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Mita Vashisht at first said no to 'The Shameless', the film that got Cannes talking

29 May, 2024 15:05 IST|Sakshi Post

New Delhi, May 29 (IANS) Though she said he was a marvellous person too and would probably make a great film, actor Mita Vashisht made it clear to Bulgarian director Konstantin Bojanov that she would not be a part of the film 'The Shameless', recently screened at Cannes, as what he was talking about her role (of a grandmother) could be found nowhere in the script.

"He had not even given a name to the character. Stressing that I must do the film and come to Nepal, which I did -- going straight from the airport to his place and discussing the role for four hours, he did make the changes I suggested. Bojanov was extremely receptive and understood that for me it was important that the character be more nuanced and layered," Vashisht told IANS from France.

The film that earned actor Anasuya Sengupta the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival, a first for any Indian, revolves around the circumstances when, after killing a cop in a Delhi brothel, Renuka takes refuge in a northern Indian community of sex workers. There, she begins a forbidden romance with the 17-year-old Devika. Against all odds, they try to forge their path to freedom.

Vashisht said what she contributed was derived from her lived experience as an Indian. While being a European, Bojanov conceived the kitchen as a space of bondage; for the woman of the house in India, who controls it, it is a power centre. "She's the kingpin, you know. She can tell the younger daughters-in-law or sisters-in-law, not to come in -- it is her territory. They cannot come in. And this whole idea of old women smoking in villages -- there is no 'shame' attached to it. Go to Haryana, and you will see so many of them enjoying the 'hukka' after a long day."

Adding that the director was never snarly or snarky whenever she gave her suggestions, the actor recounted: "It was such a joy. He never said - who are you to tell me? I have worked on the script for ten years."

Talking about the film inspired by author and historian William Dalrymple's bestselling 'Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India', this NSD graduate admits to being a little apprehensive about the reaction of the co-actors to what had finally emerged of the grandmother's character. However, Bojanov put her at ease saying that they would be comfortable as nothing was being changed for other actors.

This was Vashisht's first experience of a small-budget European film. She recalled that, unlike in India, it is the producer there who calls the shots. "Considering everything is tightly budgeted, and there is a strict timeline, ours would keep looking at her watch. Of course, she was doing her job perfectly well, but I was just thinking about the producers back in India who sit silently, and directors take charge of everything," said the actor, who has done more than 40 films besides multiple television and OTT shows​.

Shot in Nepal, the actor admits that she is mostly sceptical of the "outsider's gaze."

"I am not sure if directors will like me saying that, but an actor's job also has to include a sense of sociology, geography and psychology. Sociology is very important for what it is. If you are a certain age and an Indian, there is an insight that you will always find they will not be able to plumb. It is just like living in Europe for five years and claiming to fully understand their deepest traditions. I do not say this as a critique of anybody trying to make a film from outside India. It is just that we are a very layered civilisation," added the actor, who directed the documentary film, 'She, of the Four Names' based on Lal Ded.

Even as Anasuya Sengupta may not be a 'trained' actor ("her trajectory has been completely different"), Auroshikha Dey is from FTII and the young girl, Omara Shetty, is trained in classical dance, Vashisht said that she makes it a point to make young actors comfortable. "First, I suss out the space, and then insist on rehearsals, saying that I am the one who can goof up. As a senior actress, it is my responsibility to put the other person at ease. In case the person in front of me is a little in awe or a bit nervous, then I just break the ice by saying, I tend to forget my lines, so let us do them off camera first," smiled the actor who has been since 2004, performing her solo play in English and Hindi, titled 'Lal Ded', based on the life of medieval Kashmiri mystic across India.

Even as Indian films have shone brightly at Cannes this time, Vashisht feels it is a positive thing that there was no institutional support, considering an independent 'voice' is much more powerful. "That is something that I truly celebrate because very often, the best work that we do is the one where there are no expectations of financial reward. Payal Kapadia's award-winning 'All We Imagine as Light' is such a tender film. And it was so beautiful how she took her team everywhere."

Talking about her Cannes experience, she said: "I just love being here. Interestingly, one witnessed a sense of enormous support for each other's work here, not something very often seen at Indian film festivals. Cannes has all the razzmatazz of marketing guys, people walking around who have nothing to do with films, and those getting photographed on the red carpet. But inside, it is all about great cinema."

Vashisht, who has been seen in several OTT series, laments that the digital medium is now going the television way. "Earlier, talent was encouraged. Now, producers are looking for star power and think they will be able to carry the series on their shoulders alone, not realising that the remote control is in people's hands," concluded the actor who sang the vocals with Shubha Mudgal for the theme song of 'Laaga Chunari Mein Daag'.

Disclaimer: This story has not been edited by the Sakshi Post team and is auto-generated from syndicated feed.

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