Can’t we have both fashion and film at Cannes, asks Anupama Chopra
HT introduces a fortnightly column by Anupama Chopra. Up first, a peek beyond the Cannes red carpet to ask why it’s been 25 years since India had a film in the main competition section.
At the recently concluded 72nd Cannes Film Festival, Deepika Padukone told me: “You either come here with a film or you get the red carpet look right. Otherwise it’s pointless.” Deepika did the latter – she walked the red carpet twice, creating headlines with her striking choices. On Day 2, she wore a lime green Giambattista Valli dress that inspired memes and raves. The Hollywood trade magazine Variety tweeted: ‘Go big or go home: Deepika Padukone with another bold look’.
Eight other Indian actresses walked the Cannes red carpet this year – among them Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, who was the first to make an impact at the French festival (Devdas premiered there in 2002, and in 2003 she became the first Indian actor to serve on the main competition jury), Priyanka Chopra, Kangana Ranaut and Sonam Kapoor. Apart from red carpet duty, each one debuted multiple looks at official engagements. Some changed several times only for Instagram.
One actress confessed off-camera that she no longer wanted to attend because there was no exclusivity left. The fashion made big news in India — each look was dissected and analysed. Social media amplified the noise. Meanwhile there wasn’t a single Indian film in official selection. Our closest connection was the Oscar-winning, Indian-origin British filmmaker Asif Kapadia, whose documentary Diego Maradona played out of competition.
The Cannes Film Festival has always been an irresistible cocktail of excellent films and outsized glamour, but I don’t think any other country has such a skewed film to fashion ratio. Ironically, India had a promising start, with Chetan Anand’s Neecha Nagar winning the Grand Prix at the first edition of the festival in 1946. Over the years, leading art house filmmakers such as Satyajit Ray (Pather Panchali played In Competition in 1956, Devi in 1962 and Ghare Baire in 1984), Mrinal Sen (Ek Din Pratidin played In Competition in 1980 and Kharij in 1983), Shyam Benegal (Nishant played In Competition in 1976) consistently carved out an Indian presence at Cannes.
But the contemporary India-at-Cannes story is hit-and-miss. We haven’t had a film in the main competition section for 25 years (the last was Shaji Karun’s Swaham in 1994). In 2010, Vikram Motwane’s Udaan was selected for Un Certain Regard. In 2012, Anurag Kashyap made an impact with Gangs of Wasseypur, which showed at Directors’ Fortnight (a prestigious sidebar to the main festival). In 2013, also the 100th anniversary of Indian cinema, there was a slew of Indian films at the Croisette — including The Lunchbox in Critics’ Week, Monsoon Shootout as a Midnight Screening and Bombay Talkies as an out-of-competition screening. Last year, we had Manto in Un Certain Regard and Sir in Critics’ Week (also a parallel section). This year, nothing.
Of course many people ask why we should care so much about a film festival in France. To me, that’s as myopic as asking, do the Oscars matter? The Cannes Film Festival, like the Oscars, is shorthand for quality. It’s a benchmark for excellence.
Cannes may not be the platform for mainstream Indian cinema, which works on its own terms and commands a global audience. The narrative style is unique. I don’t think Western festival programmers, critics and viewers have developed a taste for it yet and mainstream storytellers, understandably, have little interest in catering to their palate. But Indian independent cinema speaks a more universal language. We are the world’s largest filmmaking nation and it mystifies me that our cinema doesn’t make the cut.
Mira Nair, who was the first Indian to win the Camera d’Or at Cannes, for Salaam Bombay in 1988, told me that the agendas and tastes of the festival’s programmers and the film industry don’t always align. True, but could it also be that we don’t consistently make films that are good enough to compete with the rest of the world?
Every year in May, Cannes becomes the global cinema capital. Indian actors on the red carpet fulfil a certain purpose. I enjoy the glamour and beauty as much as anyone else. But if the only conversation around India is about fashion, we will be reduced to lightweights. If we don’t balance the fashion with films, we will become, as Anurag told me in 2011 in Cannes, ‘the comic relief in the global film scenario’. And that, given the talent that Indian cinema boasts of, would be a real shame.