IT’S that time of the year again. The 64th Cannes Film Festival has been on and a significant segment of the Mumbai movie industry had turned its attention to the south of France. Every May, when the world’s glitziest and most prestigious film festival unfolds over a period of 12 glamour-packed days, Bollywood denizens, both mainstream and not-so-mainstream, pack their bags with the best designer outfits and head to the salubrious climes of the French Riviera to hold the Indian flag aloft.
But where, really, does Indian cinema go when Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, as a brand ambassador for L’Oreal, the French cosmetics giant that is an official partner of the Cannes Film Festival, sashays up the red-carpeted steps to the entrance of the Grand Lumiere? This year, the lady, besides performing her usual brand ambassadorial duties, participated in an event organised to unveil the "first look" of her upcoming film, Madhur Bhandarkar’s Heroine.
Cannes is frequently used by globally active Indian movie industry players like Reliance Big Pictures and UTV Motion Pictures to announce new plans, projects and tie-ups. The French Riviera is where the international entertainment media is out in full strength and it makes eminent sense to host big launch events out here.
Alas, the irony is that the nation that produces more films than any other country has no genuine cinematic representation in the "official selection" of the globe’s biggest movie jamboree. The nation that makes 1,000 films a year can’t make even one that is good enough to get into the exclusive list of 50-odd titles that Cannes selectors pick.
The only Indian film that has made the cut this year is a documentary about popular Hindi movies. Titled Bollywood — the Greatest Love Story Ever Told, it is co-directed by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and Jeff Zimbalist and jointly produced by Shekhar Kapur and Ronnie Screwvala. The 80-minute film, which explores India’s national obsession with song and dance extravaganzas, had a midnight screening at the ongoing festival — probably — an indication that Bollywood, as we know it, would have to be content with being on the fringes of Cannes.
But does the Indian film fraternity really care? Seeing the number of Mumbai movie stars who converge at Cannes every year – their tribe increasing steadily – it is pretty clear that they do not. It is an unfortunate fact that they simply don’t seem to be able to come up with the kind of films that can break into the festival’s official line-up. There is a clear defence mechanism at work here: it isn’t uncommon to hear leading Bollywood stars assert that the industry they work in does not make films that are aimed at Cannes. Why, then, are they so enamoured of the festival?
The answer is obvious: Cannes is where the action is, and if you are in the movie business you cannot afford to be left out of the picture. As debutant director Vikramaditya Motwane, whose fine coming-of-age drama, Udaan, famously made it to the Cannes Film Festival’s parallel Un Certain Regard section last year, told this correspondent in an informal conversation: "Indian cinema will make an impact in Cannes only when a string of films from our country sweeps into the frame. A stray film here and another one there won’t have a long-term impact."
For that to happen, Indian filmmakers would have to let go off their defiantly insular mindset. To be fair, some are trying, either as individuals with a vision or as part of the efforts of the industry as a whole. The India Pavilion on the Cannes seafront has been a regular fixture for several years, but, sadly, its success in the matter of building synergies between the different arms of the Indian movie industry, on the one hand, and globally influential distributors, sales agents and film producers on the other hand has been, at best, minimal.
The Pavilion was organised by the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) for several years before another trade body, Assocham, was brought in two years ago. With the Pavilion failing to achieve its avowed goal, the I&B ministry has this year handed over charge of India’s marketing strategy in Cannes to the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC).
The NFDC, on its part, is promoting six Indian filmmakers in Cannes this year – Anurag Kashyap (who has two films in the cans, That Girl in Yellow Boots and Gangs of Wasseypur), Dibakar Banerjee (who is all set to launch a new production, Shanghai), Manipuri documentary filmmaker Haobam Paban Kumar, Shekhar Kummula, Anusha Rizvi and Goan filmmaker Laxmikant Shetgaonkar, whose Konkani film, Man Beyond the Bridge, made waves on the festival circuit a couple of years ago.
Kashyap, for one, knows what it takes to move forward at this level. His Dev D had made it to the Venice Film Festival, That Girl in Yellow Boots played at the Toronto International Film Festival last year and he was in Cannes in 2010 as the co-producer of Udaan. So, it’s a pretty good idea to put him at the head of the Indian pack in Cannes this year.
Kashyap would, however, need a great deal of support in the well-intentioned mission to take Indian cinema to the next level. On the sidelines of the Cannes Film Festival, several private entities are, as always, seeking buyers for their films in the Marche du Film (Film Market). Among these films are debutant Rakesh Ranjan Kumar’s Dear Friend Hitler, featuring Raghuvir Yadav, Subhash Kapoor’s Phas Gaye Re Obama (titled With Love from Obama for global consumption) and Bedabrata Pain’s historical drama, Chittagong. No matter what the potential of these films might be, the overall numbers are nothing to write home about.