As the 74th Venice Film Festival wrapped up for the year, another year of the prestigious festival saw India largely absent.
The 74th Venice Film Festival kicked off in Italy on August 30 and concluded on the night of September 9. With a star-studded attendance and a number of films to look out for, this event was closely followed around the world. Among the big three international festivals, Venice Film Festival has seen some of the best in cinema traditionally, with a number of future Oscar winners being showcased.
This year saw a number of documentaries being showcased along with a newly introduced competition in the Virtual Reality section. Indian films were absent from this global stage, barring a film by an Indian filmmaker, on a theme based outside the country.
The Venice Film Festival this year screened the long awaited psychological thriller Mother!, by Darren Aronofsky, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem among others. Artist Ai Weiwei’s documentary, Human Flow was another screening that was anticipated, as it created waves elsewhere for its documentation of the daily life of migrants and refugees from around the world. As for the winners, Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water bagged the top prize of this annual festival, namely the Golden Lion. Other notable winners included Xavier Legrand, who was awarded both Best First Film and Best Director for his Jusqu’à La Garde.
India’s history of only showing a handful of films in the years since the festival has been running, continued this year. In the past few years, only a few filmmakers have made it into the elite stage of the Venice Film Festival, with examples such as Shubhashish Bhutiani’s Hotel Salvation screening last year and Chaitanya Tamhane’s debut Court in 2014, both of which won awards. In 2010, director Mani Ratnam’s Raavan along with Anurag Kashyap’s The Girl in Yellow Boots was screened out of competition.
Only one Indian filmmaker’s work was displayed at the festival this time, with Ritesh Batra’s Our Souls at Night seeing its world premiere as an out of competition film. The film, starring Jane Fonda and Robert Redford, is based on a novel by Kent Haruf, and thus has no ‘Indian’ element to it specifically, unlike his Mumbai-centric film The Lunchbox, which was acclaimed worldwide, including an award in the Cannes Film Festival.
India connect present, Indians absent
Another film connected to India that was screened at the festival was the Judi Dench starrer Victoria and Abdul by Stephen Frears, which stars Ali Fazal, an Indian actor. Here, Dench played Queen Victoria, whose bond with an Indian clerk during the colonial rule of the British over India is explored. A special screening of the documentary Burried Seeds by Russian director Andrei Severny, centred around celebrity Indian chef and Michelin-starred Vikas Khanna was previewed at Giornate degli Autori, which is an independent platform occurring within the events of the Venice Film Festival in general.
However, apart from these films that saw India being showcased in some way, the presence of films by Indians, themed on the country or based in it was absent. India’s presence, or lack of it, in Cannes this year was also rather disappointing, despite it being one of the largest producers of cinema in the world. As out of competition sections are still being accessed by Indian filmmakers, one hopes the competition sections of these grand film festivals sees some Indian presence as well.