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It’s not that she wouldn’t love to do a big-budget commercial film. Then how come we only see her in the smaller, offbeat ones? “I like being the underdog,” she says almost sarcastically. But seriously, “This is really me, so what to do? The thing is that I don’t really get offers to do big-time Bollywood films. The few that I’ve got were a bit shady. And if I did get something big then it would have to be something fun. I have some reservations and am a bit picky, you see. There are enough actresses who do the singing and dancing acts well, I guess. Anyway, I enjoy the kind of films I’m doing,” she says unabashedly.
The unassuming Sen Sharma enlightens me on the projects that have been preoccupying her of late. “I just shot for Madhur Bhandarkar’s Signal.” I query her on whether it’s called Traffic Signal or just Signal. “I don’t know. I was told Signal, now they’re saying Traffic Signal, I don’t know what’s happening,” is her nonchalant reply.
“I was most excited shooting for it, though, as earlier I’d had a lovely time working with Madhur Bhandarkar on Page 3. When he asked me to come and do this guest appearance I wasn’t even confident I could do it. The character is called Anuri. It’s a small role and I play a streetwalker—very loud, gaudy, wearing cheap clothes, speaking Mumbai slang and abusing in Hindi all the time. I’m just not used to that. My normal Hindi is so-so and to abuse in Hindi in words I’ve never heard before was a challenge. I had to say ‘bhadve’ and I kept saying ‘bhavde’. But I like to do new things,” she admits.
“Madhur is a cool, chilled-out guy. Honestly speaking, in Page 3, I didn’t know what he was doing. I’m happy with that film, but except for him I don’t think anyone knew what was happening on the set. The thing is that he has the whole film in his head,” she reveals.
And what of the last-minute tribulations of getting someone to play a gay character in Signal? She looks confounded. “Yeah, even I read that there were problems. Finally they did find someone to play the gay streetwalker. I don’t know why, but people are a bit averse to playing gay characters. I would do it happily,” she says smiling while also clarifying that sexually explicit scenes are a no-no whether gay or straight.
Sen Sharma has done her fair share of homework to prepare for the complex characters she has played in some of her movies. “For Mr & Mrs Iyer I had to do a lot of research. For 15 Park Avenue too. In fact, a very close member of the family has been schizophrenic from childhood and in that way I’ve been preparing for it all my life without even knowing it. And because my mother (director Aparna Sen) writes her own films, I’m involved with them from the very beginning. When you hear something from inception and see it evolve, it helps you sink your teeth into the character. Besides that, we went to workshops and rehearsals and had some sessions with a psychiatrist. He actually enacted an epileptic fit for us. After he did it so sweetly, Shabana (Azmi) gave him Rs. 100 and said ‘Congratulations on your acting debut,’” she reminisces with a good laugh.
The ending of 15 Park Avenue left viewers befuddled, didn’t it? What’s Konkona’s interpretation then? “Generally you see a film through the eyes of a normal person and never someone like the character Mithi. In the end, you see what she sees. It’s a surreal leap. What if her reality is the real reality? I think it’s a very compassionate and imaginative ending.”
A film she has recently wrapped up is Vishal Bhardwaj’s Omkara. An adaptation of Shakespeare’s play Othello, it stars big names like Saif Ali Khan, Ajay Devgan, Kareena Kapoor, Naseerudin Shah, and Viveik Oberoi. “But it’s not really a very commercial film,” says Sen Sharma. “I play a character called Emilia. The end of the movie is different from the play. Can’t tell you, though. I think Shakespearean plays can be quite like Bollywood what with all the blood and tragedy.”
Talking about recent movies she enjoyed watching, Sen Sharma says she loved the Oscar-winning Crash as well as our desi Bunty Aur Babli. “Rani and Abhishek really acted well and it was such a fun film,” she bubbles. She feels that there are different kinds of people and so logically, there should be different kinds of cinema. “But,” she sighs, “it is unfortunate that people only want to watch big stars singing songs and fighting.” How grimly true.
“Acting can be boring sometimes,” she says. Active participation is limited, what with one person doing your make-up, one person doing your hair, one person doing your clothes and you’re just sitting there. There are times when I love it. I don’t think there’s anyone who loves his or her job 24/7. If there are people like that, God bless them, they’ve found the right profession.”
Elaborating on the paradox of filmmaking, she opines, “Sometimes it happens that you have a great experience shooting and the film turns out to be a disaster and sometimes you have a terrible time and you hate the people on the set and the film turns out wonderfully. But I won’t say which movie that was!”
Nowadays, Sen Sharma is looking for some seriously bad roles. “I don’t want to only do solemn roles that are very honest, do-gooder, NGO types,” she explains. It would seem that actors are tired of playing the hero. Villainy has its exhilarations.
Being the daughter of a director may help when you’re an aspiring star but Sen Sharma says, “Rakesh Roshan (Hrithik’s father) and Aparna Sen (Konkona’s mother) are very different kinds of personalities. I don’t think it assures you of a successful career though. I didn’t get into acting because of my mother. I never wanted to act. But Ma told me I was good at it and she made me do some background roles when I was a kid.”
Sen Sharma loves to travel the world and a recent journey took her to the Barcelona Asian Film Festival where she was a member of the jury. “Can you believe it? It was one of the biggest thrills of my life,” she says with wonderment in her eyes.
Her future projects include Naseeruddin Shah’s Yun Hota To Kya Hota and Rituparno Ghosh’s new film Sun Glass, which is a Hindi-Bengali bilingual. “It’s a story that Rituparno narrated to my mother when I was kid and he wanted Mom to act in. It didn’t happen then. Now, after all these years, he wants me to play the part,” she says with a hint of destiny in her tone.
It would seem that some things do come full circle.
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