Konkana Sen Sharma may call herself an accidental actor, but her filmography refutes that claim. She has played a disgruntled news reporter in Page 3, a woman desperate to get married in Life In a Metro, and a patient of schizophrenia in 15 Park Avenue. The latest in her critically acclaimed performances, which have established her as an actor of discerning taste, is the psycho-dark comedy Killer Soup.
In the Netflix show, Konkana essays the role of Swati Shetty, who murders her husband and props her paramour in his place. The story of identity switching may seem similar to the Telugu film Yevadu, but is actually based on real-life events inspired by the 2014 movie. In 2017, a woman in Telangana murdered her husband and replaced him with her lover. If you must know, the distinct dietary preferences of the two men gave away the switch.
Besides being an opportunity to work with director Abhishek Chaubey and co-star Manoj Bajpayee, who Konkana calls a “living legend”, it was the tragic-comic element of Killer Soup that drew her. “Ek Thi Daayan was the only negative character I had played before this. Usually, my characters have been morally upright, exuding integrity, which is not necessarily how things work in life,” Konkana says, adding, “In Killer Soup, there is a crime-thriller element. It is also funny, but there is pathos as well. It has so many elements that it was hard to put it down as a particular genre.”
In her two-decade-long career, Konkana has starred in over 50 films—Hindi and Bengali—and there are few that aren’t memorable. Her portrayal of a naïve yet brave Tamil Brahmin woman, who musters up all her courage to save a Muslim man in the wake of communal violence in Mr and Mrs Iyer was as evocative as the seemingly plain Jane Aisha chasing her ordinary dreams in Wake Up Sid. She tugged at the audience’s heartstrings with equal force as a gay Dalit woman in Geeli Pucchi from the Ajeeb Daastaans anthology, and as the burkha-clad Shireen Aslam, who secretly works as
a saleswoman, while dodging unwanted pregnancies in Lipstick Under My Burkha. Even in commercial films such as Laaga Chunari Mein Daag and Aaja Nachle, which bombed at the box office, Konkana left a mark. The audience may see a method to her madness when it comes to picking roles, but the actor insists there was none, at least at the beginning of her career. “I never started out wanting to act or direct.
I didn’t have that feeling of, ‘I have to make it’. I was happy till the time I was getting roles, but the will to succeed was lacking,” she says, adding, “In the last few years, however, my films have been meaningful for people, and OTT has made it even better.”
Her perceptive judgement extends to her direction as well. Konkana debuted as a filmmaker in 2006 with the Bengali short film, Naamkoron. Her first feature directorial came a decade later with A Death in the Gunj (2016). Although she’s been an actor for much longer than she’s been behind the camera, she says the latter is more liberating. “As a director,
I like being in charge of world building, and that’s my most favourite thing. Designing the world with what you see in the frame; a thought or feeling you want to share, and interacting with talented individuals who are helping you translate that vision. Seeing that being realised is such a thrill,” says Konkana, who last directed Mirror in the Lust Stories 2 anthology.
Those familiar with the work of her mother, Aparna Sen, will see reflections of the legendary filmmaker’s distinctive lens in Konkana’s artistic sensibilities. She doesn’t disagree. “My mother made me watch regional cinema of India and the world. I watched works of Satyajit Ray, Riwtick Ghatak and Shyam Benegal. I hardly saw mainstream cinema. It was the same for my reading.
I was always told to imagine things for myself, and it was a positive phenomenon in my creative development,” the actor says.
Konkana admits that a bulk of the content produced today is not to her taste, but this is not to say they shouldn’t have been made. “I believe in creative freedom. All things should exist and all kinds of things should be created,” says the actor, who will be seen next in Anurag Basu’s Metro In Dino, set for release in September.