‘Religious Intolerance, Casteism, Prejudice and Misogyny Are Sitting Heavily in the Atmosphere’ (EXCLUSIVE) : Cannes Title ‘Santosh’ First Clip Unveiled

Sandhya Suri’s fiction feature debut “Santosh,” which bows in the Cannes Film Festival‘s Un Certain Regard strand, has unveiled its first clip

Published Time: 20.05.2024 - 12:31:34 Modified Time: 20.05.2024 - 12:31:34

Sandhya Suri’s fiction feature debut “Santosh,” which bows in the Cannes Film Festival‘s Un Certain Regard strand, has unveiled its first clip.

In the film, a government scheme sees newly widowed Santosh inherit her slain husband’s job as a police constable in the rural badlands of northern India. When an underage girl from one of India’s so-called “lower castes” is murdered, Santosh is pulled into the investigation by charismatic feminist inspector Sharma.

Suri is known for her documentaries “I for India” (2005), which bowed at Sundance, and “Around India with a Movie Camera” (2018) and Toronto-winning and BAFTA nominated fiction short “The Field” (2018). The “Santosh” script, which predates “The Field,” participated in the Sundance lab. “I was researching things about violence against women and trying to make a sort of anatomy of a violence and I couldn’t find a way to do it in documentary. So I found this way into fiction,” Suri told Variety. “I had been working with various different NGOs and little towns in northern India dealing with women’s issues and seeing some pretty horrible stuff and thinking, how to tell this and documentary was feeling very frontal, I couldn’t find any understanding within it.”

And then the Delhi 2012 gang rape and murder that shook the world happened. Suri was fascinated by a photograph of a crowd of angry female protestors and a line of female police officers forcing them back, particularly one who had an enigmatic expression. “I was so hooked by this woman, I thought, ‘Oh, what’s it like to be her? So she has this uniform and this power, these women are feeling powerless, about even their own safety, what a gulf between her and them and what is it like to be her in uniform and out of uniform? And I thought, ‘Okay, that’s how I tell the story.'” Suri’s subsequent research led her to the Indian compassionate quota system where eligible dependents of deceased police officers can inherit their jobs.

The titular role of Santosh is played by Shahana Goswami, a seasoned actor whose credits include Tribeca winner “Vara: A Blessing” (2013), Locarno title “Under Construction” (2015), London selection “You Are My Sunday” (2016) and Busan title “Zwigato” (2022), besides BBC-Netflix series “A Suitable Boy” (2020) and Netflix series “Bombay Begums” (2021). Suri cast her because she had the “right mix of hardness and -

sweetness and anger lying there in a very restrained way.” Sharma is played by experienced theater actor Sunita Rajwar, best known for hit SonyLIV series “Gullak,” which commences Season 4 in June.

Goswami, who was attracted to the role because of Suri’s writing, which also included inputs from police anthropologists, spent time with real-life policewomen for the role. “I love the fact that it is a very personal journey of a character but it is also seeing the world through her eyes,” Goswami told Variety. “It’s the simultaneous nature of what I keep calling the bildungsroman of a character and her evolution, growth and change but while being able to see the world around and it being a neutral commentary on the world, and then you take what you want from it. It’s just a voyeuristic look at the world around us and holding up a mirror and you see what you want to see.”

“Santosh,” set in a fictitious northern Indian state, is structured as a police procedural but one with Indian caste and religion politics deeply baked into it. “I don’t make films for messaging, per se, but for me, it was about a type of place where these things just hang there,” Suri said. “There are places where religious intolerance, casteism, prejudice and misogyny, they’re sitting heavily in the atmosphere. And I was very interested to look at Santosh and think, if a woman’s coming from a house, maybe the household was her kingdom, and her reign was there. And then she moves into this place. What I was wanting to explore was about the casual nature of these things, and how it might infiltrate and how she might absorb these forces.”

The film is backed by the BFI and BBC Film (both U.K.) in co-production with ZDF (Germany) and Arte (France), in association with Haut et Court Distribution (France) and with the support of France’s Aide aux Cinémas du Monde-CNC-Institut Français. Production companies are Good Chaos (U.K.) in association with Suitable Pictures in India and in co-production with Razor Film in Germany and Haut et Court in France. Producers include Mike Goodridge, James Bowsher, Balthazar de Ganay and Alan McAlex. MK2 Films is handling international sales.

Watch the clip here:

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