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CANNES 2024 Un Certain Regard

Konstantin Bojanov • Director of The Shameless

“I am not interested in myself; I am interested in other people’s stories”


- CANNES 2024: The Bulgarian director takes on real-life traditions and ends up with a fable

Konstantin Bojanov • Director of The Shameless

First envisioned as a documentary and now shown in Un Certain Regard at Cannes, The Shameless [+see also:
film review
interview: Konstantin Bojanov
film profile
starts off with Renuka’s (Anasuya Sengupta) escape from a brothel in Delhi. She heads to Northern India, where she meets the much younger Devika. They find refuge in each other, at least for a while. Bulgarian director Konstantin Bojanov breaks down his latest feature for us.

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Cineuropa: My guess is that this Indian-set, female-centred story is not that close to you personally. What was your way in?
Konstantin Bojanov:
This is a very unusual project, and it began 12 years ago as a documentary. It was based on a non-fiction book, comprising nine stories from contemporary India. I decided to reference four of them, including that of a devadasi sex worker. In 2014, I started filming. According to their tradition, which likely started before the sixth century, prepubescent girls can be dedicated to a goddess. By “marrying” them to her, they are condemned to a life of prostitution. Much later, British colonisers started to complain about this practice. Don’t get me wrong: they couldn’t care less about these girls, but they just didn’t want to be confronted by it. Now, it’s outlawed, but no one goes to jail for it. It’s prostitution under the banner of religion.

Soon after I started filming the doc, it became clear that in order to do it well, I would need to move to India for years. Also, each of these stories would be in a different language, which I didn’t speak. I just couldn’t establish the necessary level of trust. What I did notice, however, were tender relationships between the women. I always approach my stories with a “what if?” What if a woman who is on the run, who committed a crime, fell in love with another woman?

It’s interesting to find out about these inspirations because the film is not entirely realistic. Every once in a while, you turn to dreams or pure fantasy. Where did that come from?
Social realism is not something I’m close to. Every girl who’s supposed to be dedicated to the goddess is told the same story. Some tragedy took place in their life, back when they were little, and the goddess saved them. A miracle! In the case of the woman I met, it was different. She did suffer a life-threatening accident and spent months in hospital. So, what if – again – another girl had an accident, too, and later, everyone thought something was wrong with her? In these communities, mental illness is not acknowledged. But this delays the moment when she has to join the “family business”, and it also explains her visions. I think they are essential to the story. Also, I am not stupid enough to make a hyper-realistic film in a language I don’t speak about a culture that’s not my own. It’s a fable.

These scenes make sense – in this universe, it’s easy to go mad. There is no way out.
The oppressiveness of this environment was very deliberate. We couldn’t shoot in India for a variety of reasons, and Nepal became the only choice. I went there and rewrote the script because Kathmandu is an incredibly claustrophobic city. There is no space! You may find it surprising, but Miloš Forman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was my closest reference. Once again, you have an outsider trying to escape their predicament, entering an insular community and rebelling against its strict rules. It’s a story of revenge, of sacrifice, of someone who believes she has no obligations to anyone but herself. And then she transforms, although at first, she doesn’t even believe in love any more.

She has seen it all and falls for someone who hasn’t seen anything. Were you interested in that odd dynamic?
Very much. Her arrival into Devika’s life becomes the catalyst for this girl’s liberation. Until then, she had only rebelled on a small scale. To most people, her mother may seem brutal and despotic. But she doesn’t know any better. The reality of what is really going on is much worse than what I am showing: the “first night” of these girls happens so early. We are talking about children.

When you talked to these women, while still making the doc, was it hard to convince them you wouldn’t try to exploit them?
One of the most emotional moments of my life, and I am not exaggerating, was when they said that no one had paid any attention to what they went through before. I have massive problems with “poverty porn”, and even that doc – which I might release one day as a short – was very observational. I never wanted that condescending point of view. I wanted to show human beings with problems not dissimilar to ours, but born into very different circumstances. They aren’t asking for pity. The last thing on my mind was a safari trip.

I am not interested in myself: I am interested in other people’s stories. But if this story weren't close to me in some way, would I have spent all this time developing it? It was insanity. I tried to walk away several times, but I’m glad I didn’t.

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