'There are times when you feel, you know: "Oh these are parents who committed murder".'
'There are times when you feel: 'No, no, the parents were innocent.'
'There is a fine line between guilt and innocence, which I found very interesting to portray.'
Unpleasant. Confusing. Shocking. Difficult. Interesting. Intriguing.
The range of contradictory adjectives Konkona Sensharma chooses to describe her experience of acting in the complicated, multi-faceted, film, Talvar.
Contradictions have, of course, haunted the 2008 Aarushi Talwar-Hemraj Bansade double murder case and it is not surprising they tail the actors into the film too, in which Sensharma plays both the murderer mother as well as the woman whose daughter's life and the meaning of her own life, are cruelly snatched away overnight.
The challenge of pulling off her complex role in this film -- recent reviews often speak favourably of her performance, calling it, among other things, 'heartbreaking' -- while often thrilling was equally emotionally gruelling.
Once she got into the skin of Nupur Talwar, not so much as a character, but more as one of the players in the investigation, Sensharma remembers finally truly understanding just why the intriguing Talwar case fed the nation's voracious curiosity from the day it unfolded.
In an interview to Vaihayasi Pande Daniel/Rediff.com, over the telephone, a few days before the release of Talvar, Sensharma recalls her work on the film:
I read in a recent article that when you first heard about Talvar and the role you were going to have in it, you were keen because you thought it was both an unusual and different kind of opportunity for you.
You also felt you were getting an opportunity to portray a 'brilliant' character. Why did you feel playing Aarushi Talwar's mother, in the film was about portraying a brilliant character?
(Starts off exasperatedly) First of all, I want to say that you should never take any interview that you read seriously. Most of the time I find that journalists don't quote correctly.
I feel sometimes like I am reading about another person. Like I may have spoken with somebody and the next day I am reading about it and it is like, wow, it happened to someone else. Sometimes the quotes are out of context or maybe it has not been understood, I don't know.
What I meant (actually) is that it is an intriguing case. It is a fantastic role. I found the role very intriguing, very interesting. Nothing to do with the case. I am talking about the film (here) in the sense that to play somebody... you can play somebody who is flawed or evil or good and earnest etc, but what was most interesting for me, in playing this part, was that there was an ambiguity to it (this role).
There are times when you feel, you know: 'Oh these are parents who committed murder.'
There are times when you feel: 'No, no, the parents were innocent.'
There is a fine line between the guilt and the innocence, which I found very interesting to portray.
Also I gather, from what you said in the same article, that you did not need to meet the parents of Aarushi, because you found that in the script.
Ya. But also because it is not a biopic, you know. I am not really just portraying the life and times of the parents or the mother. It doesn't really function as a biopic.
It's really an investigative thriller. It shows you the three investigations... it kind of upholds these lines of investigation, these different crime scene scenarios.
It is not really so much about the characterisation of a particular person in its entirety. So there was no need to meet Nupur. I actually haven't met anyone from the family.
Talking purely from the movie context, and the script context, was there enough in the script to make you understand the kind of emotions your character in the film went through?
Yaaaaa (she says very appreciatively). See this is then the advantage of working with (producer) Vishal Bhardwaj and his team. And (director) Meghna (Gulzar)... It was such a well-researched document. The script itself. The script is beautifully written. It is very gripping. It is very interesting.
Of course, the case has been very interesting. It is not an open-and-shut case. If it was that there would hardly be so much tension...
Whatever I needed I could just turn to the script. In case of anything else I could turn to Meghna. Between these two elements I was taken care of.
You also apparently consulted the Internet for more background on the case. Is that so?
Most of us knew about the case. I didn't follow it in very much detail at the time. At the time there was not such a proliferation of social media etc when it initially happened eight, nine years ago, I think. I knew about it basically. I didn't have to go to the Internet as such.
I think I may have looked at it at the beginning, but Meghna also had everything in the script. They had done their own research, which they shared with us and walked us through that... the Noida police investigation, the CBI investigation, all of that over the years... I barely looked online.
What kind of person did you exactly portray in the film? Are you the person deprived of justice? Or are you the evil mother who must have killed her daughter?
I am both.
Depending on which investigation is being shown in the film?
That's why it is interesting, that's why it is interesting.
Rarely do we get to play something like this! Can you imagine? In different circumstances you have to (elicit) different responses.
Which one was harder to portray?
(Laughs musically) It is not really one of those films which is about characterisation again. It is not about what kind of person so and so is, or what are the motivations, what are the traumas, what is the personality. Not really like that.
It is about what could have happened, according to facts, that are out there in the public forum for everyone...
It is not clinical. But neither is it a character drama. It is an investigative thriller. So it is about the facts and what could have happened, what is plausible, what is not, what are the mistakes that happened during the investigation, how could they have happened. It is really about that.
These are a set of facts and how they have been interpreted by the different investigations...
The evidence was so hugely contaminated. Evidence was so compromised... witnesses have turned hostile, testimonies have changed. It is about upholding and presenting these facts to the audience. This film is not trying to solve the case.
Maybe you do not want to answer this question. But in real life where does your sympathy lie?
Now I feel all the more -- after having done the film, read all the facts -- that you really can't tell (what happened that night).
Is it confusing?
It is confusing. There were times during the filming process when it was confusing. There is so much material available.
There is so much even within the film that happens, over quite a few years. 'Oh this is the pillow case that was found in Hemraj's room...'
'Oh no this is the pillowcase. Sorry that was a mistake. It was found in Krishna's (Hemraj's friend) room...'
'This is Hemraj's blood....'
'No actually this is not Hemraj's blood...'
'He was wearing slippers.'
'No he was not...'
So many things. It is confusing. I don't think you can really tell what happened because there are such chunks, which are missing, or witnesses that have turned hostile. Very hard to tell who did it.
If it was so easy to tell, then it wouldn't have this level of intrigue.
Now that you have done the film, would you like to meet Nupur Talwar?
Hmm... I don't know. Certainly, if she wants to meet up, then certainly I would be happy to meet her. Other than that there is no reason really for me to meet her. I am open to it.
There is no reason for me to meet her, now that the film is over. It never actually occurred to me. Now the film is over. If at all, maybe before but there was no need really...
Maybe just out of curiosity given she was the character you portrayed?
This kind of almost morbid curiosity about this case I don't have. This kind of endless fascination for: Could this mother have killed her child I don't have.
(Slightly exasperated) What I am trying to explain is that I was not portraying that entire person, that entire personality (in the film)... what are her emotions, what makes her tick, what makes her sad, what makes her happy... (I have) Not gone into all that.
If it was a biopic and I was playing her then definitely I would have wanted to meet her. But I am not. We are relying entirely on external facts, open to the public.
The film shows three different investigations that happened and each was quite plausible, because of lack of evidence, or the way the investigation happened.
So is Talvar, with it portrayal of the investigations, more than anything else a story about the way thing can happen in India?
Yaaa, I guess in a way. Yes, about this particular part of India. Probably. It really shows you how things work. Or what happened at least in that particular situation... You really wonder what happened and that facts are stranger than fiction...
So it is quite shocking that something like this could have happened?
... Many things are shocking. Shocking how the Noida police have handled the investigation so badly in the beginning. Shocking.
Shocking that the second body wasn't discovered till the second day. There are many things that are shocking.
What are the scenes from the film that you will stay with you?
Within what we shot: All of it was difficult. The police, the court, the jail, the investigation... Your child having died, whether you are guilty of it, whether you are innocent, whether you are an unwilling accomplice. None of the scenes were pleasant.
Having acted in Talvar, knowing with what authenticity the film was done, its outcome, do you think there is still room for another movie on the Talwars and this case, of an equally good standard?
(Longish silence) Possibly, possibly. I do believe on the same subject you can make ten different films. We see that happening again and again... Depends on the treatment of it.
If there is another film that takes an entirely different approach, who knows how that could be.