Indians would have been disappointed that the world’s biggest, most important film festival at Cannes had not chosen any Indian movie for its upcoming edition, starting May 17.
The remorse will be felt even more acutely this year, because while Cannes is all set to celebrate its 70th anniversary, India will also commemorate 70 years of independence this August.
For a distraught India, 2017 will be the second year in succession without a film on the French Riviera, and the answers to this absence of Indian cinema have been varied with two interesting Facebook quotes. Srinivasan Narayanan, who headed the Mumbai Film Festival for many years and who was responsible for the event overtaking India’s national festival at Goa’s Panaji, says: “In 70 years we have not learnt to make globally stunning movies. Why don’t we start looking inwards?” Cinema producer Jay Bajaj, who lives for a good part of the year in Goa, quips: “Indians don’t make films for Cannes--they make them for themselves.”
Both Narayanan and Bajaj may have a point, but one would think that the answer is not that simple. And we got a hint of what might have actually happened during the long and back-breaking selection process at Cannes when an Indian reporter at the press conference in Paris on April 13 quizzed the festival chief, Thierry Fremaux, about the mystery of the missing Indian movie on the Croisette (Cannes beach front).
Fremaux looked positively embarrassed, his smile tried to hide this feeling of discomfort. He asked the reporter, “zero?” Yes, came the reply to which Fremaux asked, “Zero, last year?”. The answer was once again in the affirmative. Clearly, Fremaux seemed to be a loss for words. He said India was a great movie making culture, “but it is the situation (which dictates choices)”.
However, Fremaux held out hope when he told the reporter that Cannes would be adding a few more titles, and India might figure in it. He quickly added: “It will not be because you asked the question.”
So, Indian cinema can keep smiling.
Fremaux had some interesting observations to make during his interview with Screen soon after the press meet. And these had a bearing on a country like India, so obsessed, as Bajaj wrote on Facebook, with its own cinema.
To a question by the Screen reporter why Fremaux gets irritated whenever journalists ask about their national cinema in the festival’s official lineup, he averred: “It’s silly to say I am from such and such a country and why isn’t the cinema of my country represented. I’ve received emails from the whole world saying it was grotesque. I’m talking about universality and they are talking about ‘my country, my country’. If they ask that question it’s because their newspaper owners ask them to do so. I find this ridiculous. We’re there to talk about cinema, not national flags.”
Fremaux could not have hit the nail more directly and more forcefully. Cannes - as also Venice or Berlin or Rotterdam or any other international movie festival - is all about cinema from the world. It is not only about Chinese or Indian or Russian cinema. Festivals are the best platforms for showcasing films from even the tiniest nations in the remotest corners of the globe. So, it is really meaningless to seek one’s national cinema in a place like Cannes. Or be obsessed over it.
But as Fremaux rightly pointed out, media barons were responsible for pushing their journalists into chasing cinemas from their respective regions. As one movie critic working for a leading Indian television channel told this writer: Imagine going to Cannes and trying to interview an Aishwarya Rai or Preity Zinta when we could be spending that time watching some exquisite global fare and trying to meet celebrities from Germany or France or Iran or Africa...”
Finally, film festivals -- especially like Cannes and Venice - tend to pick movies that have a bearing on the situation then - political maybe -- as Fremaux explained to the Indian reporter. So, even a cursory look at the Cannes selections this year will tell you that many of the films are politically charged, and they talk about the refugee crisis, the climate change, exploitation of animals and health.
So, we have An Inconvenient Sequel, a follow-up to a documentary made by Al Gore, and Vanessa Redgrave’s Sea Sorrow, a deep insight into the present migrant crisis. There is one more refugee drama by Hungary’s Kornel Mundruczo, Jupiter Moon. There is also a documentary called Napalm by Claude Lanzmann, and the work is about the bad boy of the season, North Korea. A Netflix-funded fantasy movie with Tilda Swinton, Bong Joon-Ho’s Okja, has been described as a “very political film about the way we ill-treat animals” (Jalikkatu supporters, are you listening?).
In what seemed like a punchline, the festival president, Pierre Lescure, referring to the political theme added: “Since we have a new surprise every day from Donald Trump, I hope Syria and North Korea will not cause a shadow on the festival.”
The festival runs till May 28.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran has covered the Cannes Film Festival for 27 years, and will be back on the Croisette this May)
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