Science fiction writer Mukul Sharma opens the door wearing a t-shirt that says, “I don’t suffer from insanity. I enjoy every minute of it.” “I was wearing something more interesting but my daughter said not to. You see, it had a dirty word,” says Sharma. By “daughter”, he means Promila Pradhan, who played a small but strong role in A Death in the Gunj, a film by Sharma’s other daughter, Konkona Sensharma. A Death in the Gunj was based on a short story by Sharma and, after it became a critical and commercial success, the writer has been plied with queries about his works. He is now planning to publish a compilation of his works.
Sharma’s home in Gurgaon, where he lives and writes, offers a 15th floor view of grey high-rises. “The outdoor is s**t except in winter, when the fog or the smog covers everything else, and we have a sensation of floating,” he adds. Not outside but within is where Mukul looks for stories and inspiration. “It’s in the head,” he says.
A Death in the Gunj, as he wrote it, was more supernatural and featured a vengeful ghost. The film has no ghost but retains the narrative of a family’s year-end holiday in McCluskieganj that goes all wrong. “It is inspired by two real-life events, in which two people died. Om Puri and Tanuja play my parents, who had a home in McCluskieganj, which Aparna (Sen, his ex-wife) and I used to visit,” says Sharma . Nandu, the family man in the film, is based on Sharma . “I had a blue ambassador like the one that Nandu drives in the film,” says the writer.
As soon as he writes a story, he gets it published in a journal in India or abroad. “It also happens that I write stories and people take them and want to make them into films,” says Sharma. Vishal Bhardwaj bought three of his stories five years ago, of which Ek Thi Dayan hit the screens in 2013. The others are Dream Sequence, about a woman who dreams about waking up but can’t actually wake up, and Ghosts, in which a detective is trying to solve a murder when he comes across a psychic who says she knows who did it. “He doesn’t believe all this rubbish. But, she’s good looking so what to do?” says Sharma .
His writing room is a family workstation and contains, besides swivel chairs, a treadmill. Among the books on the shelves are Alice in Wonderland, A Dictionary of Mind and Spirit, A Dictionary of the Occult and The Oxford Companion to the Mind. He says, “I write more science fiction than supernatural. A story starts with an inspiration. Then, at some point, I sit down and think, ‘What can happen, where can I take this?’ Ultimately, a story is not about physics or chemistry, it is about human emotions.”
Ek Thi Dayan was inspired by the building in which Sen and he used to live in Kolkata. “We were on the eighth floor and the lift would stop at the ground floor. One day, I started thinking, ‘What if this lift doesn’t stop at G and goes below?’” he says. In the story, two children manipulate the buttons of the lift so that it drops underground, “to the where all the evil people of the building, who have died, live”.
Sharma jokes constantly, especially about his modern family. He has three daughters, Dona, who was inherited when he married Sen; Sensharma, who is biological; and Pradhan, who is adopted. “Did you notice that Konkona acknowledged all four parents in the film: Aparna, her husband, Binita (Mohanty), my beautiful wife, and me?” he says.
The son of an army man, Sharma passed through six schools across the country before graduating in English literature from Ashutosh College in Kolkata. His interest in science was fuelled by curiosity after he had quit studies. “There was a family business of pest control. My brother was looking after the Delhi division and I had to look after the Kolkata branch. How long can you kill cockroaches? After six or seven years, I decided I can’t do this,” he says. He began to write more prolifically for Kolkata-based newspapers and journals, from films to science.
Sharma was one of the first reviewers of Ghare Baire, Satyajit Ray’s film based on a Rabindranath Tagore story. He gave the film a good review but added that “the kisses were not convincing”. Parama was being directed by Aparna Sen and featured a kiss between Sharma and Rakhee. “Let’s see how convincing Mukul’s kisses are,” Ray reportedly retorted. “Clearly, he had read the review,” says Sharma, who also played a small role in 36, Chowringhee Lane, Sen’s breakthrough film.
At present, he is developing a story about a woman who tells her husband at breakfast that she has had an affair. “When?” he asks. “Tomorrow,” she replies. “Does that sound exciting?” asks Sharma.