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Cannes 2005: Nandita Das on the main international jury

The Indian presence at the Cannes International Film festival is getting curiouser.  While the country seems to have resigned to the fact that getting a movie into the Festival’s official sections – Competition, Outside Competition, Special Screenings and A Certain Regard -- is not easy, India’s participation in the others spheres of the 12-day event is certainly getting stronger. With a vengeance, one should add.

 The question that one would like to ask here is, “should we be happy with this”. Any lay person would tell you that a film festival is all about cinema, and it is only when a movie is in the official sections that it gets a good chance to be seen, written about and marketed.This May (2005), India, which produces the largest number of films, about 900 a year, will go unrepresented at Cannes. The country has no movie in any of the official sections. Reports say that Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s much hyped “Black” and Ketan Mehta’s “The Rising” were sent up, but were rejected.  

Not very surprising, though. “Black” for one, is not even original. Besides, its gloss takes away much of the pain that the film is meant to convey. Where then is the novelty that Cannes selectors look for in a movie they want to screen in their Festival, arguably the best in the world. 

One wonders why Rituparno Ghosh’s “The Raincoat” was not sent. 

However, India makes up for this gross shortcoming in other areas. On the
Nandita Das
 main international feature jury, for instance. We have Nandita Das this time, who will rub shoulders with renowned Serbian director, Emir Kusturica, (maker of such classics as “Underground”, “Life is a Miracle” and so on), actress Salma Hayek, French auteur Agnes Varda, Spanish actor Javier Bardem and others.

In a handout emailed the media, Das writes: “Of course it is disappointing that there are no official entries from India. But it certainly is an opportunity to ask ourselves why this is so. While Indian films, Bollywood ones in particular, are becoming increasingly popular among the Indian Diaspora and beyond, it is probably time that we explored the full range of cinema, both in its form and content. I think we should be brutally honest and ask ourselves whether our movies are good enough for this level of international platform. It must also be understood that there are some films that show great sensitivity and artistic expression and are overlooked or are unable to go through the process that is required for submission and acceptance.” 

Das is the second Indian actress after Aishwarya Rai to be on the jury. Rai was on it in 2003. In 2000, writer Arundathi Roy was part of the jury, breaking a decade long hiatus.  Mira Nair was part of the Cannes jury in 1990, and eight years earlier Mrinal Sen had been similarly honoured. 

One would wonder here why Satyajit Ray, who introduced Indian cinema to a global audience and world appreciation, was never invited to be on the jury. However, apart from “Pather Panchali” which won a prize at Cannes in 1956, a year after it was made, several of Ray’s movies were shown in the Festival’s main Competition or Outside Competition sections: “Parash Pather” in 1958, “Devi” in 1962, “Ghare Baire” in 1984 and “Ganashatru” in 1989. 

This May, “Pather Panchali” would open the Cannes Classics to mark 50 years of a brilliant film. Ray’s most favourite hero and actor par excellence, Soumitra Chatterjee,  Sandip Ray (Ray’s son and film-maker) and Sharmila Tagore (who acted in Ray’s 1959 “Apur Sansar”,  1960 “Devi”, 1966 “Nayak”, 1969 “Aranyer Din Ratri” and  1971 “Seemabaddha”) would attend this inauguration.  

Interestingly, Cannes was not always averse to presenting Indian cinema. M.S. Sathyu’s “Garam Hava” (1974), Shyam Benegal’s “Nishant”, Mrinal Sen’s “Ek Din Pratidin” (1980), “Kharij” (1983, and it won the Special Jury Prize) and “Genesis” (1986) were also part of the Cannes’ most prestigious Competition. 

“Genesis” heralded a dry run: it was only in 1994 that Shaji N. Karun’s “Swaham” competed at the festival.  Later, Cannes saw Shaji’s “Piravi” and Murali Nair’s “Marana Simhasanam” and  “A Dog’s Day”.  Directors such as Goutam Ghose and Abiram Syam Sarma have also had their features included in the official sections. 

Somewhere down the line, Cannes appears to have developed a disinclination for Indian cinema. In 2002, the festival made a rank bad choice of including Bhansali’s “Devdas”. Most people walked out of the show. 

Here in lies the answer to India’s nil showings at Cannes. It no longer produces quality cinema, and with Shubash Ghai ready to tout his critically disappointing and abridged version of “Kisna” at the Cannes market this year, the reservation against Indian movies is bound to deepen.  

There is a pressing need for some soul searching. One believes that auteurs such as Buddhadeb Dasgupta, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Shaji, Aparna Sen, Benegal and Mani Ratnam among a few others have the potential to help India win back its lost pride and glory. And what about Kamal Hasan, Tabu, Shabana Azmi, Aamir Khan, Mammooty and Mohanlal landing up on the Cannes Croisette to send out a strong signal that Indian cinema still has the ingredients to create sheer magic. Maybe, they should be screening some of their better works in the Cannes market to offset the negative criticism that is bound to spread. 

There is still hope left, and 2006 may well be “another day”, to quote Scarlett 'O Hara in “Gone with the Wind”. 

(This story appeared in The Hindu dated  May 6 2005) 




















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