The largest producer of films in the world, India, has a rather meagre representation at the prestigious Festival de Cannes with no official screenings on the charts. Even the government’s own participation is slim due to the general elections.
As the chic town on the French Riviera gets ready to unveil the world’s largest gathering of the cinema industry, industry professionals from across the world have begun gathering here. As has been the custom over the last few years, India’s principal contribution to the festival this year, too, will be limited to adding to the glamour coefficient of the event, and dollops of it.
The usual suspects – Aishwarya Rai, Deepika Padukone, Sonam Kapoor, Huma Qureshi, and Kangana Ranaut – are expected to walk the red carpet over the next 10 days. Amongst the newbies on the scene at Cannes this year would be television actress Hina Khan and film actress Diana Penty.
The film market would also have the standard representation of film studios and distributors from across India and of course there would be the customary market screenings. However, for a country that is by far the world’s largest producer of films, no Indian film has made it to the main official competition, keeping up a dubious tradition that is marking its silver jubilee this year. The last Indian film to figure in this category was Shaji Karun’s Swaham in 1994.
No Indian film has even made it to other sections like Un Certain Regard and hence the extremely slim pickings of Indian films are limited to some documentaries being screened at the sidelines of Cannes, away from the spotlight.
The four main categories at the festival are Competition, Un Certain Regard, Critics’ Week and Directors’ Fortnight.
Even the Indian Pavillion is likely to suffer this year as the general elections mean that government delegation to Cannes is limited and unusually low profile.
Focus at home
Instead of walking the red carpet at Cannes, Indian filmmakers seem to be laying the red carpet for political leaders, through their films. PM Narendra Modi, a hagiographic biopic on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi that was set to release just in time for the general elections and was barred from release just a day before by the election commission of India, is one such example.
Not just through movies, the film fraternity, particularly the actors have been busy becoming the faces of Indian politics with many joining the parties just days before the polling.
On a better note, India has been busy making content driven films, finally! There are now film that focus on social issues or even explore the art space. Films in Bollywood, particularly, are drifting from peppy songs or item numbers to social issues.
Why then is India lagging behind? Some critics argue it’s because the filmmakers, especially those outside Mumbai and the mainstream film circuit, are clueless about the protocols and even other international film festivals that may act as a springboard to Cannes.
India’s only ray of light
All is not lost for India. The only ray of light for India at Cannes 2019 is a young girl and her body of work.
Modhura Palit, a cinematographer based in Kolkata (east India), has been awarded the Angenieux encouragement award (given to fresh graduates from film schools with some independent experience), making her the first Indian — and first Indian woman — to be recognised in this category.
An alumna of the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute, Modhura has worked on three feature films, numerous short films, ads, documentaries and TVCs and can also be credited for working on one of the first Virtual Reality (VR) films of India.
Her body of work includes Paper Boy and The Girl Across the Stream among other small budget films, that are not part of the official screenings at Cannes, but have bought Modhura and her work in the limelight and saved India from its plight.
So, who is at the official screenings?
Stealing the show currently is Leonardo DiCaprio, Margot Robbie, Brad Pitt starrer Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood by Quentin Tarantino. A love letter to the Hollywood Quentin Tarantino’s childhood, a rock music tour of 1969, and an ode to cinema as a whole. Mektoub, My Love: Intermezzo by Abdellatif Kechiche is accompanying it in the Competition section.
In the Un Certain Regard, is La famosa invasione degli orsi in Sicilia by Lorenzo Mattotti, which is based on a children’s book by Dino Buzzati’s and is being hailed as a visual extravaganza. It is accompanied by Once in Trubchevsk by Russian filmmaker Larissa Sadilova, said to evoke the feelings of love in the contemporary Russian countryside.
In the Special Screenings Section, Chicuarotes by Gael García Bernal takes a dive into the Mexican society with a story about teenagers. Alongside, it is Patricio Guzmán’s, La Cordillera de los sueños, that has been described as a “visual poem, a historical inquiry, a cinematographic essay, and magnificent personal exercise in soul-searching,” by Thierry Frémasux, general delegate of Festival de Cannes.
Ice on Fire, a hard hitting documentary by Leila Conners and Leonardo DiCaprio is part of Cannes’ “proud” screening of documentaries as is 5B by Dan Krauss, a film on life of female caregivers of patients of AIDS in 1980s San Francisco.
Keeping the plots of these movies in mind, and the global subjects they represent, Indian filmmakers may have a challenge ahead, especially, if the movies they are making are biographical pictures slated to be released right before a mega election.