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Drought at Cannes

GAUTAMAN BHASKARAN

While Nandita Das will be on the jury, Indian films have drawn a blank at Cannes.



Does her presence make amends?: Nandita Das

The Indian presence at the Cannes International Film Festival is getting more and more curious. While the country seems to have resigned itself 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 other spheres of the 12-day event is certainly getting stronger.

The question here is, "should we be happy with this?" Any lay person will 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, 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.

It is not surprising. Black, for one, is not even original. Besides, its gloss takes away much of the pain that the film is meant to convey. One wonders why Rituparno Ghosh's The Raincoat was not sent.

However, India makes up for this gross shortcoming in other areas. On the main international feature jury, for instance. We have Nandita Das this time, who will rub shoulders with renowned Serb 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 to 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 onesin 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."

Second Indian

Das is the second Indian actress after Aishwarya Rai to be on the jury. Rai was on it in 2003. In 2000, writer Arundhati 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 wonders 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 will 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 Apur Sansar (1959), Devi (1960), Nayak (1966), Aranyer Din Ratri (1969) and Seemabaddha (1971) will attend this inauguration.

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

Genesis heralded a drought: 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.

Diluted quality

In 2002, the festival made a rank bad choice of including Bhansali's Devdas.

Most people walked out of the show. Herein 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 Hassan, 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 magic.

Maybe, they should be screening some of their better works in the Cannes market to offset the negative criticism. There is still hope left, and 2006 may well be "another day," to quote Scarlett O' Hara in Gone with the Wind.

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