I hope the interview won’t take more than 10 minutes? My iPhone is giving me a lot of trouble,” said Konkona Sensharma when t2 called her for a chat on Goynar Baksho, directed by Aparna Sen, which hits screens on April 12. For the next 10 minutes Koko got chatty about being Somlata, her Ma, and being mom to two-year-old Haroun....
Two Bengali film releases in four months — Shunyo Awnko in January and Goynar Baksho next month. Isn’t that a first for you?
Yes, I have not had two releases so close to each other, so I guess it is in a way (a first). I wanted to work, you know, because especially now Bengali movies are really coming into their own. There are a lot of interesting directors… good films are being made. I was keen to work with Goutam Ghose; I’ve known him as a kid. And even Ma, I mean, I always want to work in her films.
So do we see you more in Tollywood from now?
Well, I’m actually hoping that Shesher Kobita (directed by Suman Mukhopadhyay, where she plays Labonya) will also release later this year. And then as and when I get some interesting projects I am happy to take it up. Calcutta is a great set-up for me in a way, you know, I can come with my kid. Ma’s house is there, so for me it’s really nice actually to shoot in Cal.
Do you see yourself shifting base to Calcutta?
Noooooo! I don’t. But I like the idea of coming and working in Cal from time to time, because I feel my son can also become familiar with Calcutta. We have a home here, it’s my second home, I mean it’s my mother’s home so…
What was the most difficult part of being Somlata in Goynar Baksho?
Well, Somlata had to be scared all the time and even though I do feel scared, it’s not like I am very brave and I do feel scared of many things, I usually don’t feel scared of people. I usually feel scared of, you know, the dark or water. Being scared all the time, that was for me the most difficult part of playing Somlata.
How did you prepare for the role?
Well, as usual Ma and Sohagmamuni (Sen) had these workshops. We have had workshops in Delhi with Moushumi (Chatterjee), Shrabanti... and what happens is, you know, you do the scenes over and over again, you improvise on the scenes, you get used to the body language of the person. And we used to do the workshops in costume because nowadays who wears a Bengali-style sari? I certainly am not used to it nah, wearing a Bengali-style sari all the time and doing household work. We did a 10-day workshop in Bombay too and I used to do it in costume and shobji bonti-te kata... I think all of that really helped, that physicality always helps me somehow to prepare for a character.
Have you read the book by Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay?
I actually haven’t read the book. It’s shameful but I really, really mean to.
Aparna Sen told t2 last week that it’s a pleasure for any director to work with you. Your comments.
Now obviously she’s my mum nah, she is meant to say that (laughs). Or maybe not because she is also quite a hard taskmaster! Somebody who’s quite strict and particular. But I feel it’s a great compliment. I, of course, go out of my way because I want the shooting experience for her to be as pleasant and I want to make it as easy as possible for Ma. You know, as it is filmmaking is rigorous and exhausting, you need a lot of endurance to go through it. Especially when we do small-budget films you need to accomplish a lot, always running against time, money and light, so I really bend over backwards as much as possible to make sure that at least from my end I don’t give her a bad time. So maybe you know that’s why she feels...
Do you have a say in the other departments of your mother’s films, like say casting?
Not really, not officially. But we certainly discuss things. After all, even if we are not in the same city we talk off and on on the phone. It’s not that she asks me to but once in a while if she’s not sure then she discusses with me or other people. So not in an official kind of way but yeah casually once in a while certain things she does discuss; it’s not like she discusses everything with me. And sometimes if I feel something I give her my feedback, even if she doesn’t ask. I give her my feedback but I always say ‘Ma, this is what I feel but it’s your call. You should do what you feel is right’.
Shrabanti, who plays your daughter Chaitali in Goynar Baksho, is almost your age. You don’t have problems like most ‘heroines’ do?
No, I don’t, because in this film I grow from a young girl of 18-19.... We catch Somlata from the time she gets married and comes to this household when she’s very young. There’s only one scene with Shrabanti. The bulk of the film is in Somlata’s early married years. And then there are, I think, two scenes when she is much older, 40 I think…
But otherwise you are okay playing mom to older heroines?
It depends, you know. Depends on how meaty my role is. Like Somlata is a great role. For the most part of the film I don’t have an older daughter. So it doesn’t really matter. See, when you are working with someone like my Ma who’s an artiste, and if I have such well-defined characters, then these things don’t matter. I trust her intrinsically.
Goynar Baksho is a period piece and you haven’t really been a part of a period piece except Iti Mrinalini, which was set in the Seventies...
...Also Shesher Kobita. I have been wanting to do a period film for a while, so this film really has been great. We shot in beautiful old houses and some of them were also outside Calcutta. We shot in Santiniketan and another two-three places we had to go to, I am forgetting the names of the places. So it was really nice because I was travelling after quite a while.
Haroun was around on the sets of Goynar Baksho...
Yes, Haroun used to come visit me on set. He used to hang out with me a lot and I think for only 10 days that we were travelling a lot, you know, we were shooting three days in Bolpur, three days somewhere else, so during those 10 days because it was quite hectic and the infrastructure in all these places is not always the best, so at that time I left him with his dad in Bombay. Ranvir (Shorey) came, picked him up and kept him with himself in Bombay so it was fine.
Does Haroun get excited seeing you in different costumes?
I think he is quite used to it. He’s been seeing me in shoots because I started working since he was a little more than a year old. Even for Shesher Kobita, the entire Shillong shoot, he was with me. And he knows all about shooting. He says ‘Mamma going shooting, Mamma going camera...’
You’ve always played very strong woman characters. Is Somlata the strongest, considering what she does belonging to that era?
Maybe yes, Somlata is definitely amongst one of the strongest. My characters in Mr. and Mrs. Iyer or in 15 Park Avenue or Iti Mrinalini, I don’t think they’ve been as strong as Somlata. If I have to choose from Ma’s films then, yes, Somlata is very strong. But I have played very strong woman characters in other directors’ films like in Rituparno Ghosh’s Dosar. I think Somlata is very interesting because she is a very unlikely strong character. When you talk to her she is very diffident, underconfident, she has a bit of a stammer, she totally accepts the patriarchal world into which she is born, she has no notions of feminism but she actually gets a lot done, she actually is a very unlikely feminist.
How was it playing wife to Saswata Chatterjee’s Chandan?
Oh great fun, great fun! Apu (Saswata) is lovely, he used to constantly crack jokes, he is great fun to be around. He is very helpful because I used to keep forgetting to stutter (laughs) and he really helped me with that. He would say ‘arrey ei scene-ey toh stammer korley na!’
Are you playing Kadambari in Suman Ghosh’s next?
I can’t give any confirmation on that just as yet. I’m reading some scripts. I’m not doing a lot of work because I have a kid.