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Cannes: Who cares?
Deepa Gahlot |
April 30, 2003 16:36 IST
At this time last year, there was near hysteria in the media at Devdas being invited to the Cannes festival for an out-of-competition screening. This year, there is a big buzz about Aishwarya Rai being on the jury.
But we tend to be so Bollywood-centric that real achievements by filmmakers from other parts of the country do not get the same kind of euphoric reception. Last year, Manish Jha's A Very Very Short Film won an award at Cannes, but it was buried under endless stories of red carpets being laid out for Bollywood's stars (Aishwarya Rai and Shah Rukh Khan).
This year, Arimpara (The Story That Begins At The End), a film by Murali Nair, has been selected for screening in the prestigious 'Un Certain Regard' section of Cannes -- the only official Indian entry -- but do we hear much trumpeting in the media? Barring a few very matter-of-fact news reports, there is nothing.
Why? Because Nair's film is in Malayalam; he is not publicity-savvy; the film does not have a star that our mainstream media has heard of -- though Nedumudi Venu is among the finest actors in India today -- and has absolutely no glamour. The well-read few will note that the film is based on eminent writer O V Vijayan's famous and much-anthologised short story, The Wart. But, obviously, it wouldn't mean anything to the uninitiated.
Murali Nair's Marana Simhasanam (The Throne of Death) had won the Camera d'Or award (given to a first-time director) at Cannes in 1999; subsequently, his Patiyudde Divasam (A Dog's Day) was screened in the 'Un Certain Regard' section.
Shaji Karun's Vanaprastham (1999), Swaham (1994) and Piravi (1989) have been screened in this section -- Piravi (Birth) even got a special jury mention. Gautam Ghose's Gudia (1997) and Antarjali Yatra (1998) were screened in this section too. The fact that Mira Nair's Salaam Bombay won the Camera d'Or in 1998, of course, got its share of coverage. But who remembers a little known film from Orissa, Indradhanura Chhai by Susant Misra, being screened in the 'Un Certain Regard' section in 1995?
Satyajit Ray's Ghare Baire was in competition in 1984, the year Mrinal Sen's Khandhar was part of the 'Un Certain Regard' package. Ray's Ganashatru was screened out-of-competition in 1989.
Our media showed very little interest in Cannes till the information and broadcasting ministry began having a big India Pavilion in the market section and took along some Bollywood bigwigs.
Now everybody has woken up to Cannes' potential, but only to the extent of focusing on Bollywood glamour there. Good cinema does not seem to interest anyone. (Lagaan's popular win at the Locarno Film Festival got miles of coverage, but Shaji Karun and Jahnu Barua's films won the top awards there without getting a fraction of the applause at home.)
We may gush over Cannes (like we have started doing over the Oscar's cold nod towards Bollywood), but Cannes selectors give Indian cinema a big ignore. They feel our films are simply not worthy of being in competition, while films from tiny countries without fully developed film industries get selected. Technically, we are substandard and our subjects are 30 years out of date.
Which makes it all the more creditable when our regional cinema gets into Cannes -- at any level.
It always happens that, when our regional or offbeat cinema has cleared a path, Bollywood lands up to demand a share of the pie. For years, the national awards and the film festival circuit were looked down upon by the commercial industry as fit for the 'arty jholawalas.' The minute some prestige, publicity or money is seen going to the 'other' cinema, the mainstream guys want to muscle in. Now a large percentage of entries for national awards, the Indian Panorama section and film festivals come from the commercial cinema camps. But it is wonderful to see cinemas from other regions holding their ground.
Still, nobody will be surprised if the colour of Aishwarya Rai's saris will be reported in the media 'back home' more than the response to Murali Nair's film, or any other Indian film, screened in the market.
We just have to learn to separate the wheat from the chaff for ourselves.