By Radhika Bhirani
Mainstream has never been the mainstay in her filmography. Not even with her directorial debut, the 1979-set drama thriller "A Death in the Gunj". The critically-acclaimed Konkona Sensharma says her choices are a result of her unconventional upbringing -- sans TV shows like "The Bold and the Beautiful" or even "Mahabharata" and "Ramayan".
Konkona is the daughter of celebrated Bengali actor-writer-director Aparna Sen, whose much-appreciated works as a director include "36 Chowringhee Lane", "Sati", "Mr and Mrs Iyer", "15 Park Avenue" and "Iti Mrinalini", and writer Mukul Sharma.
Talking about her mother's influence in her life, Konkona told IANS: "My mother has lived life on her own terms, did what she believed in, all her values and liberalism... All of that have had a strong impact on my life. She paved the way and was one of the pioneers (among women) to make a film in the early 1980s. She has always been ahead of the times."
Having a mother with a broad world view, understanding of global cinema, showbiz and literature, meant a more controlled environment for entertainment at home.
"She was particular about what I watched and what I read. I was a voracious reader, and you know when you're young, you'd be reading a lot of Enid Blyton, and she would say, 'You can't be reading only this'. And I listened to her, I trusted her.
"She was not one of those parents who had a lot of rules for everything. She let me be my own person, but she had some opinions... She didn't let me watch 'The Bold and the Beautiful' or 'Mahabharat' and 'Ramayan'. She said she didn't want my first impressions of these epics to be through television. It was quite tacky back in the day... Of course, it may have had an emotional appeal. But she didn't want me to watch it at that point," Konkona recounted.
She didn't grow up watching a lot of Hindi films either -- but "Mr India" and "Masoom" are some titles she remembers watching during her growing-up days. Other than that, she was exposed to world cinema as she travelled extensively with her mother to film festivals in Egypt and Moscow.
"I guess it was an unconventional upbringing," she said, adding how "The Sound of Music", "Mary Poppins", films of Ingmar Bergman and Satyajit Ray were among those that left an indelible impact on her as she grew up to become a formidable name herself in the Indian film industry.
"Mr and Mrs Iyer", "15 Park Avenue", "Page 3", "The Namesake", "Wake Up Sid" and "Goynar Baksho" are among some of her noted works.
Her directorial project, "A Death in the Gunj" -- releasing on June 2 -- draws from a short story by her father, and real life. It's a fictionalised retelling of an incident that took place at a house in McCluskieganj, a hilly town in Jharkhand.
For the film, Konkona revisted McCluskieganj. She says the fact that its old-world charm is still intact made the shooting experience even more exciting.
"Recreating McCluskieganj was so much fun. Firstly, I didn't know if there was any archival information of that time as it was a remote area and not so well developed. As a result, I was relying on memories and talking to people.
"It's a very atmospheric, a largely forgotten place... very tucked away. When we reached there for the recce, we realised some things about the place are the same as 30 years ago... And it worked in our favour," she said, sounding excited as a child.
According to her, the movie is about "family dynamics" -- and to tell the tale, she roped in a cast as talented as Tanuja, Vikrant Massey, Ranvir Shorey, Kalki Koechlin, Tillotama Shome, Gulshan Devaiah and Jim Sarbh, apart from the late Om Puri.
"It was a bit overwhelming... Together, they were like a force of nature," she said of the talented ensemble, adding how working with the "irreverent" Om Puri "was a privilege".
(Radhika Bhirani can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)