the LEADERS report attempts to locate answers to the consistent failure of India’s film industry to make the cut at Cannes Film Fest, year after year after year
The American Oscars may be the most glamorous show on earth but the Cannes Film Festival – founded in 1939 – remains an annual, classy event, playing out in the small resort in the south of France and retaining its [snooty] eminence, hymned and celebrated by both magicians of the youngest art form and hawk-eyed merchants. To the evolved and informed, the ambitious and aspirational Cannes continue to represent a seamless blend of high art and sharp commerce, with large dollops of oooh-la-la exotic glamour thrown in between – a spectacular platform where mystique meets moolah to salute the finest of world cinema with the sea, sand and the sun providing the divine backdrop. It makes the event a matchless fortnightly carnival for the film fraternity and enthusiasts alike.
As the 67th edition of the fest bid adieu, late last month, India – as usual – returned empty-handed! However, the blimp in the radar was provided by Yash Raj Films’ newly established foreign arm – manned by younger son, Uday Chopra – in the shape of their first co-production, the ambitious Grace of Monaco. Starring Award-winning star Nicole Kidman in the title role, the film opened the fest to mixed reviews and reactions. The other Yash Raj offering was Titli – allegedly reminiscent of Godfather – partnering Dibakar Banerjee Productions. A gifted, starters cast of Ranvir Shorey, Amit S and debutante Shashank Arora, directed by Kanu Behl – Banerjee believed that “Titli’s response, reactions and success at Cannes is the way forward for Indian Cinema. Hot new talents, one of India’s biggest studios and an independent production house pooled their collective strength to offer a raw, intense yet universally relatable narrative celebrating – not conventional Bollywood – but India’s version of world cinema.” While no great, earth-shaking reports have yet filtered in, these two initiatives need to be lauded and are indeed noteworthy. Incidentally, in recent times, at least two other films played in this – Uncertain Regard – section Udaan (2010) and Lunchbox (2013). Sadly, despite our loud and noisy annual outing to Cannes every year from 1946, there has not been more than 7 occasions that our films have been awarded or honoured. Also, the highest honour, Palme d’or was last given to an Indian film in 1956: Satyajit Ray for the first instalment of his magical Apu trilogy, Pather Panchali. Today, despite the media’s hysterical reports, the truth is that beside the glitzy media-driven ramp-shows and photo-op Red-Carpet sashaying of Aishwarya Rai and Sonam Kapoor [courtesy L’oreal] or Mallika Sherawat’s titillating poses with Jackie Chan a few years ago, nothing of any real worth appears to have come out from the fest. The last film to legitimately enter the competitive section and win a prize [Camera d’or] was Murali Nayar’s Marana Simhasanam in 1999. So, effectively, beyond the odd good reviews, it has been 58 years since the top award came India’s way and 15 years since any award was presented to India. Why?
There are two schools of thought offering reasons. One believes that it has basically to do with the way the Indian sensibilities, thoughts and beliefs work. India’s is a 5,000-year-old civilization, deeply rooted in tradition and philosophy. Despite the aggressive march of globalisation and consumerism, we have been taught, conditioned and programmed to believe that it’s not the winning or losing that’s important but the spirit of participating. Also, relentless and dedicated hard work without hankering or expecting rewards is another popular and cherished mantra. So, not being competitive comes naturally to us!
The other section – less philosophical, more pragmatic, grounded and real – reckon it’s a simple case of not being able to match up to the gold standards of world cinema. A chronic disability to produce material that is unique yet universal, edgy yet relatable like what I am and China unspool with such startling ease and effect. A cinematic narrative that scores big on story-telling with a soul that is all-embracing. This lot is convinced that it also has a lot to do with the vulgar ‘Bollywoodisation’ of India, their mesmeric hold on their fans leading to a self-absorbed sense of complacence, further compounded by their inane and vacuous award epidemic, catering to vested interest and mass appeal. It is a template that seldom allows any other genre, peeping space. Sure, there have been exceptions in recent times, but can they match [in number, scale, star-power or budget] the blockbuster offerings from Bollywood? Cannes recognises this phenomenon and the model but has neither time nor space to accommodate this brand in their scheme of things. Too loud, long and bizarre! Exotica, at best. Mindless, hi-pitched melodrama, at worst! This lot point to a recent time when Ray’s Charulata – a film made 50 years ago – played at Cannes to a packed house and thunderous, standing ovation, exhibiting an example of world cinema that is timeless, borderless, a moving commentary celebrating the triumph of the human spirit …
At the end of the day, isn’t it a pity that a nation that produces the largest number of films in the world and has a wealth of talent continues to return home empty handed year after year after year due to their inability to read the writing on the wall and learning from them? As new winds of change blow across India, will 2015 be different? Will the good days be a reality? Let’s wait and watch.