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June 13, 2019

Konkana Sen Sharma In Conversation With Gazal Dhaliwal On Their Latest Film, A Monsoon Date

Text by Ojas Kolvankar

Konkona Sen Sharma and Gazal Dhaliwal’s recently-released short uses a light-hearted lens to inspect the challenges faced by a transwoman as she navigates a romantic relationship.

A Monsoon Date is unlike most romantic dramas set in the rain — it steers clear of heteronormative Bollywood tropes, seeking to explore the lesser-known narratives of trans people instead. Protagonist Konkona Sen Sharma, whose character borrows from screenwriter Gazal Dhaliwal’s own struggles, navigates a society where acceptance is hard to come by while being privy to multiple ‘conventional’ relationships around her. In an interaction choreographed by Verve, the award-winning actor and the critically-acclaimed screenplay writer speak to each other about gender issues in modern times.

Konkona Sen Sharma interviewed by Gazal Dhaliwal:
Gazal Dhaliwal (GD): What was your first reaction when you read the script?
Konkona Sen Sharma (KS):
When Tanuja Chandra (director) first narrated the script on the phone, I was instantly drawn to the lead protagonist and realised that her character required a lot of empathy to represent the issues faced by a transwoman. Having never played such a character before, I unhesitatingly took it up.

GD: How did you go about understanding the nuances of the protagonist’s personality?
KS: I think my conversations with you to understand the character, her gender issues and identity politics were immensely useful. Learning about your personal journey from your counselling sessions to your surgery, and your post-surgery experiences helped me get a better understanding of who she was. I also interacted with other LBTQIA+ individuals and did some research online regarding the issues they face as a community regarding acceptance. All of this eventually came in handy when I had to step into her shoes.

GD: How would you define ‘womanhood’?
KS: Womanhood can be perceived in many different ways. I consider it a part of one’s identity, which is very personal and not restricted to a biological body.  Being a true woman is about celebrating these varied kinds of ‘womanhood’. For instance, being a mother doesn’t require one to be a biological woman.

GD: How can a short film format be employed to highlight social issues?
KS: Short film formats not only give its makers a lot of freedom and creativity but the genre is also subject to less censorship. From my experience as a director and an actor, it’s comparatively easier to raise funds for such projects and release them on digital platforms, which provide a wider reach and accessibility to a diverse audience. The platform also gives a chance to independent creators to showcase their work and present it without unnecessary restrictions.

Gazal Dhaliwal interviewed by Konkona Sen Sharma:
KS:
How did you bring your personal narrative into play while writing ‘A Monsoon Date’? 
GD:
It wasn’t that difficult to do because I have lived the life of a trans person myself. I have experienced the kind of childhood that the male child in the movie has to go through. While travelling in a rickshaw, I have often seen persons from the hijra community seeking alms. Looking at them made me ponder that that could have easily been my plight if my family hadn’t been supportive.

As is shown in A Monsoon Date, in real life too, I have interacted with people from different backgrounds when I’ve travelled in shared cabs. It allows me to become a part of their personal lives for that little time and I have always found that fascinating, so I wanted to explore that angle in the movie.

KS: Are women and those belonging to gender minorities able to present their issues more successfully through alternative cinema?
GD:
So far, there has been very little representation of women protagonists and other marginalised groups in mainstream movies. Now, we are telling our stories in a way that we deem fit, using experiences and perspectives from our personal lives as well as those of the minorities around us. Drawing from our first-hand experiences, we are telling authentic, moving stories, which have not been narrated honestly till now. I believe this kind of story-telling is extremely important in the current social climate and there needs to be more of it. I remember reading an article in The Guardian that stated that 10 per cent of the human population belongs to the LGBTQIA+ community. This statistic should reflect in our movies as well so that at least 10 per cent of all mainstream and independent cinema casts LGBTQIA+ actors and highlights concerns of the community. This is also true for women – at least 40-50 per cent of our movies should be centred around strong female protagonists. This does not necessarily imply that male characters wouldn’t have significant roles in them. But we must consciously work towards equal representation.

KS: Why did you choose this film to be made in a short film format? Was releasing it on an app/web an intentional decision?
GD: It’s a mammoth task to tell stories in long format, especially those that aren’t mainstream. Even though they may be entertaining or touching in their own way, it is extremely hard to get producers on board for short feature films. Such films allow you to tell your story and reach out to a larger group of people through the web. Any content that is worth watching, will invariably find its audience. Another advantage of this format is that it requires a short attention span. If one can convey a powerful message within 15 to 20 minutes, I think it’s much more impactful than a longer feature.

The film is available on Eros Now (www.erosnow.com) and will be screened at the 10th edition of the Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival.

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