Konkona Sen Sharma: A Killer Act
Konkona Sen Sharma: A Killer Act

The ace actor has started the year with yet another stellar performance — this time she is the chef-at-large cooking a Killer Soup

Netflix has just dropped its 8-episode series Killer Soup. Starring Manoj Bajpayee and Konkona Sen Sharma, the thriller is a deliciously dark brew laced with Abhishek Chaubey’s signature subtle but wicked sense of humour. With striking similarities with the real-life 2017 case of Swathi Reddy, a nurse in Telangana, who hatched a devious plan of killing her husband and planting her boyfriend in his place by giving the latter her husband’s face through plastic surgery, it sees Konkona playing Swathi Shetty, an inept but overly-ambitious home chef (a character that in a deliciously strange way is bound to remind one of Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth). While Manoj Bajpayee absolutely aces the double role (as Umesh and Prabhakar) in a way only he can, Konkona is exquisite as Swathi—the meek and abused housewife whose simmering overarching ambition eventually turns her into a cold, calculating killer. Konkona finds a sweet spot between the vulnerable and the vicious making the character so relatable that it makes you shudder—she becomes the very embodiment of “look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under’t” when she is not stirring her soup or dragging bodies around, she lets her eyes do most of the talking. We caught up with the actor to pick her brains on her recent study in grey. Excerpts: 


Tell us a bit about Swathi Shetty, your character in Killer Soup: 


She is very grey. She starts off as someone with a rather simple ambition of opening a restaurant of her own. But things start going wrong.  From episode one to episode eight we see how life and patriarchy keep coming in the way, and it doesn’t help that she doesn’t really have a support system. So, we see her constantly trying to douse the fires that keep erupting all around her while stoking the flames of her dreams.  


What I really like about her is that she is a very practical, capable, and intelligent woman who is just trying to survive in a man’s world—a world that is not very sympathetic towards her dreams and aspirations. These are all very relatable, not just to me but to women across the board today. She is in her 40s, she has done her child-rearing, fulfilled her domestic responsibilities, and now she wants to fulfill her dreams.  



What was it about the character that really got you hooked? 


I really admired her spirit; I love the fact that she was constantly on the go and constantly problem-solving. Even in real life, one has to constantly multitask and problem-solve.  I found that particular aspect very relatable. She is constantly trying to manage things, accomplish things, keep other things at bay, and still hold on to her larger vision while making reluctant allies to help her and sacrificing a little morality and goodness here and there along the way. All of it really drew my sympathy towards her.  


There is a lot of conversation around the portrayal of toxic men in movies. While playing a grey female character where do you draw the line, if at all, as an actor? 


Mostly, women are not presented in grey shades. If I share my personal experience, I have mostly got roles where the women are very earnest, unimpeachable, and morally upright. I am very happy to be playing a grey character, who has hidden motivations, and is not compelled to be ‘good’. We very easily allow such characters when they are male, but with female characters, we want them to be ‘responsible’— we rarely see them making bad decisions, sacrificing morality to serve their ambition. Hence it is such a delight when you get to watch that on screen. It is a character that’s written with relish. And as an actor, I found it very enjoyable.  


Although you found some aspects of Swathi relatable, while playing such grey characters, there might come a point where you don’t morally/ethically agree with her choices at all. As an actor how do you go about then?  


That happens a lot. In fact, I don’t relate to most of the characters I have played so far. Even if I do, it’s only in bits. I try to make an effort to relate to the characters and try to find elements of those characters within my personality. But as an actor, I don’t have a limit to where I can go with a character and no further. There are limitations in real life, but in the reel one has the liberty to explore! And I am happy to try out things and keep pushing the envelope further. I think what is happening with Swathi is within the realm of the acceptable; I would love to play characters that are far more extreme than this.  


While living characters and attempting to make them relatable, do you ever get impacted on a personal level?  


It is very hard to say but I think the characters you play remain with you at a subliminal level. It is like you create a portal between your personality and the character you are playing so that you can leak/bleed into the character. I love it when that happens. 


 An actor, his/her body and mind, is on loan to the character. It is important to find points of contact and points of overlap. But you don’t really know how much of the impression of the character remains on you after you are done playing it.  


For example, when I played Meethi, a character with schizophrenia, in 15 Park Avenue, I didn’t know what remained but since then I have always found a connect to families who have a member who has schizophrenia—whether it is the person with the condition or the caregiver. There are elements of character that remain with you that you are not always aware of. We are not so aware of the boundaries of self with or without characters…how we evolve… has my 16-year-old self remained in me? Maybe elements of it have. It is the same with the characters you play on screen.  



As you are saying that the actor and the person bleeds into the character, does the opposite also happen where the character bleeds into your personality and stays? 


Definitely. I don’t plan a performance ever and it is more of an intuitive process for me. Of course, there is a certain amount of prep that goes into each. And I have caught myself, without planning to do so, letting my character influence my real life. Suppose I am playing an angry character who is prone to outbursts, then I have in my real life, leading up to the scene, let myself get angry! Maybe it is a situation which otherwise I would have managed to get through by taking a few deep breaths, but I have let myself get angry so that I can observe myself. It is very interesting how the characters you play and your personality influence each other—you think you are in control, but you are not completely… and that’s fun! 


When we last spoke, you had said that you are primarily an actor and that you don’t have any burning need or desire to keep directing. Last year you came up with your second directorial, Mirror, which was part of the Netflix anthology Lust Stories 2 and was one of the best things we have watched in 2023. Has your take on directing movies changed now?  


A Death in the Gunj came out in 2017, and I did Mirror in 2023, so I direct infrequently. I primarily consider myself an actor as I am acting for almost two decades now. But I think the medium doesn’t really matter, I am a creative person, and it can come out through my acting, writing, direction, or the way I visually express myself.   



Does the director in you influence the actor you are in any way? 


Only in a practical way. Even though I was never the actor who would throw tantrums on the set or arrive late, but working as a director has made me understand the set dynamics better and realise that things are not always under your control. So, in that sense, I have become a little more patient as an actor. 


The series is titled Killer Soup. What is it about food that makes it such a scrumptious ingredient for a thriller?  


It depends on how you write it. The element of cooking here brings in things other than the thriller element…here it brings in humour for she is a terrible cook who keeps dishing out this soup, perfecting the soup is her mission and it serves as the character motivation. It can be used as an ingredient to cook a thriller, but food has been used romantically and sensually as well in movies.  


There are some food items we instantly associate with a movie for example Black Sesame Soup in In the Mood for Love (originally titled A Story of Food) a $5 milkshake in Pulp Fiction or cannoli or Tomato sauce recipe in Godfather. What is that one movie that pops into your mind when we talk about food in movies?


I remember the first time I was watching Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love… I was in college. There were so many scenes of them eating steaming noodles in those little alleyways in slow motion that we had to leave the movie midway because we got so hungry! We left the movie theatre to eat (chuckles) and watched the rest of it another time! 


In cinema, what happens is that you are experiencing things visually and auditorily, and the food presented thus can be very sensual. And you respond to it like that. I love food in films. There are many such films. For instance, there is Angamaly Diaries that does it so beautifully.


If you were a soup, what would be your ingredients? 


I would be a Tom Yum, clear and not muddy! And I would be spicy and healthy!  



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