India At Cannes: Country’s Film Industry Looks For Understanding , Recognition At Film Festival
Indian cinema is being feted in Cannes on its 100th birthday. But amid the celebrations, the B-word – “Bollywood” – remains controversial. The French film festival has rolled out the red carpet for Indian cinema this year, with events including a gala dinner and screening Sunday of “Bombay Talkies,” a portmanteau movie with four directors and a star-studded cast including Rani Mukerji, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Randeep Hooda and Saqib Saleem. Several other Indian films are screening at the festival, which runs through May 26, including Amit Kumar’s police-corruption story “Monsoon Shootout” and Anurag Kashyap’s psychological thriller “Ugly” – though none is in competition for the coveted Palme d’Or prize.
Indian stars such as Aishwarya Rai, Freida Pinto and Amitabh Bachchan – who appears in festival opener “The Great Gatsby” – have a significant presence at Cannes’ red carpet galas and parties. A hundred years after India released its first feature film “Raja Harischandra,” the country has the world’s most prolific film industry, turning out more than 1,000 movies a year and creating stars adored by millions around the world. Now, its filmmakers want critical respect. Many feel the rest of the globe thinks Indian cinema is only limited to all-singing, all-dancing Bollywood extravaganzas. “I just feel that the Indian film industry has its own identity and to be referred to in matching terms with Hollywood is perhaps not correct,” Indian film icon Bachchan told reporters at a “Gatsby” press conference. Filmmakers in the country of a billion people are keen to stress that Indian cinema is far more diverse than Bollywood – both in terms of language and of style.
“If Indian cinema can break out of the shadow of Bollywood and be seen just as cinema from another country, like Thailand or Japan or Turkey, that would be the greatest achievement for Indian cinema,” said Dibakar Banerjee, one of the four directors of “Bombay Talkies.” “And that’s started to happen, so that’s what I’m happy about.”
“Bombay Talkies” is certainly no Bollywood romp.
One of its four sections focuses on a man’s epic quest to meet Bachchan, while in another a young man longs to become a dancer. One centers on a failed actor struggling to prove his worth to his young daughter, and a fourth is about a man coming to terms with his sexuality. That section features a gay kiss, a scene its director, Karan Johar, called a minor revolution for Indian cinema. He said to have “two mainstream actors indulging in a scene like this … That hasn’t happened on a large scale like this before.”
India’s ‘new generation’ of filmmakers feted at Cannes
India’s biggest star Amitabh Bachchan, in Cannes this week for a celebration of Indian cinema at the Riviera film fest, admitted he prefers not to use the word “Bollywood”.
“I just feel that the Indian film industry has its own identity… so I’d rather call it ‘the Indian film industry’, especially now we celebrate 100 years of the Indian film industry this year,” the actor known as the “Big B” said in Cannes. In fact, Bachchan was articulating an increasingly common view among actors and directors — that there is a lot more to Indian film than Bollywood potboiler musicals. They argue that just as India has changed rapidly over the past 15 years, so too have the sort of films being made and the people making them.
Four members of India’s new generation of filmmakers on Sunday appeared on the red carpet at Cannes for a gala screening of their film “Bombay Talkies”, an anthology to which each contributed one short film. India is the guest country at Cannes this year and the event was timed to coincide with the nation of one billion’s celebration of a century of cinema.
“There are a lot of directors who started directing movies in the early 2000s… they kind of took mainstream Bollywood films, big sets, stars and narratives and gave them a very new tilt which reflects the urban India of today,” Dibakar Banerjee, one of the four. Banerjee, 43, said the transformations brought about by economic growth had “created a new generation of filmmakers and a new generation of actors and stars”. They were working in a number of Indian states, not just in Bollywood, the name given to the film industry in the Maharashtra state, of which Mumbai is the capital.
His own short film tells the story of a theatre actor who has been out of work for years and suddenly lands a part. “There were a lot of filmmakers who were not from the film fraternity, who came from outside — like me or Anurag Kashyap — who came in and started making films about non-traditional subjects with non-traditional narratives and structures.” In southern states in particular there had been huge changes to the way films were made. “In the south they have led the way in terms of how to make completely new narratives, new kinds of films and smash box office records. Bollywood has started taking narratives from them,” he said.
Fellow “Bombay Talkie” director Karan Johar’s short film about a gay relationship is an example of the risks some directors are now willing to take with the subject they choose. Johar, 40, is one of India’s highest-profile directors and a darling of the masses for films starring some of the biggest names in Bollywood such as Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan and Hrithik Roshan.
His short film focuses not just on a gay relationship, an enormously taboo subject in India, but also on the theme of denial. Johar had broken “away from his earlier narrative and structures and subjects”, Banerjee said. “He has completely discarded his comfort zone and tried to say something absolutely new to the extent that his film has become the most controversial film in India,” he said. Karan told crowds it had been important to him to grasp the opportunity offered to explore a difficult subject. “I took it up as a challenge because I knew that if I didn’t do it in a concept like this then I wouldn’t be justifying my presence,” he said. “I just felt it was very critical for me to take on a theme that I felt very passionate about, a story that I felt I needed to tell.
“It needed to be done and addressed. Normally everyone is pussyfooting around it… but this one is making no bones about it and it’s in your face and out there for everyone to see and judge or diss depending on how they look at it,” he said. The director, also known as the host of a popular TV celebrity chat show, said Indian society was still “not very accepting of homosexuality” and that “levels of homophobia are quite high”. The film would probably not “start a movement” but it was “definitely a first” in terms of tackling the subject on film, he said. Kashyap’s film, meanwhile, tells the story of a boy sent to Mumbai to get Bachchan to taste the pickle his father sells in his shop.
The 40-year-old “Gangs Of Wasseypur” director’s kidnap thriller “Ugly”, exploring the subject of child abduction, got a warm reception when it was shown at Cannes in the Directors Fortnight last week.
The other “Bombay Talkies” film by Zoya Akhtar focuses on a young boy who dreams of becoming a dancer even though his father wants him to be a footballer. Akhtar, 39, said Indian film was changing to accommodate new subjects. But she said there would always be a place for the traditional Bollywood musical even if some features evolved. “Indians like to sing. Indians like music. It’s every family on every occasion, at every picnic,” she said. “It’s how our folk stories were, they all had music in them… it’s part of our narrative it’s part of our story telling and it’s not going to go,” she added.
Aishwarya Rai brought Bollywood to the 2013 Cannes red carpet on Monday.
The “Most Beautiful Woman in the World” attended the “Blood Ties” premiere at the film fest, her second red carpet appearance in a row. The mom wore an embroidered floor-length gown designed by Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla, which highlighted her gorgeous figure and her luminous green eyes. With her long brunette locks sitting loose past her shoulders, the Bollywood actress needed little makeup, opting for a nude lip and smoky eyes.
But do we like this green and pink stunner better than the beaded Elie Saab gown she wore the day before? When it comes to Aishwarya’s Cannes style, it’s always hard to choose!
However when it’s time to spend time with her daughter, Aaradhya, Rai chooses comfort over glamour. The 39-year-old was spotted clutching her baby girl wearing an all-black ensemble with cute yellow flats when she landed at the airport on her way to the festival.
One thing’s for certain: Aishwarya will never be caught having a wardrobe malfunction!!!