Konstantin Bojanov: The protagonists in my films will inevitably be women

Bulgarian filmmaker Konstantin Bojanov talks about making his first Hindi film The Shameless, how Anurag Kashyap helped him, and screening the film at Cannes
Konstantin Bojanov: The protagonists in my films will inevitably be women

In one of the best years for India at the Cannes Film Festival, Payal Kapadia’s All We Imagine As Light features in the Competition section alongside the works of icons like Francis Ford Coppola, Paolo Sorrentino, Sean Baker, and Yorgos Lanthimos, among others. British-Asian filmmaker Sandhya Suri’s debut feature Santosh competes in the Un Certain Regard section. As does Bulgarian filmmaker Konstantin Bojanov’s third feature film and his first foray into Hindi cinema, The Shameless. Shot in Nepal, the film features Indian actors Anasuya Sengupta, Mita Vashisht, Tanmay Dhanania and Rohit Kokate in key roles. CE caught up with Bojanov to learn more about the film that he describes as a noir thriller. 

Excerpts:

Q

A Bulgarian filmmaker making an Indian film. How did it all come about?

A

I can only describe the entire process as utter insanity. I first began the project 14 years ago as a documentary based on William Dalrymple’s Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India. At the time, I was planning to cross-reference four stories loosely inspired by the book. One of them was about a devadasi, Reshma, who lives and works in Belgaum district of Karnataka.


In the winter of 2014, we began shooting the Reshma story. Two weeks into it, I decided to put aside the documentary project and develop a fictional story inspired by it.

I would describe it as a noir thriller. My goal was never to make a social drama or a realistic film. I'm not a realistic filmmaker. This is more of a fable. At the core of the film is a young woman, Nadira, who kills a police superintendent in a brothel on Delhi’s GB Road and flees the scene. She travels north to a fictional city where she takes shelter in a community of sex workers and assumes the Hindu name, Renuka. It’s a very insular community that operates by its own rigid rules. She falls in love with a girl who should have long joined the line of work, but she had an accident as a kid, so everyone in the family and neighbourhood thinks that something has gone wrong with her. Why make this film? I truly believe that stories are to be shared, and I am opposed to the kind of cultural xenophobia where stories are seen as belonging to a particular culture. I think stories connect us.

Q

You said that the screenplay took a long time to develop…

A

The biggest challenge was that I wrote this screenplay in English. Throughout the process of developing the script, I had multiple advisors. There are no Nepali elements, no European elements in the film whatsoever. The film is in Hindi. I met Anurag (Kashyap) when I was developing the documentary. We met in Cannes for 10 minutes and he invited me over. On my very first visit to Mumbai, I stayed at his place. So, he has been a tremendous help through the years with contacts and few of the people that were involved with the film came through him.

Q

You have well-known Indian actors in the lead—Mita Vashisht, Tanmay Dhanania, Rohit Kokate…

A

I had a fantastic, dedicated lead cast. Rohit Kokate was a pleasure. I saw him in the film Lovefucked (original title Jaaoon Kahan Bata Ae Dil, directed by Aadish Keluskar) on Netflix and cast him based on the complexity of the sociopathic, sadistic character that he plays. In our film, he is an aspiring politician. I've known Tanmay (Dhanania) for a very long time because of my filmmaker friends in Kolkata.


But the most unusual casting choice, not for me but for someone looking at the project from the outside, is (Anasuya Sengupta), the actress who plays the protagonist Renuka. The casting went on for more than eight months in Mumbai. Several very well-known Indian actresses from independent cinema were interested. But I kept looking at pictures of this woman on Facebook. She's an artist and a production designer and I approached her through the Kolkata group of filmmakers. I could see the character in her, and it's not just the looks, but the attitude. There was something about her. She was incredibly surprised; it took her a month to respond.

Q

Your debut feature Ave was in Critics’ Week in 2011, now The Shameless. What makes Cannes special?

A

The exposure. When you compare it to the other A-list festivals, it has a very consistent track of great selections. In recent times—may be long overdue—more diversity, more women, more directors from different cultures. There's also the element of festivity that I shy away from.

Q

Is it too early to ask about the plans to screen the film in India?

A

I know that there is a deal that's now being finalized with an Indian producer who stepped in the post-production stage. They are taking about rights in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. I don't know who they are. But I know that they have seen the film and love it.

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