Om Puri


The Cannes Diary

I have been to Cannes earlier with the film, My Son The Fanatic. So this time, when I went to the festival, for the film East Is East, it was my second visit. But I recalled everything so vividly that I felt that I'd never been away. I went on May 13, via Zurich. From there I changed flights to reach Nice. From Nice it was about an hour's journey to Cannes.

I reached the hotel and the publicity girl was there already. She gave me the programme for the day. I had reached around 11 am, and was free the whole day. I rested for some time, then went to our publicity office at Grand Hotel and then went out for dinner with the producer Leslee Udwin.

The next morning we had a press screening because there was to be a press conference in the afternoon. There were two screenings of East Is East that day but I preferred to see the press screening so that I would know how the film had fared. The press screening was absolutely full -- with media from all over the world present.

Their reactions were absolutely magical. After one-and-a-half minutes of the film they started to laugh and wouldn't stop. It is a light film, in the sense there is a lot of humour in it. After that the press meet also went off very well.

From the next day onward individual press interviews were arranged with the director, the writers and myself. They have a system where 10 tables are lined up and we keep rotating to all the tables, for example, having people from Australia, the US, England, India etc. These were quite exhausting, actually.

We'd start at 9.30 in the morning and go on till 5.30 pm with a lunch break in between. Lunch was fun, because we'd try out a new hotel each day. Though the interviews are tiring, one becomes used to it as part of the job. This film also had this fact to its credit that it was sold out in two days. The distributors just lapped it up.

The American distribution company, Miramax, had bought the distribution rights. We met a number of people who said that they wanted to buy the film but that it was already sold out. The press meets included newspapers and TV interviews.

I had a live television interview. The film was sub-titled in French of course. I managed to see just two other films other than my own. Both of them were British -- one was Rat Catchers and the other one I've forgotten. I was there for five days in all. The first three days were press meets, but we had a good time with the producers.

Some of the actors who had played my sons in the film were also present, and we used to go out and have a good time. The weather was pleasant, though it rained one day, and we could walk around in shorts and T-shirts most of the time.

The venue for the festival was by the sea. Try and imagine the stretch from NCPA in Nariman Point right up to Girgaum Chowpatty. One side of the road was blocked, for the cars of the delegates etc. There are restaurants galore on this stretch where you can sit down and chat with people. And this whole stretch is full only of the festival crowd.

The sea is a beautiful blue. There are fancy boats nearby. The crowd is so thick that it gives you the feeling of being in an Indian mela. Everything is close by, you don't need a car because it is all within walking distance. The only time when you use a car is when you come and when you leave. The hotels where we are put up are all walking distance from the venue of the festival. This place is as if it is designed for the festival.

I saw Sean Connery. I did not speak to him but he was in the same live interview on television that I was. What was very pleasing for me was that everybody was talking about the film. There were six screenings and they were all full.

Cannes itself is a lovely place. There is an old part of Cannes, which is reminiscent of the small bylanes of Benaras. You are constantly on an incline. This has restaurants on both sides -- with little curio shops. All the cafes have tables out and we'd go hunting for the best place to sit -- because we didn't want to sit inside. Once we were in a restaurant we liked, we were hovering around looking for a place outside. There we were, three of us, and just as one of us asked the owner if there was a table free outside, another went to check out the neighbouring bistro. As soon as this hotelier saw us do that he refused us a table.

He turned to me and said, "Oh you're still checking, so you might as well go there." We had to laugh because emotions are the same everywhere, whichever part of the world you go to.

The people talk mostly in French, so it's very difficult to make yourself understood. I'm always very casually dressed unless I'm forced to be formal. I had a blue jacket and grey trousers with me. Then I had jacket with a bandhgala. If it was you needed a jacket otherwise I dressed in bush shirts and trousers, all very casual and informal. And fun.

As told to Lata Khubchandani