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Cannes 2024 – ‘The Shameless’ – powerful and motored by a stunning performance by Cannes award winner Anasuya Sengupta…

Cannes 2024 – ‘The Shameless’ – powerful and motored by a stunning performance by Cannes award winner Anasuya Sengupta…

Cracking tale has potential feminist icon at the heart of the action…

THIS ISN’T a film for the squeamish and writer-director Konstantin Bojanov rarely flinches from showing the dark side of humanity.

It all gets off to an explosive start – a very fat and naked man lies in a pool of his blood on a bed and you know from that moment on – you are in for a rollercoaster of a ride.

Coolly departing from the scene of the crime, we meet Renuka (Anasuya Sengupta): thin, sharp angular both in appearance and deed, she isn’t going to put up with being treated shabbily by anyone.

Played with almost manic precision by first time professional actor Sengupta, this could well become one of the defining performances of this second decade – she is unforgettable and a modern Indian woman of our times – however much you may dislike her way of a making a living.

She might agree with you – if you came to know her life in its entirety and without giving too much away – towards the end of the film when we see her with her brother, we see those scars and how she has become like a lone leopard – stalking out prey of her own choosing and pouncing when the opportunity presents itself.

She hotfoots to a small town in northern India from Delhi and joins an established community of sex workers following her violent act.

For now, in the present of the film that has a chronological narrative, there is a level of safety.
Yes, this is her trade, livelihood and point of being, to get her through life from one day to the next – it isn’t any more complicated than that – and take her on her own terms and you will find that beneath the tough exterior, there is intelligence, tenderness, care and understanding.

This particular community has its own dynamics and power structure – Renuka quickly disrupts – and the disturbances will ripple for the rest of the film like a swimmer diving into a still but very long pool.

It is among this community, she discovers Devika (Omara Shetty), there is a vibe between them – older woman and young, innocent fledgling.

To be honest, we didn’t see the grooming aspect during the film – it is only later, on reflection – Renuka is much older but one could argue, wiser and knowing and crucially, caring.
Devika has grown up in a family of Devadasis – these are ancient ladies of the night – but the culture and precise status of these women is open to debate and goes back to ancient times.

There is a religious and spiritual element to them but for the most part Bojanov does not get into this in any depth but is mildly critical – and one wouldn’t read too much into it, even still.

Devika’s mother and grandmother and older sister are all in the trade and while Isha (Mita Vashisht), her grandmother does not have clients and is more or less retired, she does retain a certain authority, even respect among the community and these three generations of women live in what looks like a relatively prosperous and comfortable home.

There is a clear and obvious tension between Devika’s mother – Durwa (Auroshika Dey) and Renuka – with the former seeing the older woman as a malign influence and worries that she is being diverted and probably shown a different path, ie away from sex work. Older sister Aditi has already gone to Delhi to make hard and quick cash and is not around to protect her younger sister.

This becomes all the more critical when it is decided that Devika is ready – and is promised to local bigwig and politician Dinesh (Rohit Kokate) for whom money is of little concern, in this all important transaction.

To be frank, the overt politics is unnecessary and will almost certainly run into difficulties in India – Dinesh is the leader of a party whose colours are saffron – we need not say anything further.

Having said that, if it is important to the film and its overall narrative – front, centre and back, so be it. Be true to yourself above all things, we must say in an artistic sense.

This is a film that doesn’t let up and Sengupta is astounding and thoroughly deserving of her award – she is a woman who lives by her own code and like many in the trade (as is the stereotype or norm) has addictions and weaknesses and yet shows an indomitable spirit and is a fighter.

Watch ‘The Shameless’ for this – if nothing else you won’t be disappointed.

Picture: Renuka (Anaysuya Sengupta) in her place of work (courtesy Festival De Cannes)

Acv rating **** (out of five).

‘The Shameless’ had its world premiere in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival on Friday May 17 at Salle Debussy, Cannes, Cannes Film Festival (May 14-25).

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture