Canned from Cannes

Published May 16, 2019, 12:14 am IST
Updated May 16, 2019, 12:14 am IST
For the first time in almost a decade, no Indian film is part of the official selection at Cannes Film Festival.
Stills from Masaan  films were part of the official selection in recent years.
 Stills from Masaan films were part of the official selection in recent years.

As the 72nd edition of the Cannes Film Festival kicked off yesterday, talk of Bollywood celebrities set to make their presence felt at the prestigious festival has grown louder. Twitter abounds with throwback red carpet looks of Festival staples like Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Sonam K Ahuja, and Deepika Padukone while Kangana Ranaut has added to the buzz by hinting at her Cannes 2019 look in interviews.

However, there is a deafening silence on one front — Indian films set to be part of the festival — and that’s because, for the first time in almost a decade, no Indian film is part of the official selection at Cannes. In the past ten years, the Indian film industry has at least seen a film or two be part of the main event by making it to various categories like ‘Un Certain Regard’, ‘Out of Competition’, ‘Special Screenings’, ‘Cannes Classics’ or ‘Cinefondation’. Last year, Nandita Das’ Manto featured in the ‘Un Certain Regard section’, while Rohena Gera’s Sir was part of ‘International Critics’ Week’. But this year, we have drawn a blank. It seems a bit ironical that the world’s largest movie-producing industry had nothing of note to contribute to the festival, except for celebrities and their splendid outfits.


However, Director Rima Das, whose film, Village Rockstars was India’s official entry to the 91st Academy Awards, says that it’s more a case of bad timing than sloppy work-ethic or filmmaking. “I don’t think it is a big cause for concern if Indian films are not in competition categories at Cannes this year. There are quite a few Indian films that are doing well at other prestigious film festivals like Toronto, Venice, and Berlin. Even at Cannes, we had Indian films in competition in the past and we will also have them in the coming years. I don’t think a filmmaker who wants their film to be part of Cannes will miss the deadline. I just think it’s about having different sensibilities. Like every filmmaker has a certain creative vision for their films, every film festival has some vision while choosing films. This year, probably we were just on different pages,” she says.

Vasan Bala, whose Peddlers premiered at ‘Cannes Critics’ Week 2012’ and Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota screened at Toronto Film Festival’s ‘Midnight Madness’ section, reiterates the opinion that a dry year at Cannes doesn’t signal deteriorating cinema. In fact, he believes that because of Bollywood’s self-sustaining nature, films don’t need to go to Cannes to do well, and if a director decides to do so, it should be because he or she feels that the film will enjoy the right audience at Cannes. “If you make a film that’s ideal for the Cannes market, but won’t work in your domestic market, then it makes sense to make sure you go to Cannes. But if a filmmaker doesn’t want his film to be part of Cannes, it doesn’t mean that he is making bad films. Every kind of film should be made and every kind of film needs its own market,” he says and adds the performance or non-performance of a film must not be equated with the country’s performance.

“Cannes Film Festival is one of the most prestigious platforms, but that’s for the filmmaker. Let’s not make everything about ‘India’, because the award is for the individual who has put in the effort. It’s not the Olympics; it’s filmmaking and filmmaking is a very personal endeavour. The glory, gratification, and spotlight are for the individual alone,” he says vehemently.

But there are those who feel that the dearth of Indian films at Cannes points towards bigger problems within the industry. Payal Kapadia, whose Afternoon Clouds became the only Indian film to compete in the ‘Cinéfondation’ category at the 70th Cannes Film Festival, underscores the lack of representation of regional cinema, while also elaborating on constraints faced by independent filmmakers. “I think it’s really sad that we produce so many non-Bollywood films every year, especially regional films and still, we don’t have a single entry at Cannes this year. As independent filmmakers, there are just not enough support systems in place as there are in other countries. It starts with funds to make a film — there is hardly any support for independent cinema if it has no viable space for distribution in the country. This is the first hurdle. Beyond this, we do not have much support after the film is complete to distribute it. In order to compete with the filmmakers from the rest of the world, we need producers who are willing to take risks and support filmmakers who are trying to experiment with the cinematic form,” she says. Neeraj Ghaywan, whose film Masaan was part of the ‘Un Certain Regard’ section in 2015, feels that “independent cinema is slowly taking a hit “ and that there is a need to “open up more avenues for films to speak a global language,” while Guneet Monga, co-producer of the Oscar-winning film Period. End of Sentence., feels that co-productions can help bring a global quality to the script.

“I think we don’t do enough co-productions and co-productions go very far. It’s a way of having a world opinion in your script,” she says.

Veteran film critic, Rangan Baradwaj, believes that the omission of Indian films at Cannes this year, is partly because of the changing nature of Indian cinema.
Recalling how the masters of parallel cinema often found their films part of the official selection, he says, “Cannes is an art film festival. In the heydays of art films in India, Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen and other’s found their films at film festivals because they were making films in a certain language and style of cinema. Maybe we don’t make those kind of films anymore or it’s a very small strain. Also, we can’t expect those filmmakers  to keep making such films just to fit into festival schedules.”