Anasuya Sengupta
Anasuya SenguptaPicture by Upahar Biswas

After the win at Cannes, The Shameless actor Anasuya Sengupta tells us why she is okay with her limited body of work, so far

Anasuya, a martial arts aficionado, has created history as the first Indian artiste to win an award under the Un Certain Regard category in Cannes Film Festival

If tenacity and hope had a face, it had to be Anasuya Sengupta’s. The persevering 37-year-old — who left Kolkata for the maximum city in search of acting opportunities after her debut in Anjan Dutt’s Bengali film, Madly Bangalee — had been working as a production designer and illustrator for the past 15 years until The Shameless happened. The film, by Bulgarian director Konstantin Bojanov, earned Anasuya the prestigious Un Certain Regard Award for Best Actress at Cannes, making her the very first Indian artiste to win an accolade in this category. In Kolkata on a holiday, Anasuya, a martial arts aficionado, spoke with Indulge at length about how this global recognition feels, her artistic process, what kept her going for all these years, and the road ahead. Excerpts from the interview:

Q

How are you dealing with the sudden change in life and the spotlight after the win at Cannes?

A

I feel it’s both changed and unchanged. I’m very much the same person, but this win was completely beyond my anticipation and expectations, so that’s a change. But it’s wonderful to see so many people genuinely feeling happiness about my accomplishment — it is a big change from how my life looked 35 days ago to how it is now, but it is beautiful and crazy. Regarding the spotlight, it is fun for sure, but I feel pretty secure and safe in the support system I have built around myself these many years.

Anasuya Sengupta
Anasuya SenguptaPicture by Upahar Biswas
Q

Did you ever expect the win while filming for The Shameless ?

A

Of course not; I wanted to do a really good job and was absolutely in love with what I was doing. We wanted to tell the story we believed in to the best of our ability; and I was extremely lucky to work with a fantastic team that had a fabulous cast, including Omara Shetty, Auroshikha Dey, Mita Vashisht, Rohit Kokate, Kiran Bhivagade, and Tanmay Dhanania, as well as my director, Konstantin Bojanov, who spent over 10 passionate years just trying to mount this film.

Anasuya Sengupta
Anasuya SenguptaPicture by Upahar Biswas
Q

Tell us about your character Renuka, and what drew you to it?

A

In May or June 2020, deep in the lockdown, I got a potential offer for a lead role in Konstantin’s film, and it completely caught me off guard. I was hesitant because I have been on the maker’s side for so long, but acting was sitting inside somewhere, and when the offer came, it just resurfaced. I read the script in one sitting and completely fell in love with Renuka — the woman that she was, it called out to me. I went from feeling really inspired by how powerful this part was, to feeling a sense of protectiveness, because I sensed a tenderness inside of her as well.

I think, the way I eventually approached the part was really how I wanted people to see the story, to feel even closer to what I felt when I read the script. I embodied her in so many ways. I haven’t been active in acting for all these years, and neither am I a trained actor, but I had the privilege of working with and observing fantastic actors from close quarters and quietly taking my notes. I wanted to prepare and perform in a style that is truth-based. Having said that, Renuka and I are completely unlike each other, and it was a challenge that thrilled me.

There was a psychological and emotional preparation and a very hard physical preparation, as well. Renuka is like a lone ranger, a street survivor and it was exciting since my life is well-fortified. I watched a lot of documentaries to educate myself, so that my performance came from a place of awareness, respect, and understanding of the character. I was running 2 to 3 km every day for a month and a half before the filming began, and I trained with my martial arts teacher

I am lucky that with Konstantin there was an immediate sense of kinship, and I had the artistic liberty to make Renuka look the way I wanted, even before the clothes and styling came in. For the rest, I relied on my instinct, tempering the character as I went along with it.

Anasuya Sengupta
Anasuya SenguptaPicture: Elodie Hamidovic
Q

If one looks at your acting career, there’s only your debut film,Madly Bangalee, way back in 2009, and then The Shameless, leading to this prestigious award with not a single film in between. How do you look at that?

A

I did not have too much time to reflect on this, after my win. I feel this was my journey, and this is how it was supposed to be. In hindsight, I feel, would it have been better if I started getting regularly cast 10 years ago? I don’t think so. I wouldn’t have it any other way than exactly the way it is. I moved to Mumbai wanting to act when I was 21 years old, and now, I don’t end up harbouring any ill feelings about why it never happened. I always felt acting would come my way, but I didn’t know it would take 15 years. I’m glad it finally did.

Anasuya Sengupta
Anasuya SenguptaPicture: Shashang Iyer
Q

How do you choose your roles on screen?

A

Good stories, powerful and interesting characters. I want to throw myself in the deep end as much as I can, and I am raring to go.

Q

How was it working with Konstantin Bojanov?

A

He’s mad to have cast me, a production designer who acted 15 years ago and with no body of work, not even head shots to show. But he’s clearly intuitive, individualistic, and a unique artiste. He came in with so much openness and feeling for the story and all the passion, dedication, and grit to tell it.

Anasuya Sengupta
Anasuya SenguptaPicture: Shashang Iyer
Q

What inspires you?

A

I get motivated by everything, including joy, happiness, sorrow, and devastation.

Q

You are an ally for LGBTQIA+ community, has that helped you in portraying Renuka better?

A

A fair bit, I would say. But even before being an ally to a specific community, it is important to be a person with adequate empathy, which I honestly think is the bare minimum one can do.

Q

You have so many tattoos — what are the stories behind them?

A

They were all significant when I got them done, and I really don’t have an exact count right now, but it’s beyond 20. They were all collected over so many years, and I guess if I had been acting steadily since I was 21, I wouldn’t have done many of them.

Anasuya Sengupta
Anasuya SenguptaPicture: Shashang Iyer
Q

Your fitness routine?

A

I don’t like being stuck in any one particular routine and love newer perspectives and a hybrid approach. I do yoga and meditation, as well, when my concentration is at its best. I practise martial arts, and I also go to gym. For me, three days on and one day off work well.

Q

What about your diet?

A

I eat nutritious food, and I like cooking my food. Being a Bengali, I often make daal bhaat (pulses and rice) for myself. I love Asian cuisine as well.

Anasuya Sengupta
Anasuya SenguptaPicture: Upahar Biswas
Q

What’s the first thing you start your day with?

A

A spoonful of ghee.

Q

Your fashion mantra?

A

To be myself and try different things that appeal to me and make me more me.

Q

If not an actor or a production designer or an illustrator, what would you have been?

A

A writer.

PICTURES: Upahar Biswas.

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