’t have to be close to me. You know why? Because I always find something that’s close to me within that character. I invariably do, and that helps me. I shape the reality of my own life according to the character that I am playing. I didn’t know I was doing this. It was only in the last few years I discovered that I did this. Even if I am chilled out on a particular day and I have to play a part or do a stressful scene, I use some stressors from my environment, which may not have stressed me out normally but I’ll use it to help me with the scene.
I also feel that we already have all these emotions within us. We have every emotion within us. Only sometimes some things come out. I’ll find some point of reference with a character, something that I can relate to because it helps me.
Pokhraj Roy: How do you nourish yourself as an artist in the era of distractions and FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out)?
Konkona Sensharma: It’s important to have a rich inner world whether you’re an artist or not. It’s really important to have a rich inner world and be self-sustaining. That is in terms of just being within yourself, to have resources within yourself, or at least to identify the resources that one requires.
I’m not one of those people who’s like, ‘Oh, I don’t want to waste my time sleeping because there’s so much to do.’ I love sleeping. I love daydreaming. It is an underrated quality in people. I read a great article on how not to be productive and how important it is to not be productive. I took it to heart. Also, I’m really efficient as a person. I run a household, I have a child, I have a dog, I have a career, so I actually do manage to do many things, which is why I think it is important to do nothing. Otherwise, what happens to me is, at the end of the day, my head is so full of thoughts ‘un-thought’ that I’m just awake.
I can’t go to sleep because my day has been such that I’ve been constantly interacting with people, constantly on social media, listening to a podcast, listening to music, talking on the phone and I’m constantly disturbed – I’m just going from one distraction to the next. I love my time in the shower, for example, and I read a lot. There was a time where even in the shower I would be listening to a podcast, or I would be listening to music. Sometimes, I consciously stop that; I consciously don’t do that just to see what thoughts are going to float up, because then I know what I’m concerned about. ‘Okay, these thoughts are coming back again and again, so maybe one has to address it.’ Deep reading fiction, at least I find that very useful. By deep reading, I mean just reading for a few hours.
For me, it’s also very important to do some things which I don’t enjoy because it makes me appreciate the things that I do enjoy and it’s very good for my mental discipline. I appreciate having to do some things that I don’t necessarily enjoy.
I also love cleaning. I cannot tell you how much joy I get out of organising my drawers. I find it cathartic. I don’t find time to do my work work because I don’t know what I’m getting myself so busy doing, frankly. But I’m just really occupied all the time. Sometimes, daydreaming.
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