Konkona Sensharma: Being an ‘outsider’ gives you a certain amount of freedom

After garnering quite a buzz on its theatrical release earlier this year, actor Seema Pahwa’s directorial debut Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi dropped on OTT this weekend. The slice-of-life movie traces a family through the 13 days leading to the tehrvi of its patriarch as the members gather at their ancestral home. This sees Konkona Sensharma playing the chhoti bahu, a quintessential outsider and a misfit who doesn’t get along with the other daughters-in-law of the family and offers the audience a more objective insight into the goings-on inside the house. It seems to be a role that is rather close to Konkona given that the second-generation actor has never tried to fit herself into the Bollywood stereotypes, and has taken the more difficult route and carved her own path. We caught up with the National Award-winning actor for a quick tete-a-tete. Excerpts:

How did you become a part of Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi?

First of all, I have to say that I have always admired Seema ji; she is a beautiful artiste. I had always wanted to collaborate with her as a co-actor but instead got this opportunity to act in her directorial!

Tell us something about the character you play in this film…

I play a character named Seema. She is the youngest wife in the family and hails from Mumbai. A bit of an outsider, she is trying to fit in and get along with other family members.

That’s rather interesting. I believe, you have always been kind of an outsider in Bollywood as well…

Exactly! I completely agree…but not just in Bollywood, I think I have been an outsider in general — in life, even in school and college. I think when you can look at things as an outsider, it gives a very different perspective. I really enjoy that.

Don’t you think that being an outsider is not all that bad, as it often gives one a more objective perspective as well as a certain degree of freedom?

I think what happens is, when you are in the thick of things you can’t view a situation correctly. It is after you distance yourself from the goings-on that you really understand the true nature of things, and that where being an outsider and having an outsider’s perspective helps. At least, it has helped me. Also, as an outsider, you do not affiliate to a particular group… There’s no sense of ‘Oh! This is my root, these are my people, I only belong here’. This gives you a certain amount of freedom; you can keep an open mind, and view situations in an objective way.

You also turned director a few years back with A Death in the Gunj. How do you view the tag of being a ‘woman director’? Also, do you think we will reach that point any time in the near future where the gender of the artiste would not be relevant or at least a talking point?

There are varying degrees of patriarchy and misogyny in our country. In some sectors, it might be more pronounced than the other. In the privileged sector, it is less visible, but it is there in our society, it is there all over the world. I wish it wasn’t the case where we wouldn’t have a classification like ‘women director’; I wish it was evenly bal anced and not so skewed. When you say ‘director’, the default is male… just as when you say policemen or doctor — mostly people assume them as male. There needs to be a change in the language to begin with, for example, we need to change ‘policemen’ to ‘police officers’. These are changes that are slowly trickling down.

And your take on the term ‘women-centric movies’… for while movies with a male lead is mainstream but stories where the protagonist happens to be a woman are still at its best a sub-genre…

I wish there would be a time when films would be directed equally by men and women, and stories would be treated as just good or bad and not as female-oriented… Also, there is nothing as a male-oriented film, that is the default! Hopefully, the day isn’t too far where the men would stop being the default, and ‘women-oriented films’ would merge with the mainstream. But today is not that day. I wish these classifications were not there but unfortunately they are and if they are there, then we must be aware of them so that we can correct them. The first step towards attempting any change is to acknowledge the issues. I think changes are happening, but it will take a long time for those changes to really show.

Also, you have been part of movies like Lipstick Under My Burkha and Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare. Do you think the ‘independent, modern woman’ presented in our movies today is also becoming kind of a cliché with the focus being increasingly on just one aspect — the sexual freedom of women?

No, I don’t. Unfortunately, when women are making films there are a lot of caveats… it should be about women, it should be about things like this and that, we should not have so many ‘shoulds’. Women should make movies that women want to make! Women are different from one another and so should be their films. If we look at the women who have been in this profession, one would see that they have made movies on a variety of issues, some have focused on gender issues, some on sexual liberation of women, or other social issues, as seen in movies of Mira Nair or my mother, Aparna Sen. There are various kinds of works that are happening. I have made a film where the protagonist is a man! So, I don’t think there is any stereotype that it always has to be about sexuality and even if it is, then what’s the big deal! I mean we should not be telling women to make a film like this or make a film like that. Let them make the films they want to make… we don’t ask men why you are only making action movies or stuff like that. This is what feminism says… don’t restrict, confine, limit women to certain boxes.

So, when are we seeing you back on the director’s chair?

…Only if I am driven to make a film. I have a story that I really want to tell, then only would I direct my next. To be honest, when I made Death in the Gunj, I was quite obsessed with the idea and the characters and the world they inhabit. But it is a lot of work! Also, you need to sort out the finances and things like that. And I am primarily an actor and I am rather busy with acting assignments. So, only if I get so inspired or driven or obsessed with a certain idea that I feel the need to make it, only then I’ll direct. I don’t have any burning need or desire to keep directing.

The last one… now that we are again going through another lockdown, tell us the three things you had learnt during the first lockdown!

First of all, the whole world was united for corona. There was no first-world/third-world divide; it hit all in the same way and the entire world faced it together. The way things unfolded gave you a lot of perspective and a lot of gratitude.

I got rid of the unnecessary dependence on beauty parlours. I really started accepting and embracing my natural curly hair, which is much healthier also [laughs]. Curly hair is traditionally not considered ‘beautiful’. Many people feel the need to be slim, fair and have straight hair because we have certain standard definitions of beauty. It is important to challenge and break these beauty standards.

I spent a lot of time with my son and family… I also adopted a puppy. And I learned how to parallel park!

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