Interview | Manoj Bajpayee, Konkona Sensharma serve ‘Killer Soup’

Watch | Interview | Manoj Bajpayee, Konkona Sensharma serve ‘Killer Soup’

Ahead of ‘Killer Soup’, Bajpayee and Sensharma talk about working with each other for the first time, the nuances of comedic acting, and Indian cinema’s fetishization of box-office figures

January 05, 2024 04:15 pm | Updated January 08, 2024 06:11 pm IST

The phrase ‘one by two’ acquires sinister shadings once you know the basic plot ofKiller Soup. Weirder still, the series — releasing on Netflix on January 11 and starring Manoj Bajpayee and Konkona Sensharma — is drawn in part from real life. In 2017, a woman in Telangana murdered her husband, then propped up her paramour as her late spouse. What eventually gave them away was a fateful discrepancy in dietary preference – signalled by a bowl of mutton soup. The original criminals, according to reports from the time, took inspiration from the identity-switching Allu Arjun film Yevadu (2014), a sensational instance of cinema feeding into life and feeding back out.

In this conversation with The Hindu, Bajpayee and Sensharma talk about working with each other for the first time, the nuances of comedic acting, and Indian cinema’s unhealthy obsession with box-office figures. Excerpts...

Konkona, you’ve had some memorable romantic pairings in your filmography. How was it collaborating with not one but two Manoj Bajpayees (the actor has a double role, as businessman Prabhakar and masseur Umesh) in Killer Soup?

Konkona: Every time Manoj came on set as Prabhakar — wearing these loud, garish costumes, burping and talking loudly, behaving uncouth — I would get into a bad mood. But whenever he would come as Umesh, being a gentle, lovely soul, I would enjoy it. What was most interesting was when he would come as Umesh pretending to be Prabhakar. Some of my character’s resentment towards Prabhakar would come out towards Umesh.

Manoj Bajpayee, Konkona Sensharma in ‘Killer Soup’

Manoj Bajpayee, Konkona Sensharma in ‘Killer Soup’ | Photo Credit: Anu Pattnaik/Netflix

I had to remember they are not the same. What we want people to be like, how we actually perceive people, how their personalities make us feel, it’s interesting to think about.

A still from ‘Killer Soup’

A still from ‘Killer Soup’ | Photo Credit: Anu Pattnaik/Netflix

It’s surprising that the two of you have never collaborated before...

Konkona: Can you believe it? I have always wanted to work with Manoj but somehow we never got offered anything together. I am thankful to our director, Abhishek Chaubey, for finally making it happen.

Manoj: I’ve followed Konkona’s work and admired it from a distance. Besides being a wonderful actor, she’s a talented writer and director. It was evident in A Death in the Gunj (2016), her debut directorial, and it is even more evident in her short film The Mirror in Lust Stories 2. In fact, it was my favourite film of 2023. The way she etched out her characters and the interpersonal chemistry between them is just so beautiful.

On that note, have you ever wanted to direct yourself?

Manoj: No, the thought has never crossed my mind. I am happy being an actor.

Konkona: Also he has no free time (laughs).

Students in drama schools are taught about motivation and emotion. When you are acting in a relentless crime comedy like Killer Soup — as opposed to, say, a serious, slow-paced drama — what is your dominant frame of mind? Are you thinking more about situation and circumstance than the internal life of a character?

Manoj: They are equally important. The weightage is the same. My approach to comedy is that it all has to feel very real and believable and then all of a sudden, a fall happens. It turns into situational comedy. But you have to do it in such a way that it does not go out of the reality of a scene. It’s still part of the scene. Be it an expression, a gesture or a movement, anything can make a scene look quirky or comical, but that is not your purpose as an actor. Your purpose is to stay there, to be in the truth of the moment without making it too obvious.

Konkona: Firstly, I don’t usually have a plan on set. A lot of the time it is very intuitive. I like to make sure that I know my lines. I like to know what’s happening before and what’s happening after, and I just take my character very seriously. What is going on with her? What does she have to do? And I have to make it believable for me and then hopefully other people will also find it believable. In Killer Soup, for instance, I don’t think Swathi, my character, is out to either do crime or comedy. She has some other goals in mind, she is constantly problem-solving, and the humour just emerges from that.

Konkona Sensharma in ‘Killer Soup’

Konkona Sensharma in ‘Killer Soup’ | Photo Credit: Anu Pattnaik/Netflix

Director Abhishek Chaubey on the state of Hindi cinema in 2024: 
Life has become much harder for filmmakers like me post the pandemic, no question about it. Movies have changed. Till about seven or eight years ago, Middle Cinema was thriving. It gave rise to so many new stars. And that’s kind of going away now. Even those stars are doing these bombastic kind of films and and it’s going to come and bite us sooner rather than later.
...Even if this obsession with weekend numbers stops, I don’t think you’re going to have lesser hit films. Same number of hit and flop films will come regardless of the conversation you have. So yes, it’s become very difficult to make alternate kinds of cinema for the big screen. Furthermore, there is censorship, and it is getting from bad to worse. So it’s not an easy time to be a filmmaker for theatres for sure.

Manoj, recently, you said that the fixation with box-office collections is killing the culture of filmmaking in India. Can you expand?

Manoj: At present, we are focussing so much on numbers that even the audiences have started talking in that language. Is that the right thing? It has been personally hurting me for a long time because I am concerned about the state of cinema in our country. I have not been diplomatic about it. I have been putting forward my opinion. Of course, people can make superhit 200 crore, 300 crore, 1,000 crore films. But if that is going to be the benchmark of any film, then we are only damaging the cinema culture. And when you damage the cinema culture, you are damaging cinema and without quality cinema we cannot progress as an industry. Period.

...The people who are making small films, they don’t have that much resource to promote their films and exhibit them in so many screens. And they are making some great cinema and those films are doing really well in all the festivals. They are getting so much applause from outside. So should we consider them failures from the beginning?

Konkona: I’ve never been interested in the numbers conversation, frankly, so I just zone out when people are talking about numbers. And as Manoj said, even regular people are talking about collections. It all started with the 100 crore club frenzy several years ago.

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