Konkona Sen Sharma and Bhumi Pednekar talk about essaying the titular characters in their new Netflix release, Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare, trying to break away from the ‘women-oriented’ film tag and why they wish there more more ‘secure’ male actors like Vikrant Massey and Amol Parashar.
Sneha Menon Desai: What struck me about both your characters was how real they were. I want to understand just how invested you were in getting the nuances of small-town India right, given it’s so easy to make these women caricatures.
Bhumi Pednekar: It’s definitely a collaborative process. For example, we did many trials for the golden hair that my character sports in the film. We knew we had crack it, to ensure we did not turn it into a third-person view of what a girl from Darbangha would do. A lot of the credit goes to the technicians who worked on the film.
Konkona Sen Sharma: It also helps that Alankrita (Srivastava) is the film’s writer-director, so she really knows this world well. She’s not somebody who is just perpetuating a stereotype, she doesn’t have generic ‘bubbly girl-next-door’ characters, for example. Our characters were very real people with very specific characteristics like the top that I wear is something we actually spoke about. We were like, ‘This style really seems to have caught on with everyone, maybe we should try that.’ Even with the accent, we thought about it, we talked about it and we didn’t want to make it very strong or loud because sometimes what happens is you’re doing it enthusiastically but it’s distracting for an audience. So you just want to give a hint of it and then stick to the focus of the scene, which is the emotions and interactions between the characters.
SMD: It’s so refreshing to see that the two of you play the titular characters. Are we still far from a time when it’ll stop being ‘so refreshing’ and become the norm?
BP: We really hope that happens. There are such few stories told around women or about women that Konkona and I have tried, as much as possible, to support cinema that tells strong stories. I hate the tag of ‘women-oriented films’, we need to get rid of it. A film is a film, you watch it because it entertains you, it excites you and it hopefully makes your experience memorable.
KSS: Yeah, but I found out something interesting. Alankrita had tweeted that since Seeta Aur Geeta (1972), there hasn’t been another film with two women in the title. Even outside of India, it’s not that common. It does happen, like Thelma & Louise (1991) or Julie & Julia (2009), but it’s rare and I wish it wasn’t.
SMD: It also helps that you have such fine actors like Vikrant Massey and Amol Parashar who come in to support the story.
BP: Absolutely. We’ve been fortunate enough to not experience misogyny firsthand, especially from the men in our life. Vikrant and Amol are very secure with whatever they have achieved, they’ve done a tremendous amount of good work. They’re supporting this film, just being a part of it because they enjoyed their part and I think that’s what it ultimately comes down to. Thank God for boys like them who are doing such fantastic work. More power to them.
SMD: Konkona, rough math tells me that you’ve been in show business for nearly 20 years. What would you say to people who talk about the shelf life of an actress?
KSS: Honestly, I’m very lucky that Alankrita has given me a role like this, because it’s rare. I’ve played strong women, women with a lot of integrity and earnestness, morally upright women many times. It’s very boring. Or I’ve played an out-and-out villain, a witch in Ek Thi Daayan. But what about the in-between and flawed characters who are likable, but also not necessarily doing the right things all the time? They’re the ones who are making a few bad decisions. It happens to me all the time – very strong, amazing, intelligent women make bad decisions. And good decisions too.
I haven’t actually paid much attention to what the industry trends are, where this is going to go, what they think of me. I don’t really care. I live in my own world. I always like to say, ‘I’m 41 years old, this is what I am, this is what I look like, I hope I get good roles.’
SMD: What are you hoping people take away from Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare?
BP: The film speaks about finding your own truth, seeking your own freedom, speaking about your desires and actually chasing your dreams. I really hope that a lot of people, not just women, get inspired by what Dolly and Kitty are trying to find. The film does break the stereotype of perfection, that ‘achchi ladki’ obsession that people have as a society. It tries to break the idea of the perfect mother, wife or daughter. Instead of progressing, we’ve become quite regressive as a society. It’s 2020, we really need to wake up and break these age-old ideologies and the pressure that’s constantly put on women.