A carpet-bombing at Cannes: Anupama Chopra writes in from the festival

Aug 03, 2023 02:30 PM IST

There was so much of India, and cinema, to celebrate. Sadly, Chopra says, many Indians present were there just to celebrate themselves.

In 2018, when the Cannes Film Festival banned selfies on the famed red carpet, festival director Thierry Fremaux, who described the act as “grotesque and ridiculous,” said: “You don’t come to Cannes to be seen but to see.”

‘The India story of the year, for me, was actor Sunny Leone, who wasn’t there just to glitter but went to Cannes with a film, Anurag Kashyap’s Kennedy,’ Chopra says. (Photo courtesy Film Companion) PREMIUM
‘The India story of the year, for me, was actor Sunny Leone, who wasn’t there just to glitter but went to Cannes with a film, Anurag Kashyap’s Kennedy,’ Chopra says. (Photo courtesy Film Companion)

The Indian contingent seems to have missed the memo. A slew of actors, creators, influencers and industrialists’ wives, fuelled by brands, social-media followings and the promise of publicity, arrived at the 76th edition for the primary purpose of walking the red carpet. To be seen was everything.

Over the past few years, the red carpet at Cannes has become a career strategy. Which would be fine, all things considered; except that the noise around that carpet and who walks wearing which designer threatens to eclipse what really matters: the films.

This year, India had four movies in the official selection. There was Anurag Kashyap’s Kennedy, about an insomniac former policeman seeking redemption. Kanu Behl’s Agra, an exploration of sexual dynamics within a family. Yudhajit Basu’s short film Nehemich, about a young girl plotting a different life, while banished to a hut for the duration of her period. And Aribam Syam Sharma’s Ishanou, about a woman who leaves her family to follow a different calling (a restored version of the landmark 1990 Manipuri film was screened as part of Cannes Classics).

These were India’s true stars at the festival. One of my favourite visuals was of the 76-year-old Kangabam Tomba, the lead actor in Ishanou, walking the red carpet with filmmaker Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, founder-director of the Film Heritage Foundation, which restored the film. Incredibly, this is Sharma’s second time at Cannes with Ishanou; the film was selected in the Un Certain Regard section in 1991.

What thrilled me most this time around was that the festival, which concluded on Saturday, was completely back on track. The Hollywood Reporter estimates that Cannes Film Market drew more than 13,500 participants, an all-time record. The crowd around the Palais des Festivals was crushing and restaurants were packed. Hollywood legends were in attendance. Michael Douglas and Harrison Ford were both awarded honorary Palme d’Ors. Martin Scorsese attended the premiere of his new film, Killers of the Flower Moon, with leading men Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio. Since the film has been co-produced by Apple Studios, Tim Cook was there too. As was a slew of Oscar-winning actresses, including Cate Blanchett, Michelle Yeoh, Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore and Marion Cotillard.

Perhaps the most inspiring India story from this edition was that of Sunny Leone. Unlike most of the other Indian actresses, she was at Cannes with a film, Kennedy. When a 19-year-old Sunny first started working in the adult entertainment industry, she got death threats. I asked her what it felt like to go from there to being part of a film showcased at the most prestigious film festival in the world. Her eyes welled up and she said: “Being here is beyond my wildest dreams. I’m trying to not bawl my eyes out. Only I know what I’ve gone through.”

That’s the best way to attend Cannes; to earn it through your work. I hope more Indian talent comes to understand this.

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