Enough with the 'Bollywood rules Cannes' blather
"Sonam Kapoor stuns Cannes in vintage-look sari and jacket," reads the NDTV headline, offering the perfect example of what passes for media coverage of the world's most prestigious film festival. Kapoor's giant nose ring may well have sent all of Cannes into a swoon, but sadly the same can't be said for our movies.
Writing in the Times of India, Faizal Khan underlines the bitter truth behind those glossy red carpet pictures: Malyalam film director Shaji Karun's Swaham was the last Indian film to be selected for competition for the Palme d'Or… in 1994! Khan writes:
The competition section of 20 films in Cannes represents the best of filmmaking in a year, revealing new trends and celebrating new thinking in world cinema. Indian films have regularly competed for the Palme d'Or, the top prize of the Cannes competition from the '50s to the '80s when a Satyajit Ray, Bimal Roy, Mrinal Sen, Shyam Benegal, Shaji N Karun or M S Sathyu shared the high table with a Vittorio de Sica, Luis Bunuel, Jean-Luc Godard, Akira Kurosawa or Quentin Tarantino. Today, the honour of being an equal to Lars von Trier, Terrence Malick, Michael Haneke, Pedro Almodovar or Abbas Kiorastami is eluding an Indian filmmaker.
In 1984, Cannes director Gilles Jacob personally called Mrinal Sen to inform him of a peculiar dilemma: two Indian films, Sen's Khandhar and Satyajit Ray's Ghaire Bhaire were in contention for selection to that exclusive list. It marked the only time when a Sen movie was not picked for competition in the festival.
Those were heady times. Now we have to settle for gushing over red carpet appearances of actors whose presence is not a measure of their talent but of the brands they represent; In Sonam's case: L'Oreal which in one of the festival sponsors. As for those overhyped Bollywood screenings in Cannes, Khan notes:
Now with that money and support available in the form of an industry, India's B-grade commercial cinema gets the Cannes tag by often travelling to the Marche du Film or the Film Market held during the Cannes festival to screen their movies in hired preview halls by the majestic Mediterranean Sea. With a waning official selection for Indian cinema, these market-bound films on DVD assume the 'screened-in-Cannes' status. Aided by a publicity machine that proclaims a 'world premiere in Cannes', the quickly-gained spotlight stays for a while, misleading cinema lovers back home.
This embarrassing reality has not, however, stemmed the tide of over-the-top, fawning articles, or the glossy images of B-wood stars next to the likes of Stephen Spielberg, Nicole Kidman, Tobey Maguire et al. If our news outlets are to be believed, Indian movies and its actors are the toast of Cannes, standing front and centre with the global cinematic A-list. Yet of the three actors featured in these self-congratulating photos of the Gatsby premiere — Amitabh Bachchan, Sonam Kapoor, and Vidya Balan -- it is only the last whose presence inspires any pride. At least, she is a member of the select 10-member jury. Not that we noticed in the midst of all the strum and drang over her fashion choices.
Big B owed his red carpet turn to a very small cameo in Gatsby. But it did not stop the grizzled thespian from tweeting his own importance: "For a complete alien in the midst of Cannes to be acknowledged, is the proudest moment for me as an Indian"; "The honour and respect meted out by Cannes, incredible. Announcing suddenly for Leonardo di Caprio and myself to open the Festival!"
Amidst all this self-promoting noise, there is some consolation in the fact that a number of the Indian movies to be screened this year did not have to buy their way into the festival. Bombay Talkies and Monsoon Shootout have been selected for an official screening, while Ritesh Batra's Dabba is one of 7 films in the running for the Grand Prix and Visionary Jury award. Anurag Kashyap's Ugly — as his Gangs of Wasseypur in 2012 — will be screened as part of Director's Fortnight, which does not however carry a prize. And there's also Ritesh Batra’s Dabba and Amit Kumar’s Monsoon Shootout which will vie for the Camera d’Or awarded for the best debut film.
This talented new crop of directors may well produce a Palme d'Or winner in years to come, and that raises the more pertinent question: Will we care? As a Firstpost colleague reminds me, back in 1994, when the Malayam-language Swaham made it to the very elite list of 20 films selected to compete for a Palme d'Or, no one really cared. "They were all too busy making a big fuss over Shekhar Kapur and Bandit Queen" which was screened as part of the far less prestigious and non-competitive Director's Fortnight, he recalls, "It made me really angry at the time." More recently, the 2012 screening of Gangs of Wasseypur was hailed by all as a great achievement. Few were as enthused by the selection of Ashim Ahluwalia's Miss Lovely for the more prestigious Un Certain Regard section -- described by the New York Times as "a kind of upper-crust parallel" to the Palme d'Or -- simply because it lacked Bollywood oomph.
It is fine to insist, as some do, that international film festivals and their awards are of little consequence. If that is indeed so, let's also please ban the Bollywood-rules-Cannes blather that we are forced to endure each year. If high-brow global cinema is pretentious, then let's not use it as an excuse for low-brow publicity for the likes of Sherlyn Chopra who breathlessly claims, "I can't wait to doll up in various Indian avatars to promote the epic film at the most prestigious film festival."
The 'epic film' that Ms Chopra will be unveiling at Cannes: The second trailer of Kamasutra 3D.