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The Indian Cannes Sutra
The 56th Festival de Cannes has ended with its usual celebrations and a veritable feast of the best of world cinema. As for Indian cinema, Cannes 2003 is possibly a watershed: it marked the bowing out of 'government' from centrestage, and the hardselling of India as a top-drawer international location.
The government has finally woken up to India's huge potential as a location for international shooting. For instance, a team of 20 visitors to the country could spend up to a million dollars over six weeks, creating dozens of jobs in the bargain—apart from promoting international understanding of which, heaven knows, we need a bit. Visas and rules have been simplified and made competitive. Scripts from abroad will be cleared in three weeks, when they used to take half a year earlier.
There have been the Steven Spielbergs and Bernardo Bertoluccis of this world who had wanted to shoot in India, but were driven elsewhere by the endless torture of official dawdling. There is also this whole new crop of Indians and ethnic Indians abroad wanting to make films at, and about, home. Understandably, they have wanted to do it in dollars. But in the past, this has caused problems. Now, one hopes, they will be fewer.
There is the much broader and larger business of business—distribution and exhibition, joint productions, new technologies and, generally, entering the 21st century of mainstream entertainment. Progress began to be made two years ago when the NFDC opened a small seaside stall. Last year, Sushma Swaraj made her second trip for a government collaboration. This year, the thrust is entirely on private sector. It has made a difference.
It is the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) that has helped in this direction. This time, it set up a 1,300 sq-ft Indian pavilion in the Cannes market section and sold it to eight parties wanting to hawk their wares. The pavilion drew good crowds, there were meetings and video screenings. In all, some evidence of success. As CII director Tarun Das says, "My indicator is the satisfaction of organisations which bought space here. They report achievement of their objectives. Next year, we'll do twice as well and make India a really big thing here."
Stalls were taken, for instance, by Hyderabad's Ramoji Studios showcasing their extraordinary Film City. The NFDC printed a businesslike brochure on 'Film Resources in India' listing studios, pre- and post-production facilities and production houses. There was not an issue of daily festival magazines without its clutch of ads promoting Indian movies. They ranged from Dinesh Gandhi's big-budget Armaan to the Shahrukh-Raveena starrer Yeh Lamhe Judaai Ke , from Pooja Bhatt's Jism starring Bipasha Basu to Lemon Tree Production's Leela directed by Somnath Sen and featuring Dimple Kapadia.
There was a new confidence and bustle showing, especially during announcements of new productions and film screenings. Shekhar Kapur announced a new film Pani centred on a waterless Mumbai in 2040. Kaizad Gustad's Boom!, a fashion world-meets-underworld movie starring Amitabh Bachchan and a slew of supermodels, also had its debut screening here.
The trick for India this Cannes seems to have been done by professionals with contacts and know-how. There were well-attended parties, well-written publicity materials, and well-informed folk at the stalls—nothing revolutionary, just the routine, done professionally.
As veteran Bollywood filmmaker-producer Subhash Ghai, who is also in Cannes, puts it, "People have forever been crying, 'The Indians are coming!' Maybe we're here because we have learned our lessons." Ghai wants Indian cinema to market itself to the world on its own terms. But it better be swift. As Leslie Felprin, writing in Screen International, says: "This could be a make or break time for India.So much has fallen into place for it."