Gautaman Bhaskaran
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Cannes 2005: Explosion of Indian presence

The last few years have seen a virtual explosion of Indian presence at the Cannes International Film Festival.

Even some five years ago, there was just about one Indian stall at the Cannes market: National Film Development Corporation of India, which sold little, and bought even less. As for cinema, there was precious little as well.

While after a flood of prestigious movies that were shown at Cannes in the 1970s and the 1980s, the 1990s witnessed a slump, which continues today. This May, India, which produces between 800 and 1000 films a year – almost twice as many as Hollywood does - goes unrepresented in the Festival’s official sections.

However, this gap will be more than made up by a strong presence in other areas. Satyajit Ray’s immortal classic, “Pather Panchali” will open the Cannes Classics on May 12 to mark 50 years of a movie that introduced Indian cinema to a world audience and critically acclaimed appreciation. In fact, “Pather Panchali” won an award at Cannes in 1956, and several Ray’s works competed at the French Riviera later.

On May 12, Sharmila Tagore (who has been part of some of Ray’s great classics, including “Apur Sansar” and “Devi”) attended the event. But Soumitra Chatterjee (Ray's most favourire hero) and Sandip Ray (Ray's son) did not come. It seemed really sad.

Another sphere where India makes a mark this summer will be the jury. Nandita
Salma Hayek
 Das, the Indian actress, often known as a thinking artiste who has some interesting work behind here, including Deepa Mehta’s “Fire” and “Earth”, and Mrinal Sen’s yet to be released “Swadesh”, will rub shoulders with no less a figure than Emir Kusturica, and yes, French auteur Agnes Varda and Salma Hayek on the main international jury.

Das is the second actress after Aishwarya Rai, the former beauty queen and Bollywood actress, to be on the jury. Rai was a juror in 2003. Earlier in 2000, Indian author and Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy (whose “ The God of Small Things” created a sensation in the literary world) was part of the same jury.

Like Roy, Das will bring in her share of Indian respectability to the jury. She is known to be mature beyond her 30-plus years, and though pretty and sensuous, Das will probably underplay these traits to present an image of credibility that India needs as far as its cinema goes today, especially at Cannes.

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.”

However, the Cannes market will see a lot of India this year. One of the companies, In2 Infotainment India, plans a new theme: Bollywood for the World. The organisation’s Chief Executive and a regular at Cannes, S. Narayan, says that they will be showcasing some of India’s well-made movies, produced in recent months. Their market screenings will include “Zeher” (Venom), “Murder”, “Bhoot” (Ghost), “Mujhse Shaadi Karogi” (Will You Marry Me ?) and “Jo Bole So Nihal”.

Arindam Chaudhuri, chairman of the Planman Consulting Group, which will have a stall at the Cannes market, feels that “ there is a renewed upsurge in interest for mainstream Indian cinema all across the world. The Cannes Festival provides a brilliant platform for film buyers, producers, financiers from all across the world to sample Indian cinema & work out association possibilities. We have finalized 11 movies for the next two years, all of which would be be a treat for movie lovers worldwide. We hope to therefore strike necessary deals for taking our films to theatres and households across the globe. Incidentally, our productions, “Rok Sako To Rok Lo” and the highly acclaimed “Saanjbathir Roopkathara” will also be screened at the market”.

The other Indian movies that will have a market screening at Cannes will be Subhash Ghai’s “Kisna” (from the house of Mukta Arts), “Chicken Tikka Masala” by Harmage Singh Kalirai, “Matrubhoomi: A Nation without Women” by Manish Jha, and “Fifteenth Door” by Wilson Louis.

(The Cannes International Film Festival runs from May 11 to May 22 2005.)

(This story was posted on this website on May 17 2005)

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