Diversity matters, says Cannes Best Actress Anasuya Sengupta

Showtime caught up with the actor during the thick of it all for a candid chat about the win, about representing India on such a huge platform, her punchy character in the film and much more.
Last Updated : 08 June 2024, 03:48 IST
Last Updated : 08 June 2024, 03:48 IST

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This doesn’t feel like a personal achievement but everyone’s,” says Anasuya Sengupta over the phone, feeling both grateful and effervescent about her historic win at Cannes 2024. Her maiden leading role of Renuka in Bulgarian filmmaker Konstantin Bojanov’s Hindi film ‘The Shameless’, won her Best Actress in the Un Certain Regard category, one of the highest honours at the festival. She became the first Indian to win the award. 

Showtime caught up with the actor during the thick of it all for a candid chat about the win, about representing India on such a huge platform, her punchy character in the film and much more. 


What’s the headspace like at the moment? Are you getting a hang of being in the spotlight?

I’m definitely getting better at it (laughs). I came back to India to nothing that I had anticipated but I am letting it all play out. I am surrounded by a very supportive circle — friends, family and professionals — so I feel well-protected and safe right now. It positions me well to learn the ropes, so to speak.

Did you anticipate anything like this before you headed out to Cannes?

Not at all. I was thrilled that my film was selected in a competitive section and that was really it. I attended the festival with the energy and excitement of reuniting with my director, the producers, some of the crew, the cast and, of course, to be at Cannes.

I have never been there before. But once our film had its premiere pretty early into the festival, I could sense that something seemed to have worked. People came to me on the streets wanting to talk about the film and my performance. While that was gratifying, I felt the praise was deeper in that my character had resonance with a lot of them.

Your character Renuka has the essence of a strong personality, doesn’t she? The kind one encounters in pulpy, paperback novels, if you will, who goes on the run after an alleged murder and finds shelter in a community of sex workers. 

Yes, but these characters are often male in our cinema or culture, isn’t it? For me, I fell in love with Renuka in the first reading alone. I was excited to encounter a female lead who is powerful and strong but with a lot of humanity in her. The only thing I wanted to do was bring her to life and make people feel what I felt when I was reading the script.

Another challenge was to make Renuka feel like she was more than the trauma she was subjected to. A lot of our stories tend to look at these kinds of ‘survivor’ characters and centre themselves around the trauma — of course, you cannot ever dismiss the pain, the agony people go through. But I wanted to add more to it and say that none of this is her fault. A huge inspiration was the fact that people like Renuka exist out there in real life and I was able to connect at a personal level.

I am guessing you also had fun while at it?

Oh, definitely! With the treatment and the narrative vision that the team put together, it almost felt like this character belongs to a graphic novel. I remember chatting with my director Konstantin Bojanov and telling him that we are almost painting Renuka as (Amitabh Bachchan’s) Angry Young Man from ‘Deewar’.

But was it a concern that Bojanov, a Bulgarian, might have an outsider’s gaze at the world he conceived for ‘The Shameless’?

As a woman and an artiste from India, the non-Indian male gaze you speak of was a concern. But I have to say that it dissolved very quickly and the more I spoke to Konstantin, we developed a stronger artistic kinship. And since he was making a Hindi film and didn’t know the language, he had to approach it with a huge degree of trust. It was an open, collaborative effort from the get-go. Everyone, from the technicians, the local crew in Nepal, and the actors, worked their best because they knew Konstantin had been mounting this project for over a decade. And they also knew that this is a story that crosses borders.

Coming to Cannes 2024, what stood out for you aside from the premiere and the win?

It is one of the biggest platforms and has so many facets to it — you know, the glamour, the celebrities, the red carpet stuff and so on. But what moved me was that at the heart of all this was the love for cinema and that’s the thread that ties everyone together. You have films of all scales and sizes but everything is embraced the same way.

And for India, too, it was the cinema that was at the forefront of things and not glitz and glamour. How do we make sure it stays this way?

The wins (for India) were across the board — Payal Kapadia won and so did Chidananda (S Naik) and Mansi Maheshwari — which means, diversity exists in our cinema. I sincerely hope people notice that being diverse is the way forward because it enriches not just the individual, and the industry but also the world. 

Published 08 June 2024, 03:48 IST

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