Konkona Sensharma, Tanuja Chandra, Gazal Dhaliwal on their short A Monsoon Date, and telling more LGBTQ stories
Konkona Sensharma, director Tanuja Chandra and writer Gazal Dhaliwal talk about how they have used rain unconventionally in their new Eros Now short film.
Rains and romance have enjoyed a relationship like no other. Both of them share the power of drenching a person completely, often making them embrace their bodies, their circumstances and their imperfections. But in the city of Mumbai, rains are welcomed every year only till they arrive in full bloom. The monsoon, which often serves as a befitting setting for all things romantic, ends up making life difficult for many.
A Monsoon Date, the short film released on Eros Now earlier this week on 5 June, explores the rain in an ironic light. Directed by Tanuja Chandra, the 20-minute-long short stars Konkona Sensharma in the role of a Mumbai woman, who is on her way to meet her boyfriend and confess to him a life-altering phase of her past.
"Rain provides a kind of tension here. Konkona's character is on her way to meet the boy she loves. She's all dressed up and the rain obviously ruins that. The rain actually comes in the way of the romance. It's an obstruction in her journey but for me, as a filmmaker, it provides beauty to the story. So the rain does play a role here, but not in the expected way," says Tanuja, in an exclusive interview to Firstpost.
Writer Gazal Dhaliwal has another layer to add to the use of rain as a cinematic tool in A Monsoon Date. "The rain is metaphorical. It's raining heavily but there's also a storm growing inside her. It is a very crucial date. There is some romanticism with the rains here as well but it's more of a contrast. By the time she reaches the place, she is completely drenched. It almost says the storm within her has completely drenched her."
Gazal confesses it was surreal to have Konkona on board because that transported her to the climax of Ayan Mukerji's 2009 film Wake Up Sid. "It's one of my favourite films. The rain sequence was out-and-out romantic there and there was a buildup to the drenching." In A Monsoon Date, however, the drenching is itself a buildup to her date, where she is supposed to make a nerve-wrecking confession.
Another interesting choice of the setting for the 'monsoon date' is a coffee shop. Made popular by American TV show F.R.I.E.N.D.S., the coffee shop has emerged as an ideal mix of intimacy and order. This interesting combination serves as an effective environment for churning out confessions (remember, the breakup scene from Queen?). "Whether it's a date or work, coffee shops are very important for meetings. Especially in the last 10 years, coffee shop has become a social necessity. And it's easier to receive the other person's reaction in the controlled public place," points out Tanuja.
The makers of A Monsoon Date have revealed in earlier media interactions, most prominently at the premiere during the Jio Mami 20th Mumbai Film Festival, that the film chronicles the identity crisis of the LGBTQ community. Konkona plays a transwoman, who wants to reveal her past to her boyfriend after a month of dating. Having witnessed multiple boyfriends walk out of the coffee shop (or even throw up) in the past, she is very skeptical of losing the current one (Priyanshu Painyuli) as well.
The inspiration behind the story comes from Gazal's own experiences. She agrees that it was an "out of body experience" to watch Konkona play the lead part. "Konkona is extremely intelligent, talented but also a very kind and sensitive person. She spent a lot of time understanding where the character came from. We spent long hours over wine and dinner just talking about my own experiences. It was just a two-day shoot but she came so prepared that it went smooth. Writing this film was emotional but when I saw her performing on set, sometimes I couldn't disassociate her with myself. It became so overwhelming."
Tanuja seconds that working with Konkona was "one of the most pleasurable experiences" of her directorial career. "There's a stillness about her. She's still yet there is something moving within, some feeling that's palpable. That quality is what I really hold in high esteem. Even on the set, she absorbed the experience. I usually get very controlling with my actors because I push them. She never resisted that," says Tanuja.
Konkona brings a refreshing mix of vulnerability and assertion to her character. "I think she added a little more self-belief. The way she faces certain circumstances was with a little more self-esteem than how I would approach them," says Gazal. However, Konkona claims that she drew that core strength from Gazal herself. "I think she has a quiet dignity for the difficult past she has had. I talked to her just to know what my character had faced till the point she reaches where she is shown in the film. I also read up on other accounts of transgenders and how the process of transition is like. It helped me live my part till I faced the camera. I was just lending my body to it so I had to do justice to what she had gone through already," Konkona tells Firstpost.
She adds that what appealed to her the most about the film was the unwavering resolve to be proud of oneself and yet be hopeful about the quest for love. "We all want to be loved. We all want relationships. But are we willing to bend for that to an extent that we stop loving ourselves? This conflict and the inherent hope in the script really made me agree to be a part of the film," she says, adding that while the core is emotional, the focus area holds tremendous significance as well. "Conventionally, we have set some very unfair rules of love. Our popular culture has shown that there is only a certain type of person — heterosexual, thin, young — who can love and be loved. But it's time we acknowledge that we all seek love and are capable of loving. Some of us are privileged that we identify with a particular gender. Many don't have that luxury but that doesn't imply they don't long for love," says Konkona.
A Monsoon Date releases four months after Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, the first mainstream LGBTQ story of Indian cinema. Though Shelley Chopra Dhar's directorial was unsuccessful at the box office, its writer Gazal is glad that the digital premier on Netflix and the television premier helped expand its reach to a much wider audience. "I got several tweets from LGBTQ people that they could start a dialog with their parents. Shelley and I had always told each other that even if it brings change to the lives of five people, it'd be successful. In hindsight, we could've taken some creative decisions differently, but it has been an extremely satisfying experience, and a milestone in my career," says Gazal.
The "creative decisions" she mentions were not much of a consideration in A Monsoon Date, thanks to the digital medium. "There's no censorship in digital. You don't have to think about that it'd be consumed by kids. In fact, I had to come to terms with the unrestricted opportunity that the platform offers. I had to tell myself sternly, 'Don't think about keeping it kid-friendly'." She admits though that offers from Bollywood film producers to write LGBTQ stories have been close to nil. "Maybe if the film had worked commercially then I would have gotten more offers. But I'm glad that the industry is gradually opening to LGBTQ stories. I'm aware that some big producers are developing stories on the LGBTQ community. We already know about Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan."
The positive reception of A Monsoon Date only proves that what is drizzling now will soon break into a storm. One only hopes that the rains make way for the sun to shine on those who seek love, without having to compromise with the love they have for themselves.
All images from YouTube.
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