For someone who won the National Film Award for Best Actress for one of her very early English films – Mr & Mrs Iyer in 2002 – Konkona Sen Sharma is no stranger to critical acclaim and accolades. Ever since she made her Hindi film debut with Page 3 in 2005, Sen Sharma who is the daughter of accomplished actress and director Aparna Sen, has consistently proved her craft in nuanced performances in films such as Omkara, Life in a… Metro, 15 Park Avenue, Luck By Chance, Wake Up Sid, Talvar and Lipstick Under My Burkha among many others. In 2017, she made her directorial debut with A Death in the Gunj, which received widespread appreciation and then last year, her segment titled Mirror in the anthology Lust Stories 2 which tackled themes such as female desire and voyeurism also received high praise.
In her recently-released crime drama Killer Soup on Netflix, the actress teamed up with Manoj Bajpayee to deliver a twisted tale of ambition, deceit and lies. As the body count goes up, so does her character Swati Shetty’s desire to achieve her dreams. With love and appreciation coming her way, we got the actress to sit and reflect upon the projects that have shaped her career.
1. In 2023, you directed a segment for Lust Stories 2 and 2024 has started with appreciation for your work in Killer Soup. What are you enjoying more at this juncture?
I think I am just happy to be able to connect to people. I am touched by all the love that has poured in for Killer Soup and for Swati Shetty. Regardless of her being a grey character, people have rooted for her. The most rewarding thing for artists is when the audience relate to them or are touched by their work. It does not matter if it is through direction or acting.
2. How was the experience of working with director Abhishek Chaubey and playing a twisted character such as Swati?
I have been an Abhishek Chaubey fan for years. I think I would have said yes to even a cameo if he had called me for it! I was just so lucky to get this role because there are so many wonderful actresses working today and doing such interesting work that I couldn’t believe he had called me for this role. As you grow older, you don’t know what kind of roles will get offered to you. This is a crime drama and such a complex character to play. Reading the script was just a formality for me.
I have been working for so many years and in the early part of my career, I have played women who are morally upright, honest or good with a lot of substance. What I appreciate is that Swati is also a woman with a lot of strength, willpower and substance but she is such a complex character. I could never really see her as sinister or evil because I see her motivation and how she looks at her life. She had her own hopes and dreams which her extended family did not really support and there are so many women like her. Obviously, they are not going down the path of crime but this is fiction and one can explore these aspects.
3. Although this is a crime drama there is also a lot of dark humour. Do you think you have a flair for comedy and does it come naturally to you?
I don’t know if I have a flair for it but I love doing it and I wish I would get more roles like this which are so wild, unpredictable, nuanced and layered. The tone of the show is very interesting because while it is a crime thriller, it also has a lot of dark humour. This woman’s life ambition is to open a restaurant but she can’t cook! (laughs) The premise itself is so interesting. Initially, I was struggling to find the tone - do I play it seriously or do I play it over the top? Abhishek and his writers had a clear vision of how they wanted to portray all the events and the characters, so that really helped. He told me to think of it as a graphic novel and then it became easy for me to imagine Swati in these comic book panels with all her expressions.
4. Manoj Bajpayee and you have never been paired together. You have expressed admiration for his work several times but did you find that increase when you actually saw him at work?
A 100 per cent! Even though I admired him so much, I didn’t know him personally. I had this impression that he’s a very serious, intense actor. His body of work is so intimidating; he has done so many remarkable roles over the years and I knew I had to be on the ball. Manoj was so easy to work with. Abhishek and he would be always laughing, joking and planning their meals. Manoj would cook for us whenever he had an off day and a bunch of us would play games. I had to remind myself that that I have to prepare and learn my lines properly.
5. Both your films as a director have received critical acclaim but you have said in numerous interviews that you didn’t plan to become a director and will direct only when you find something worthwhile. Now that you have proved that you are indeed a good filmmaker, do you feel you should pursue this space more actively?
In retrospect, I do enjoy directing although it is a very hectic and intense experience. It is difficult to get funding for what you want to do especially if it is not a typical or mainstream thing. Only when I am completely convinced that it is going to be worthwhile and that my producers are going to let me do exactly what I want to do - all these factors to come together is not an easy thing. In many ways, taking on an acting job is easier because you don’t have to take on all these responsibilities. I enjoy acting a lot and I want to direct only once in a while. I am getting such good roles now and I want to make the most of them.
6. Your mother Aparna Sen is such an accomplished actor and director herself. Do you take a lot of advice from her, especially when you are directing?
All the time! I didn’t get so much time during Lust Stories 2 and I also had more experience by then but for my first film, I would call with a list of questions every day – from the banal to the really serious! She was so sweet and encouraging and more than anything, I feel I have learnt so much subliminally from just watching her as a child. I would accompany her to her sets and be there when she is writing her scripts. She would read out the early drafts to me. I would be there for her production and budget meetings, rehearsals and dubbings. That was a kind of subliminal training and I didn’t realise how helpful it is at that time. Just to have a working mother, to see someone who is living life on her terms and enjoying her work - that is a great example to have as a young woman.
7. You recently re-united with your co-actors from Wake Up Sid (2009) including Ranbir Kapoor for a commercial. How important and memorable is that film in your showbiz journey?
Ayesha Banerjee from Wake Up Sid is one of my most loved characters and till today, I get so much love for her, the movie, for ‘New girl in the city’ and for Iktara. There are many young artists who cover the song and send me their videos. You can never anticipate such reactions and it is magic when it does happen. Most of the credit goes to Ayan Mukerji. It was his first film and he envisioned Sid and Ayesha like that. I am really lucky to get a project like that which has survived the test of time.
8. You have consistently played really interesting roles in Hindi cinema but as a female actor in her '40s working in showbiz today, do you feel yourself more liberated as an artist? Are you getting the roles that satisfy you creatively?
I have been lucky that every now and then, I have got some interesting roles that I have connected with and which audiences have also connected with. In a long career you have ups and downs and I have as well. Of late, I have got an interesting mix of roles whether it is Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare, my mum’s film The Rapist or Mumbai Diaries. The female characters have been much more layered and nuanced. The layers and complications of life and of age have added more interesting work to the latter half of my career, partly also because of OTT. That burden of a theatrical opening has been taken away and one can focus on characterisation, roles and themes and I hope I continue to get such roles.