Konkona Sen Sharma’s debut directorial, A Death in the Gunj, having toured film festivals across the world, makes a stopover at the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) in the capital.
The hello comes in the third ring. Konkona Sen Sharma has about 15 minutes to spare. There are places to go, things to take care of. In her place, the character Rachel from Friends would have said, “I have got news for you, my friend. Direction… not easy.” More so in Konkona’s case for somewhere people expect it from her — she is a national award-winning actor, her mom Aparna Sen has made some beautiful movies, her dad Mukul Sharma has written stories made into more beautiful movies. But then Konkona has been telling on and on again, she had no plans to direct, she didn’t even have plans to act. But like how acting happened, direction too did. And after taking A Death in the Gunj to a few film festivals across the world, she is sending it to the International Film Festival of Kerala, which begins this Friday.
“I will not be able to make it. I will be travelling. But I would have loved to come, I have heard a lot about the IFFK,” Konkona says. Her film has been chosen in the world cinema category. Konkona had said once in an interview that it is not what you typically expect out of a Hindi film, not the Bollywood musical kind. Yes, she says, her film falls into the category of independent cinema, just like most of the movies she has acted in. And this is also a personal project, the story having come from her father.
“I have heard this story from him since I was eight or nine and always loved it. Something about it fascinated me but I never thought I will be making a film on it.” But then three or four years ago, she happened to live with her dad again in Delhi, when her place in Mumbai was being renovated. She was relatively free at the time, and realised she wanted to tell that old story as a film.
“My parents and their family and friends had been to my grandparents’ home in McCluskiegunj in the late 70s and they were a large gang and there were all these shenanigans they were up to. It made for many stories — funny, dark, different kinds. This film is one of those stories,” she says. The synopsis talks about a little gang of people who call the spirits and ask who among them will die first. And then one year later, one of them dies. “It is not really about spirits. Not scary. It is more the capture of the place and time. 1979 McCluskiegunj was very different. Cut off from everything, remote. The roads were not good. But it was very very beautiful. And gave rise to all kinds of stories. They had to find a way to pass time, living there. There was hardly any theatre nearby, no TV or internet or even a phone. So they were drinking with their friends, cooking together,” she says.
The idea to make a film had not come suddenly. It formed over time, she says. Her parents were involved in the whole process. Reading drafts of the screenplays, discussing. They liked her film. But she is not sure she likes direction.
“Such an intense experience with many different things playing out, from writing to prepping to shooting. At times, you are isolated, and then in the thick of people on location. Many things I enjoyed, but there were times it was stressful, terrified, when things were not working out.” But then it has taken her time to be comfortable with acting. It was after Mr and Mrs Iyer that won her the national award that she knew this is what she wanted to do.
Ten years ago, Konkona had directed a short film called Naamkoran which premiered at the Kala Ghoda Film Festival in Mumbai. It was a good exercise, Konkona says, but not as personal as Gunj. Growing up, she has seen a lot of different films, her mom being particular that she doesn’t watch mainstream Hindi or even Bengali movies. And one of these happened to be Vanaprastham. “Mom has a DVD collection and we’d watch it at home,” she says.
But then without understanding the language she doesn’t think she could be part of a Malayalam film. Acting as a Tamil woman and winning the national award for it had been different. It was only an accent she had to do, Tamil in her English and Hindi.