Cannes India Make It?

It’s the year of Indian cinema. We are the guests of honour at Cannes, but do we still have the tenacity to conquer this formidable international film festival

Jas May 16, 2022

Jury member Vidya Balan dazzles at the opening ceremony of the 66th Cannes Film Festival. Picture: Reuters

A 100 glorious years of Indian cinema and we are still obsessed with all things “phoren” and “gora.” If it’s not the Oscars, it’s the Berlin Film Festival. If it’s not Berlin, it’s the BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television awards). If it’s not the Vienna Film Festival, then it’s the Cannes International Film Festival. The festival fetish is on and Indian filmmakers are running around this cine circuit in circles. This is perhaps a year, which, after a long time, will see a spool-full of films from India. After all India is the guest of honour at the 66th edition of Cannes Film Festival, that starts today (May 16 to 26, 2013) and has a tribute dedicated to it. But the question here is: do we have the tenacity to conquer a formidable international film festival like the Cannes? Agreed India is no stranger to this French connection. We were the winners in its maiden year for in 1946 “Neecha Nagar” Chetan Anand’s and kept the success streak on well into the 1980s. But then, it hit a dead wall. Bollywood witnessed one of its worst phases cinematically and it was reflected internationally.

Although there are Indian films on for screenings this year, no Bollywood film is in the competition section - the enviable spot. It lingers around Directors Week and Critics Week or the Cannes Film Market (Marche du Film): parallel sections running in Cannes that happen at the same time, but are not in the main section. Also Indian celebs that walk the red carpet are mostly there as brand ambassadors of major sponsors like L’Oreal. (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Sonam Kapoor)

Why is that in spite of owning a talented film fraternity, India still misses the bus at Cannes? “It’s because nothing sensible comes out of Hindi cinema. It’s market driven, star obsessed and commercial. Name one film that matches international standards in terms of acting, directing, intensity, depth, seriousness, powerful subject – we are still light years behind,” shares Ajit Rai, one of the first Hindi reporters and film critic to be invited at Cannes this year. Rai, also the curator of many film festivals in India (including those at Yamunanagar and Kurukshetra), feels Indian cinema is in regression. “We’ve had brilliant stories and subjects from filmmakers like Bimal Roy, Satyajit Ray, MS Sathyu, Mani Kaul – these were the people international community looked up to. Where are such visionaries now?” he questions.

A chat across the board with various filmmakers, and they apply a variety of logic to this vacuum. While one argues that India culture is hard to understand by foreigners, the other finds Cannes to have a Euro-US centric view of cinema. True, Indian cinema predominantly Hindi, is away from reality and panders to fantasy. It’s been catering to the masses, and not the classes. Barring a handful, its filmmakers are also not festival chasers per se because at the end of the day their competition is at the box office window. Their world revolves around a Friday release and making maximum moolah out of a hit. Other factors like clichéd perception about India on the global front, the colonial hangover Indians suffer from, lack of intellectual elements, originality and aesthetics, dependency on formulae – all point at the strong overwhelming existence of populist disposable entertainment. How many of us have visited Ray’s or Roy’s cinema and savoured it or seen gems from regional cinema? We are as ignorant of our own cinema as the world is. It’s time to look inwards, be proud and confident of our own product, to encourage and demand for more cultural promoters and proactive bodies like National Film Development Corporation and film festival societies.

It’s also time to encourage and acknowledge our own people. There are filmmakers shooting some of the most haunting and impacting subjects everyday, and scrambling for funds. How will they be able to pay a fee in Euros and send it to Cannes? Also, international film festivals have complicated rules and regulations that change almost every year and indulge in lobbying. There was a time when Raj Kapoor’s mainstream commercial films were a hit at Cannes. It’s not the case now for cinema changes trends and we are slow in keeping up with it. Festivals are also fiercely competitive amongst themselves, and have their own agendas and agents.

On the flip side, I say can that India should have its own coveted international film festival, become a magnet for cinemas across the world. We should create a hub, an exclusive one, where the best commercial films from all over enter and vie for maybe a golden tiger or silver banana leaf award!

Now Screening: India

We are the guest of honour as we celebrate our cinematic centenary, so it’s our films that will be screened. As a tribute, we have “Bombay Talkies,” a Viacom18 Motion Pictures production. Four films and one project have made it to various sections, making it a successful year for Indian cinema at Cannes in more than a decade.

Here’s a quick look:

  • Midnight Screening:Amit Kumar’s thriller of a directorial debut “Monsoon Shootout.” The project is co-produced by UK-based producer Trevor Ingman, director Asif Kapadia (Senna) Kashyap via his AKFPL banner and Indian film fund Dar Motion Pictures in association with Arte-France. International sales are handled by Fortissimo Films.
  • Short Take:After producing “Page 3″ in 2005, Bobby Pushkarna makes his directorial debut with a 15-minute short film titled “Zindagi Bahut Khoobsurat Hai” (Life Is Beautiful) that will be screened at the Court Metrage, the short film corner of Cannes.
  • Bazaar Bid:“Alik Sukh, A Tale Of Fleeting Happiness,” will be screened at the Marche du Films. Directed by Nandita Roy and Shiboprasad Mukherjee, the film is based on a novel by Suchitra Bhattacharya and explores the life of a doctor with dilemmas on the professional and personal front.

Critics Corner: 

International Critics’ Week, is parallel section of the festival and screens only films from all over the world. This year, Ritesh Batra’s debut feature film “Dabba” (The Lunchbox) starring Irrfan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui will compete in this section. A short called “Tau Seru” (India-Australia) by Rodd Rathjen about a young nomad in the Himalayas is also being screened.

Project Cover:

“Mumbai Cha Raja” director Manjeet Singh’s next project “Chenu” made it to L’Atelier organised by the Cinéfondation. L’Atelier invites directors and their producers to meet potential partners during the festival.

Party Time: 

The National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) will host the opening party of Cannes Film Market (Marché du Film) on May 16, 2013. As many as 132 Indian film professionals are attending the market this year including mainstream players like UTV, Viacom 18, independent producers like AKFPL and Dar Motion Pictures. NFDC will also celebrate the success of Batra’s “Lunchbox” at India Pavilion by hosting a cocktail on May 18. “Lunchbox” was part of NFDC Screenwriters’ Lab in 2011 and has been co-produced by the NFDC. The India party will be replaced by an official dinner by Ministry of Information and Broadcasting following the screening of “Bombay Talkies” on May 19, 2013.

Past Perfect:

India has been no stranger to Cannes International Film Festival held in France every year. In fact, it bagged the best film award the very year it started – 1946. Chetan Anand’s “Neecha Nagar” won the top honours as a feature film in the competition section. Cannes also found a favourite in Mohan Dayaram Bhavnani whose three short films – “Festival Time,” “Private Life Of A Silk Worm” and “Rajasthan N Degree 1″ made it to competition section in 1951. 1952 saw works of V Shantaram, M Ahmed and VR Sarma shine at the festival. 1953 was the year of Raj Kapoor, VR Sarma, and Bhavnani again. In the following years, Indian films made it to the competition section in a jiffy: from Bimal Roy’s “Do Beegha Zameen” and “Biraj Bahu,” Kishore Sahu’s “Mayurpankh,” Bhavnani’s short films, Prakash Arora’s “Boot Polish,” films by TA Abraham, Pittamandalam V Pathy, Satyajit Ray’s works including “Pather Panchali,” “Parash Pathor,” “Devi,” “Sujata,” Narendra Suri’s “Lajwanti,” to Shantaram Athavale’s “Shevgyachya Shenga,” Rajbans Khanna’s “Gotoma the Buddha,” Musir Ahmed’s “Taj Mahal,” to Moni Battacherjee’s “Mujhe Jeene Do,” Santi S Varma’s “Akbar, The Epitaph” by Gurucharan Singh, Shyam Benegal’s “Nishant,” Mrinal Sen’s “Ekdin Pratidin,” “Khandhar,” “Kharij,” Mani Kaul’s “Satah Se Uthata Aadmi,” Adoor Gopalakrishna’ s “Elippathayam,” “Antarjali Yatra” by Goutam Ghose, Shaji Karun’s “Piravi,” “Swaham”  - Indian films were making to competition corners, short film sections and shining at the Un Certain Regard platform.

Not only this, MS Sathyu’s “Garam Hawa” was nominated for the highest prize, the Golden Palm in 1974 followed by Mira Nair and Mural Nair bagging the prestigious Golden Camera for “Salaam Bombay” and “Marana Simhasanam” respectively in the 1980s.

After a gap of seven years, it was Vikramaditya Motwane’s “Udaan” that broke the jinx and made it to the Un Certain Regard at Cannes in 2010. Ashim Ahluwalia’s “Miss Lovely” too was screened in this section. Also, Shivajee Chandrabhushan’s project “The Untold Tale” was invited last year.

Kashyap Talkies

He Cannes, he will, and he is. Anurag Kashyap has risen the ranks and is now quite a mascot for the festival in India. A regular over the years, Kashyap and Kashyap-produced films have been doing the rounds and rolling eyeballs. He started out as a jury member and Besides his productions “Miss Lovely” and “Udaan,” Kashyap’s “Gangs Of Wasseypur” was well received in the same category in 2012, while his production “Peddlers” featured in the Critics Week. This year, Kashyap will be showcasing his new film “Ugly” at the Director’s Fortnight segment.

Jury Duty

The ladies on jury duty are Nandita Das in Cinefondation. This marks her second turn as a jury member after she was invited to be on the jury for the Cannes 2005 festival. Vidya Balan will sit proud in the main ten-member jury along with Steven Spielberg, Ang Lee and Nicole Kidman. Huge honour.

The guest List:

Who is on the guest list? Who is wearing what? Who all are walking down the red carpet? When it comes to Cannes, India’s current state of obsession is disappointingly skin deep. It gets lost in the razzle-dazzle of lights and shouts of shutterbugs. Before the films on board, it’s the guest list that does the rounds.

Vidya Balan in her trademark saree by Sabyasachi called Golconda Prince and another outfit called Freida Sanchita Ajjampur. She will be styled by Jayati Bose.

Mostly captured in Ellie Saab gowns, Giorgio Armani and Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla creations too, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan will be seen walking the red carpet with her daughter Aaradhya who makes her celebrity debut at Cannes.

There is the “Bombay Talkies” team including the quartet of directors – Karan Johar, Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar and Dibakar Banerjee. The new star of Indian cinema Nawazuddin Siddiqui joins them.

L’Oreal’s pretty face from India Sonam Kapoor too will be sashaying down the aisle in an ethnic Indian attire.

Because it’s also India week, almost all of them will be sporting Indian traditional wear. Including Ameesha Patel (wondering what she’s doing there?) who is wearing Manish Malhotra, Freida Pinto, Nandita Das and Sherlyn Chopra who we hear will be wearing seven different Indian dresses representing seven states of India over the week.

Decoding Cannes:

Of the thousands of films submitted to the Festival every year, about 50 feature films and 30 short films are included in the Official Selection, the epicenter of the festival. A clutch of films are shows as opening and closing films in screenings of the Directors’ Fortnight and International Critics’ Week.

Official Selection has its own sections:

* Competition: Feature films and Short films

* Feature Films Out of Competition: films that Cannes recognizes but does not deem fit for competition section.

* Un Certain Regard: these are first timers, experimental, progressive productions.

* Cinefondation: Fairly young addition, this is for exclusively for film students currently enrolled in film school.