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Business News/ Mint-lounge / Features/  Counterfeit Kunkoo: Space Matters

Counterfeit Kunkoo: Space Matters

The sole Indian entry at this year's Sundance Film Festival was about a single woman's housing woes

The 15-minute drama, written, directed and edited by Sengupta, premiered in the International Narrative Shorts category of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival last week.

In this crucial and befuddling time of change, women on screen surprise us. As the modest pool of female writers and directors expands, their work proffers little nuances—an insight, a trait, a visual—that you didn’t realize was missing until you finally got to see it. These anomalies have ranged from a middle-aged woman who thirsts for pulpy erotica and much younger men (Lipstick Under My Burkha) to a teenage girl who basks in self-love (Lady Bird). A similar aberration rests in Reema Sengupta’s short film Counterfeit Kunkoo, in a sequence where a lower middle-class woman masturbates vigorously in order to reclaim her sexual agency from an abusive husband. “My grandmother watched the film at a cast and crew screening and I asked her what she understood from that scene. I realized she genuinely did not know what the woman was doing," says Sengupta, 27. “That hit me like a ton of bricks—so many women have spent their entire lives without the knowledge that they can pleasure themselves."

The 15-minute drama, written, directed and edited by Sengupta, premiered in the International Narrative Shorts category of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival last week, and is the first Indian short to be an official selection at the festival in 15 years (Heeraz Marfatia’s Birju was screened in 2002). Counterfeit Kunkoo’s premise, of an oppressed female tenant in Mumbai—also the subject of the 2016 documentary Bachelor Girls—draws from her mother’s embittering experience of renting as a newly separated woman a few years ago. Sengupta transfers that personal hardship to her protagonist Smita (Kani Kusruti), a taciturn woman who earns a living by threading imitation mangalsutras, and holds enough resolve to discard a violent husband (Vijay Varma) and slough off everyday misogyny.

With the exception of the film’s two lead actors, the cast and crew comprises Sengupta’s helpful neighbours, friends and distant relatives. These and other limitations of a young director on a shoestring budget may not be entirely invisible but are well concealed. What outshines an occasionally overwrought script is a confident visual language, which also permeates Sengupta’s work as an indie music video director. “We’ve made some unconventional decisions for Counterfeit Kunkoo," she says. “We decided to shoot the film in 16:9 as opposed to 2.35:1, and there is a lot of quadrant framing to highlight Smita’s relationship with spaces. This woman is cornered and boxed in—unable to claim her space even in a frame."

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