Director Alankrita Shrivastava explores sisterhood, sexuality, and breaking free in her latest film on Netflix
Once in a while, a film comes and shakes you out of a misplaced reverie that Bollywood is all about song and dance, inconsequential plots, larger-than-life characters, and silly storylines.
But if you see the name Alankrita Shrivastava as the director as the credits roll, you know, that like her earlier film, Lipstick Under My Burkha, this one too is likely to spark off conversations, debates, and make you think deep.
Konkona Sen and Alankrita Shrivastava
Her latest, Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare, that recently released on Netflix doesn’t disappoint viewers in that direction. It’s an evolving tale of two cousins, Dolly and Kitty, as they traverse life in Greater Noida along with their dreams, insecurities, and finally their awakening.
Played by Konkona Sen Sharma and Bhumi Pednekar, Dolly and Kitty, while being contrasts are also similar in their need for acceptance and breaking free from the shackles of a patriarchal society.
The future is female
The movie mirrors Alankrita’s earlier film in its portrayal of strong female characters.
Bhumi Pednekar as Kitty in a scene from the film, Dolly, Kitty Aur Chamakte Sitare
In a conversation with HerStory, the director tells us how she conceptualised the two characters and their evolution throughout the film.
“Dolly and Kitty emerged more from the space of Greater Noida. I am a bit familiar with the space as my mother has invested in a property there. I was fascinated by the kind of urban structures that never seem to be finishing but had people with a lot of optimism about the area. Also, there are many call centres, and I thought of Kitty as a girl who might have come to Noida thinking she’s going to Delhi and actually finding it’s not Delhi,” she says.
For Alankrita, it was interesting to explore the lives of women in a space that is not constructed or ready, rather a work in progress.
“I feel both Dolly and Kitty are both works in progress, they are both trying to find themselves, and that was a nice metaphoric connect, she adds.
Konkona Sen as Dolly in a scene from the film
As the movie progresses, we see the sisters come into their own and understand each other better than they did in the beginning. So, is it all about finding solidarity in sisterhood?
Alankrita says it was not a conscious decision for the characters to evolve the way they did.
“It’s not so simple. We don’t always encourage our sisters or friends to follow their dreams. There’s so much of inherent patriarchy that we do tend to pass moral judgements on other women who are not understanding of other women taking a step forward. Maybe it’s because it makes us aware of the prisons we are in. For a long time, Dolly cannot see that she is not in a free and happy space.”
In the film, Dolly and Kitty’s dilemmas are very internal, whether it’s the former acknowledging her husband is a cheat or the latter taking up work that’s uncomfortable. But in the end, practicality overrides emotions as the sisters discover themselves.
Konkona Sen Sharma as Dolly and Bhumi Pednekar as Kitty slip into their roles with ease and a feistiness that takes your breath away.
Did she always have the two in mind while writing the film?
“I first went to Bhumi with Kitty’s role as she has a very beautiful quality of being innocent and honest, while being very emotive. I needed an actor who could portray a lot of conflicts with her facial expressions as she is on the phone most of the time. She reacted very beautifully to the script and agreed immediately. Konkona is a friend and while we were at the salon, I gave her the script to read for feedback, and then asked her whether she would like to do the role. I don’t think anyone else would have played Dolly and Kitty so beautifully,” she says.
Dolly has a very huge journey in the film, she starts off as chirpy and excitable and then quietens down. According to Alankrita, Konkona conveys the flightiness of Dolly’s exterior with the haunting baggage of the interior in a way no one else can.
Like Lipstick Under My Burka, Dolly Kitty is also all about desire and recognising one’s sexuality. As the story progresses, Dolly doesn’t go by the society’s mores. Are women expressing their sexuality becoming a part of the Indian filmscape or is there still a long way to go?
Alankrita disagrees. “I feel it's not actually part of the landscape of the popular Hindi film, we don't really see too much of women and the complexity that they solve. We are not taught to own our bodies; we are taught they are for the purpose of serving the men.”
“But I'm glad that you know there is space today to make a film like Dolly Kitty and have people watch it and react to it and at least think about these things because you know, we always assume marriage is a sanction for the woman to continue to serve the man and that's not true.
"Women who want to put their own needs first are always looked at as being selfish, ambitious or bitchy. We need to take a step back, and break away from that kind of boxing in,” she adds.
The response to the film has been overwhelming. Alankrita says nothing prepared for the intensity of emotions and reactions of people after watching Dolly Kitty. She has received umpteen messages from people saying they loved the Greater Noida track or how queer people have been represented.
Lipstick Under My Burka faced a certain kind of backlash, and did Alankrita anticipate any challenges with Dolly Kitty…?
The new age-director is both practical and pragmatic in her approach to filmmaking.
“I try not to think about what's going to happen later. I start thinking about the audience and their reactions, I'll not be able to write or make what I want to. As a filmmaker, I believe I must be true to my thoughts, conviction, and whatever opposition comes, one has to face it,” she says, as she signs off.