National Award-winning Indian actress Konkona Sen Sharma, who portrays a domestic abuse survivor in the new season of ‘Mumbai Diaries,’ believes that economics plays a strong role if a woman has to survive a toxic relationship.
“I always say that the most important thing for women is to be financially independent. Then you have choices. I am always surprised at the number of intelligent, capable, and empowered women who are in toxic relationships,” said Konkona in an interview with Gulf News. Living off your "father's money" doesn't simply cut it either.
“It’s so unfortunate, but women should always have the option to walk out of a toxic relationship even if they don’t have family support. If you have your own financial freedom, remember you can start your life afresh then,” she added.
In the hit medical drama series, streaming on Prime Video, Konkona plays Dr. Chitra Das, the efficient, empathetic and vulnerable Director of Social Services at Bombay Medical Hospital, battling her inner demons and a murky past.
Her secretly abusive and narcissistic husband – played brilliantly by Parambrata Chattopadhyay – resurfaces in her life, and she’s torn between trusting him again or reporting him to the authorities.
A telling scene in the first episode, where she breaks down emotionally in front of her boss, Dr. Mani Subramaniam (an on-point Prakash Belawadi), after learning that her toxic partner has managed to hunt her down in Mumbai, encapsulates the inner turmoil of her character brilliantly.
“It’s a very beautifully written scene with a lot of nuance because Dr. Subramaniam already knows but tells her that she is the backbone of the hospital and must not run… But in that scene, I was concentrating on coming across as panicking and not thinking straight… My breath is shallow, am restless, and my eyes are just focusing on one thing,” said Konkona. But there’s no established method to her madness, points out Aparna Sen’s daughter.
“I don’t plan out my scenes,” she says. The actress, who hates to use the pedestrian adjective “special” and prefers the word “unique,” believes director Nikhil Advani’s ‘Mumbai Diaries’ doesn’t shy away from portraying the challenges of a survivor seeking justice, their internal conflicts, and the societal norms that perpetuate such cycles. The series also boasts searing performances from a raft of talents including actor Mohit Raina as the good, but mercurial doctor.
“What’s unique about ‘Mumbai Diaries’ is that it’s an emotional medical thriller. A crisis happens, and in 24 hours, we have to sort it out, and that leads to a very tense, but fun watch to binge on,” she pointed out. While the first season threw the spotlight on a bunch of doctors and nurses at an understaffed and resource-starved hospital grappling with a terror attack in Mumbai, the second season deals with how the Mumbai monsoons add more pressure to the heaving hospital.
“We got glimpses into Chitra’s past in the first season, and we were now building layers in the second season. I have never done a sequel in my career before, and it’s the first time that I am returning to a character, which I don’t have to build from scratch… And hats off to Nikhil and Enmay Entertainment for taking up the issue of domestic violence. It’s so prevalent and happens across sectors of society,” said Konkona. The 43-year-old talent also lauded the makers for not approaching the issue with a heavy hand.
“Sometimes, it’s not even physical violence. Very often abuse can come in the form of emotional abuse or financial manipulation.”
But was this troubled role taxing? For instance, Hollywood actress Nicole Kidman, who played a domestic abuse survivor in the glossy drama ‘Big Little Lies,’ had admitted to internalizing the pain of her character and had spoken about going home from the sets, only to throw a rock against a glass door in frustration. She recalled being utterly humiliated and feeling desolate while filming during an actors’ roundtable discussion with The Hollywood Reporter. But Konkona didn’t let the role overwhelm her.
“Thankfully, I didn’t smash anything… In all these years, I have been acting for two decades and have a lot of roles with a certain emotional depth or an intensity of emotion that one has to portray… But when I come home, I am not carrying that trauma. It has never happened to me, luckily, and I hope it doesn’t. Once a scene is over, it doesn’t stay with me for long.”
She also points out that a set where movies and series are filmed can be a sterile environment.
“It’s easy to demarcate because a film set is such an artificial and chaotic environment. A film set will have at least 100 or 150 people, and the reality is what you create only in your head along with your co-actor. There’s so many people in front of you, and the large crew makes it all bizarre. The difficulty is to be genuine… I love it when some of my own self or my emotions leak into my characters and that’s a genuine moment.”
Konkona, whose credits include a string of stirring mix of blockbusters and festival-friendly films like ‘Page 3’, ‘Wake Up Sid’ with Ranbir Kapoor, ‘Talvar’, and her directorial debut ‘Death In The Gunj’, has enjoyed several of those “genuine moments” where her talent shone bright. In these two decades of acting, she has earned the reputation of being an acting heavyweight who can do all the heavy-lifting with admirable ease. Whether she’s playing a rookie journalist in ‘Page 3’ or a fierce actor hopeful in ‘Luck By Chance’, Konkona has nailed every role with remarkable alacrity. But she doesn’t want to just play strong women roles, she tells us.
“In life, I don’t think all women are continuously strong. Some are stronger than others and some have no choice but to be strong… I don’t like playing just the woman-of-substance/go-getter roles. Any character that’s well-written has my heart. I loved Chitra’s vulnerability in ‘Mumbai Diaries’. I love the fact that she has no faith in herself… Many will relate to that bit… Poor thing is all over the place, but she’s finally able to face her monsters and take charge.”
The series also brings home a pertinent point that many survivors of domestic abuse acknowledge and go through.
“The fine balance where Chitra knows she loves that man that she has been intimate with but realises he is wrong for her… That emotional vulnerability, I love that, and that’s her biggest strength too.”
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Mumbai Diaries, Season 2, is out on Prime Video