Konttho directors Nandita Roy, Shiboprosad Mukherjee on bringing to life characters that are sensitive — and flawed

Shreya Paul

May 14, 2019 14:49:57 IST

Bengali films have undergone multiple phases in the recent past. Unfortunately, not all of those have produced quality work. The director duo of Nandita Roy and Shiboprosad Mukherjee, however, has always sailed smooth. Makers of stellar works like Praktan (which was remade into Mahesh Bhatt's Jalebi), Bela Seshe, Icche, Muktodhara and the like, Nandita and Shiboprosad have etched a special place in the hearts of busy, often-frustrated modern viewers.

Their latest collaboration, Konttho, charts the journey of Arjun Mallik, a radio jockey who is diagnosed with laryngeal cancer. On losing his voice box, Arjun undergoes severe depression and is aided by speech specialist Romilla (Jaya Ahsan).

Konttho developed when the duo were working on a television show covering people who were trying to recuperate from a trauma and get back to leading normal lives. That is where they met Bibhuti Chakraborty, who underwent laryngectomy and lost his vocal cords. However, the incident could not deter Chakraborty from learning how to speak in alternate ways and imparting the same skill to patients struggling with laryngeal cancer. "He taught patients for almost 44 years," says Shiboprosad.

 Konttho directors Nandita Roy, Shiboprosad Mukherjee on bringing to life characters that are sensitive — and flawed

Nandita Roy (left) with Shiboprosad Mukherjee

On Shiboprosad being the protagonist, Nandita reveals that almost 20 years ago, her love for Bengali veteran actor Soumitra Chatterjee initially inspired her to write the story. Gradually, with time, on noticing Shiboprosad's involvement with the project, Nandita realised that he could best do justice to the role.

Having directed, acted and penned the dialogues for Konttho, Shiboprosad was an integral part of the project right from its genesis. Being a narrative about a cancer survivor, most would expect grim, dark, sorrowful stories, but Roy and Mukherjee inculcate their signature style, adding a dash of humour and a feel-good factor to Konttho. This was a purposeful move.

"Moreover, the patients we met were 200 percent more enthusiastic as compared to us. No one spoke about being sad or depressed. In fact, in the film, when Paran Bandopadhyay's character says — 'The only regret I now have is that I cannot hurl curses at the traffic police' — it's an inspiration from real life. There was this other patient who joked saying, 'Suffocating me with a pillow will be a vain exercise now,' (since laryngectomy patients breathe through their necks)." Arjun's portrayal, both Roy and Mukherjee insist, was a mere reflection of the optimism they witnessed while researching for the film.

Shiboprosad also plays Konttho's protagonist, Arjun Mallik, a survivor of l laryngeal cancer a

Shiboprosad also plays Konttho's protagonist, Arjun Mallik, a survivor of laryngeal cancer

Konttho immerses itself into the main MacGuffin completely. Arjun's entire journey post laryngectomy is depicted in excruciating detail; to a point where audiences are bound to congratulate the makers on their effort to stay authentic.

Nandita states that the research behind Konttho took more than two years. Several visits to doctors and speech pathologists, along with personal interactions with families of survivors, provided level grounds for the creative team to step in and build a heartwarming story. "There wasn't a single shot in the film where a speech specialist was not present. When we were first invited to Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai, head and neck cancer surgeon Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi confessed that despite his initial reservations with the concept, he was elated to see what Konttho managed to achieve," says Shiboprosad.

Noted Bangladeshi actress Jaya Ahsan brings in a complementary narrative tone to Arjun's arc in the film. Playing Romilla, she deftly guides Arjun into the light, to become a more confident, free-spirited soul.

The film genuinely tries to portray the difficulties of a 40-year-old man, suddenly shoved into unfamiliar territories. Arjun is denied basic necessities like water (as part of need-block therapy); is bereft of a loving wife's (played by Paoli Dam) comfort and is suddenly informed that he would have to begin his lessons by learning the alphabet again. "For Arjun to grow, he needed not just a doctor's guidance, but a counselor's support. Romilla then had to become a friend and foe (when the need arose)," says Mukherjee.

Shiboprosad with Jaya Ahsan (right)

Shiboprosad with Jaya Ahsan (right)

"Romilla's character was completely Nandita di's idea." "When Romilla takes Arjun to the market, it's to ensure he rids himself of all inhibitions. But, simultaneously, she could not make Arjun aware of this fact as that would just make him more conscious. This balance of showing but not telling was essential to reach. Jaya had been briefed about this prior to filming and I think she's done a brilliant job at it," adds Nandita.

Pritha, Arjun's doting wife, also stands as an unflinching support system, carefully walking him through trying times. Paoli brings in a sense of understated charm to her role in Konttho. As his treatment begins showing results, Romilla's overt affection towards Arjun starts irking Pritha's otherwise secure self.

Pritha (left, played by Paoli Dam) with Arjun

Pritha (left, played by Paoli Dam) with Arjun

As long as the film hints at this disturbance, the narrative flows smoothly. But, when Pritha confronts Romilla about the latter's growing fondness for Arjun, audiences squirm in discomfort. This uneasiness arises from the fact that a confrontational sequence buries the subtle undertone that Konttho was reveling in, till that moment. But what stands out in the scenes is Nandita's character treatment. The two women open up about their feelings for one man. While Pritha accuses Romilla and admits her inability to share her husband, Romilla responds by doffing her hat to Pritha's undying love for Arjun. Such mature handling is not a frequent affair in Bengali cinema.

Shiboprosad reveals that Nandita made him write the particular scene almost four to five times since he was unable to accurately capture the women's emotions in the beginning. "I thought it was important that they (Pritha and Romilla) talk about it. Contemporary cinema deals with interpersonal bonds in a very mature manner, and I had to show that in our film," says Nandita.

Clearly, being connoisseurs of human relationships, Nandita and Shiboprosad have fleshed out a film with a beating heart. The labour of their love in Konttho is sure to bring a smile in the most daunting times.

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Updated Date: May 14, 2019 15:51:51 IST