Directed by Konkona Sensharma, Lust Stories 2 is streaming on Netflix
Tillotama Shome plays a lead in Konkona Sensharma's The Mirror in Lust Stories 2
Undisputedly one of the most brilliant and versatile actresses in contemporary Bollywood, Tillotama Shome has had her hands full lately. In both her recent releases - Disney+ Hotstar’s crime thriller series The Night Manager and Netflix’s much talked-about anthology film Lust Stories 2 - the noted actress has impressed the audience and critics with her powerhouse performances.
In The Night Manager, Tillotama appears as a gritty RAW agent, named Lipika Saikia Rao. Meanwhile, in acclaimed actress-filmmaker Konkona Sensharma’s segment in Lust Stories 2, titled The Mirror, the actress plays an urban professional, named Isheeta. She derives pleasure from peeping at her househelp Seema (Amruta Subhash) and her husband Kamal (Shrikant Yadav) getting intimate in her bedroom.
This isn’t the first time that Tillotama has collaborated with Konkona on a project. She also played a pivotal role in Konkona’s directorial debut - the widely-acclaimed A Death In The Gunj, released in 2016. In an exclusive interview with OTTplay, Tillotama talks about her equation with Konkona, what she thinks about the portrayal of sex and desire on screen, her take on OTT platforms and more. Excerpts:
Q. The Mirror is easily the most well-received segment in the anthology film. Do you think OTT is helping to normalise the portrayal of desire and sex on screen?
A. We are very overwhelmed by the immense outpouring of love, and also how closely the audience are watching our work. It is very heartening to see this in the comments. Just showing sex and desire for the sake of titillation is more harmful than not showing. The objectification of a woman’s body is not just regressive, it is also boring. But if we can celebrate, discuss, disrupt, embrace the oddities of sex and desire, we can move towards a less repressive and less violent society.
Q. Playing Isheeta who quietly enjoys looking at Seema in the act must have required a lot of internalising. How would you describe the process of preparing for the role?
A. We had a very organised and inspired director in Konkona. She and Pooja Tolani [the writer of Lust Stories 2] made a very clear blueprint, that is the script. It is one of the best I have read. So, the preparation was actually really reading and re-reading the script and understanding the world Konkona wanted, and she had articulated her world so powerfully that I just had to follow the map. It’s absolutely wonderful to earn a script like this.
Q. In a recent conversation with OTTplay, Amruta credited you for bringing her into this project. You both also exhibited great ease and camaraderie on screen. How was it being with her on the set?
A. Amruta is pure love. You meet her and she embraces you with her warmth. I was very curious about her, and wasted no time in getting to know her and it’s been so fun and rewarding ever since.
Q. Many believe that your personal equation with Konkana Sensharma and the understanding that you both share kind of translated to the brilliance of The Mirror. How would you describe her as a director?
A. I’m not sure friendship necessarily translates itself to better work, because I have done work with people who are not my friends and I am proud of them as well. But with Konkona I feel she sees me in a way that very few people do, and I attribute that to our friendship. I also feel we have each other’s back. She is a reluctant, but wonderful director. Konkona is also a writer-director, who needs to have the kind of control over the material that she is directing in order for her to feel safe. Personally, I find it very exciting to work with writer-directors, because having a writer on the set can really free an actor in a way that I am only very recently discovering.
Q. You did a lovely film called Sir; played a twisted character in Delhi Crime 2; narrated the role of a RAW agent in The Night Manager and now Lust Stories 2. And all these varied projects are on OTT. What’s your process of picking projects?
A. A good script and a director I can trust are key. A director who is also the writer is a big bonus. A professional set up is obviously a given. It is difficult to be creative if you don’t feel safe. These are the most important requirements for me.
I cannot generalise about OTT. I am the quintessential late bloomer. And came into OTT platforms much later. But it certainly gave me space, after the staggering response of the audience to a completely independently made film, called Sir, which found a home in Netflix. It was all very unexpected and everything since is truly a big blessing. I was lucky to work with directors, who gave me the freedom to be myself, the space and time for all my questions and suggestions, and more questions with regards to the character. It has been two years since I got busy with work and not a day goes by when this fails to fill me with wonder. I am grateful to all the women I have played on screen; my life is so much richer because of them.
Q. What’s your take on the female gaze in a narrative? Or is it all about a person’s sensitivity; being a male or a female director doesn’t really matter?
A. Yes, it boils down to the filmmaker’s sensitivity and their ability to respond to the times. Of course, the optics of having more women directors, gives many women the much-needed encouragement in joining an industry that is male dominated. So, that is very important too. But sensitivity is gender agnostic.