I don't think I ever left Kolkata: Anasuya Sengupta

'Kolkata is always home. This is where I will always come back'

63-Anasuya-Sengupta Anasuya Sengupta | Salil Bera

Interview/ Anasuya Sengupta, best actress, Cannes Film Festival

Anasuya Sengupta is still coming to terms with her historic achievement. The 37-year-old recently won the Un Certain Regard Prize for Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival for her remarkable performance in Bulgarian director Konstantin Bojanov’s The Shameless. In the film, Sengupta portrays the lead character of Renuka, who escapes from a Delhi brothel after killing a cop.

There are so many ways of thinking and looking at the world.... I hopefully will keep growing and keep going places. But [Kolkata] is always home. This is where I will always come back.

Sengupta is still figuring out what the honour truly means for her. One thing is certain. The sudden international fame, she says, will not change what she essentially is―a Kolkatar meye (daughter of Kolkata) whose athletic build belies the fact that she still relishes Kolkata biryani and mishti doi.

In an interview with THE WEEK, she looks back at her extraordinary journey―from playing a minor role in director Anjan Dutt’s Madly Bangalee in 2009 to the red carpet in Cannes.


Q\ How do you describe your journey from Kolkata to Cannes?

A\ Growing up in a regular Bengali family in Kolkata, [I always had an] inclination for arts…. In Jadavpur University, I got active in the theatre scene. It was through [my college theatre group] Tin Can that five friends and I got cast in Madly Bangalee.

But I had started working behind the scenes as far back as 2008. I was the most junior person in the team of an Indo-Australian feature film called The Waiting City, where I had been the DA [director’s assistant]. At that point, the 21-year-old me decided that [it was] enough ammo to move to Bombay.

I was the most junior person in the art department of Deepa Mehta’s Midnight’s Children. Very soon I also became production designer. I have been very lucky in working with not just people who I respect and admire, but also people who I was able to forge excellent friendships with.

But I still really wanted to act. I wanted to find newer avenues to express myself. It was then that I started making illustrations. Soon I realised that I wanted to leave Bombay, which was frightening because you can’t walk away after 10-12 years in the industry. But I relied on my gut. The growing community of artists in Goa gave me confidence to see life a little bit differently. I have been living in Goa for about four years now.

65-The-Shameless In focus: A still from The Shameless

Q\ How did you get to know Konstantin Bojanov and how did Renuka happen?

A\ That’s a fun story. Konstantin and I had been Facebook friends for years because of mutual filmmaker friends from Kolkata. I was familiar with his name because he liked almost all of the art that I posted. In 2020, I found a message from him on Facebook Messenger, asking me to play the lead part in his film. It completely caught me off guard. I tried to convince him not to do this. But he insisted that I read the script and, thank God, I did.

Q\ Renuka is a very political character. How similar are you to her?

A\ Both similar and dissimilar. Very dissimilar, in some ways. Renuka [has] a sense of freedom, a sense of hope; [she] stands up for herself and other people, especially women. Renuka is a lone wolf. [She] had a very difficult life, and hardship after hardship. I, on the other hand, have had an extremely supportive circle of friends and family.

But I also found common ground. Her revolutionary spirit spoke to me. It tied in with the kind of artist that I like to see myself as.

Q\ You dedicated your award to marginalised communities across the world. Whom do you consider as marginalised in today’s world?

A\ Any community or any group of people who are being denied their basic rights to exist the way they want. People who are being denied freedom, who are being oppressed by communities or other groups that are more powerful in number, influence or authority. I dedicated the award to queer communities all over the world and other marginalised communities.

2153350680 (from right) Sengupta, director Konstantin Bojanov and actor Omara Shetty at Cannes | Getty Images

Q\ What was your experience in Bollywood as a production designer for 10 years?

A\ I lived in Bombay since I was 21, and [I have] done a range of work. I don’t even know what would strictly be considered Bollywood or a little bit outside of Bollywood. I actually loved my entire production design career. What appealed to me the most, and what I learned the most, is that you cannot be a production designer without dozens of people. That, for me, has been the most valuable lesson in my life―that you work with a range of people like makeup artists, artisans, karigars, carpenters, painters and electricians.

Q\ You are based in Goa, but you still identify yourself as Kolkatar meye. Why did you leave Kolkata?

A\ I always say that I did not leave Kolkata. It was more like I went to another place, to another city. It is a big world, and I want to see more and learn more, and meet different kinds of people. [I don’t want to] limit myself. That is important to me. [I went to] Bombay, and then I left Bombay, but I still don’t see that as leaving Bombay. It was more like finding a newer pasture, finding a newer way to think. [It was about] giving myself an environment where I can challenge myself differently. There are so many ways of thinking and looking at the world, and so many different lenses that we can have. So I don’t think I ever left. I hopefully will keep growing and keep going places. But this [Kolkata] is always home. This is where I will always come back. My family is here.

Q\ How many offers have you received after the award?

A\ It is just an exciting spell of reading and choosing now. Hopefully, you will know soon what the exciting stuff is.