Konkona Sen Sharma may not be your stereotypical damsel-in-distress Indian ‘heroine,’ but rather is a brilliant actor and director known for her groundbreaking filmography and diverse acting roles. Her nuanced presence, piercing gaze, and flawless portrayal of her characters clearly sets her apart from her contemporaries as an artist.
Making her debut as a child artist in the film Indira (1983), Sen Sharma debuted as an adult actor in the Bengali thriller Ek Je Aachhe Kanya (2000). After working for a few years in Bengali films, the actress was ‘discovered’ by the Hindi film industry. She first gained attention with the English-language film Mr. and Mrs. Iyer (2002), which was directed by her mother, Aparna Sen, and received the National Film Award for Best Actress for her performance. Her appearance in the drama Page 3 (2005) got her wider recognition, and she has since starred in numerous critically-acclaimed films.
The Omkara actress is best known for her roles in contemporary parallel cinema, primarily in arthouse and independent films. Her unrestricted film selection, which is rife with fierce themes and social issues, has also earned her a series of prestigious awards in India’s commercial film industry.
Sen Sharma has proved her mettle on the silver screen in many films over the past two decades and is an unbridled force of talent and artistry. Ahead of the release of her promising new action crime movie, Kuttey, co-starring Arjun Kapoor, Tabu and Naseeruddin Shah, let’s dive right in and check out a few of her top films.
Ajeeb Dastaans (2021)
Geeli Pucchi, directed by Neeraj Ghaywan, is one of the four short films in Netflix’s Ajeeb Daastaans anthology, which stars Sen Sharma. She portrays Bharti Mandal, a dark-skinned Dalit girl who pays her bills working as a factory assembly line worker but is unable to advance due to her lower caste. Things take a turn when an upper caste, conventionally feminine and light-skinned woman, Priya (Aditi Rao Hydari), is hired as a white-collar data operator despite being less efficient than Bharti.
Geeli Pucchi attempts to unravel intersectionalities of caste, sexuality, power, and privilege, and while at it, it doesn’t shy away from portraying women characters who make realistic, questionable moral choices. Sen Sharma portrays a grumpy coworker who eventually softens, allowing the two women to develop a wonderful bond. The story is subtle in its depiction of the vulnerability of queerness and caste and breaks the monotony of ‘aspirational heroines.’ And surely, no one could have explored the themes of love, sexuality and dignity as well as Sen Sharma did in this short film.
Page 3 (2005)
Madhur Bhandarkar’s signature unfiltered artistry, Page 3, is all about Mumbai’s elite and high society, in which Sharma plays Madhvi Sharma, a young journalist struggling to find her voice. Hailing from a small town, Madhvi starts her career as a celebrity reporter, covering and featuring Page 3 parties. The actress’ portrayal of an ambitious outsider in search of the truth was very well received. The character’s inability to fight the system or her agony of being constantly let down are beautifully captured by Sen Sharma, and it is this that makes the film so compelling to watch.
Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare (2019)
Alankrita Shrivastava’s feminist faith film examines the repressed sexualities and journeys of two women living in Noida’s urban concrete jungles. Dolly (Konkana Sen Sharma), is a disillusioned and complex character, who deals with an unrequited love for her mother, a sexually inactive marriage, a cross-dressing sensitive son, and a husband who constantly makes passes at her sister, Kajal (Bhumi Pednekar).
The actress delves deeper into the complexities of the story and emotes them with grace and aplomb, keeping the audiences hooked. Although Dolly’s coming-of-age story has flaws, Sen Sharma has outdone herself once again.
Life In A Metro (2007)
This is a multi-starrer film that follows the parallel stories of multiple characters living their lives in a metropolitan city. Sen Sharma’s Shruti is more of a romantic comedy dissection of the film, in which she plays an unmarried young Indian woman on the lookout for a husband. Paired opposite the late wonder Irrfan Khan, Shruti is the bemused representation of several other Indian girls who go through this conundrum at least once in their adult lives.
Wake Up Sid (2009)
In this coming-of-age movie, the actress plays Aisha, a young, aspiring writer from Kolkata who has recently relocated to Mumbai and is trying to make friends and find her way in the city of dreams. Co-starring Ranbir Kapoor as Sid, this is one of Sharma’s more commercially successful films. When Sid, who is a spoiled and wealthy college student living off his father’s fortune, is introduced to Aisha, he starts learning the value of life and owning up to responsibility while helping her settle into the city.
With her struggles adjusting to life in a new city, aspirations to be a writer, and dealing with a man-child in the form of Sid (and her budding feelings for him), Ayesha’s character is complex in her own right and is one of Sharma’s most memorable roles in modern Indian cinema.
Lipstick Under My Burkha (2016)
In this film, the star plays the role of Shireen Aslam, an oppressed Muslim woman dealing with her patriarchal husband, who not only mistreats but also rapes her, making her one of the film’s most complicated characters. Sen Sharma delicately portrays Shireen’s compelling helplessness and hapless fate with great artistic sensibilities.
Mr. & Mrs. Iyer (2002)
This Aparna Sen film is one of Indian cinema’s most critically-acclaimed films, and was inspired by the Hindu-Muslim sectarian violence in India. The story served as a larger statement about the need to end communal riots around the world.
In the film, Sharma’s character evolves from a stereotypical upper-caste Hindu with reservations about drinking a Muslim man’s water to a woman who forms a beautiful bond with the same man over the course of her journey. The intense pain in her eyes seen during the final railway station scene is enough emotive validation of her brief but genuine relationship with Raja. The underrated star’s incredible acting talent and craftsmanship are also on full display in this movie.