February 21, 2020
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The Cannes Smirk

Indian films missing in action at a world celebration, for the fifth time

The Cannes Smirk
The Cannes Smirk
The curtain has fallen on the many splendours of the 61st Festival de Cannes, hot focus of the mind, heart and wallet of world cinema for twelve days. Of nearly 1,700 films that arrived from some 60 countries for the festival's main categories, just 60 were chosen—nothing from India, for the fifth year running. Some Indian filmmakers smirked. Did Cannes matter when so many of them were laughing all the way to the Mercedes dealers? And that, in a single smirk, is the problem.

Thierry Fremaux, the all-powerful successor to Gilles Jacob, iconic head of Cannes these 30 years, told Outlook, "I have not seen anything from Indian mainstream that's good enough for Cannes since Devdas. Nor are we convinced by any other kind of cinema from India." Hmm. But first the good tidings.

The Cannes harvest was as good as ever: Steven Spielberg with the new Indiana Jones, Steven Soderbergh with Che, (Guevara), Woody Allen and Wim Wenders, Roman Polanski, Mike Tyson and Maradona by Kusturica. Plus Quentin Tarentino delivering a Masterclass on Cinema.

For the jury, critics and audiences alike, old-fashioned cinematic values won out again. A good story, easily followed, strong screenplay, characterisation and performance were honoured at this temple of the auteur, therefore, of individualism, if not whim. But quirkiness, if any, sat in the jury's corner.

Presided over by Oscar laureate Sean Penn, the jury bestowed the Palme d'Or on Laurent Cantet's The Class, a decision that got support and sighs in equal measure. Class addresses the eternal themes of compassion and equality. Penn termed performances, especially those of the kids, 'magical', and they were. But top gold for the film? Amid the embarrassment of riches that this Cannes had attracted? No.

Principal casualty, in the view of this writer and many in the press room, was Waltzing with Bashir (Israel), directed by Ari Folman. It's a documentary that's almost entirely animated, hence creating a new form. It weaves a chilling fabric that never ceases to enchant out of memories of the Lebanon war in September 1982. Israel looked the other way as Palestinians were massacred in the Sabra and Shatila camps. "Of course, we'll screen in Israel," Folman told Outlook, gold earring a-dangle, "We are an open society. Besides, the film has government funding."

The elegant Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Turkey) won best director award for his Three Monkeys. He evokes marvellous performances from four principals and, as always, a great one from his camera.

The Silence of Lorna brought Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, the Belgian brothers, crystal and gold for best screenplay. They deserved more—as did Arta Dobroshi's wonderfully expressive Lorna. She won nothing.

A vestige of what you might call India interest came, oddly, from Singapore. In Eric Khoo's My Magic, eighty per cent of the dialogue is in Tamil. An alcoholic attempt to regain his little son's affection and respect by going back to eating wine glasses and swallowing knives in a story with a beginning, a middle and a marvellous end.

"The trouble with Indian cinema," says Derek Malcolm, a critic with the Evening Standard, "is that its filmmakers are so buried in their own culture". And no, he doesn't mean Ajanta and arranged marriages. He means abduction of the film industry's mind, style and methods by something we have made our own, Bollywood. Our filmmakers can no longer address audiences of other cultures credibly.

Sangeeta Singh, director (films), ministry of I&B, was in Cannes and sees a nurturing government role. "But," she says, "there isn't one voice speaking for the whole industry, offering the right and sufficiently developed proposals." She sees a strong case for the equivalent of NASSCOM (which has done so much for I.T.) in the film industry.

Jerome Paillard, the astute and amiable director of the Cannes market, feels overseas marketing of Indian films badly misses a strong sales company. In this connection, he says, "NFDC has done an excellent job of reinventing itself." (They have nailed six coproduction deals in Cannes).
  • Amit Khanna, chairman of Reliance Big Entertainment, declared that RBE will invest US $1 billion by end 2009 in production, distribution, exhibition worldwide.
  • RBE has signed development deals with the companies of some of Hollywood's top star talent: Tom Hanks, George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Jim Carey.
  • Eros International, major distributor of Indian products, and Lionsgate, the filmed entertainment biggie, have signed up to monetise their treasure house of films. In the bargain, Eros will screen European/American features in India.

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