Saif Ali Khan is just back from the French Riviera where he made his debut on the Cannes red carpet alongside Hollywood bigwigs like Antonio Banderas, his star wife Melanie Griffith and Salma Hayek. While the media back home has made a big deal of his Tom Ford dinner jacket, the star shrugs off his style statement saying, “Most men attending a prestigious film fest would opt for a black tie. I’m not known to dress well, but this time as the ambassador of an international brand, it was part of my job. One day, I’d like to go back to Cannes with a film I’ve produced that has been picked for the ‘In Competition’ section. That would be a real high!”
Saif, who turned producer in 2009 with Love Aaj Kal, is currently putting the finishing touches to his second production, a spy thriller on the lines of the Bond and Bourne series, Agent Vinod. “The film took a little longer than planned because it needed a lot of prep time, but we should wrap it up by August end. Agent Vinod has to release this year. December 9 seems like a good date.”
His third production, Cocktail, co-starring Deepika Padukone, flags off in July, followed by a film with Kunal Kemmu in the lead that will be directed by the Shor In The City duo, Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK. “They are bright young directors with a script that appeals to me. It’s an exciting project and I may even do a cameo,” he smiles.
However, Saif admits that none of these movies are the kind that he could take to Cannes eyeing the top prize. “Right now, I’m trying to establish my production house with commercial Bollywood entertainers made primarily for an Indian audience. You need a different kind of movie to pitch at Cannes. Yes, a film like Pirates Of The Caribbean 4 is also being showcased there, but that’s only to attract the Hollywood A-listers. The real gems are the little, big honest movies that mirror truth at some level,” he reasons.
He has a point. Bollywood movies that have plenty of takers amongst the Indian diaspora, are rarely picked for international distribution by major US studios or for top awards like the Palme d’ Or. It’s the so-called Indian ‘art cinema’ that makes a mark in the global market, and in world cinema. But for that, these films need promotional hype, government support and funds in plenty.
Saif points out that a film like Vishal Bhardwaj’s Omkara (2006) would have a chance of catching the eye with a novel Indian take on a popular Shakesperean play, Othello. Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, to whom he can trace his lineage, would be another great muse. “Maybe in the future we will take a decision to do something off-the-beaten formulaic track,” he says, adding. “It would be great to represent India at Cannes, not just in a commercial, but a creative capacity too.”
India in competition at Cannes
* Blame it on the quality of cinema or plain apathy among selectors at Cannes, India hasn’t quite been the favourite at the world’s fanciest film festival. Though the start was great. Chetan Anand’s Neecha Nagar was the first Indian film to win the Grand Prix at Cannes back in 1946, when the festival itself had started. In ’51, Shantaram’s Amar Bhopali and in ’53 Raj Kapoor’s Awara were in the running for top prize as well.
* In ’56, Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali was felicitated as the ‘Best Human Document’. Several Ray films like Parash Pathar (’58), Devi (’62), Ghare Baire (’84) and Ganashatru (’89) were screened in the festival’s competition and official sections. In ’54, Bimal Roy’s Do Bigha Zameen bagged a prize.
* Between ’74 and ’86, MS Sathyu’s Garam Hawa, Shyam Benegal’s Nishant, Mrinal Sen’s Ek Din Pratidin, Kharij and Genesis competed. Salaam Bombay (’88) and Piravi (’89) that marked directorial debuts of Mira Nair and Shaji N Karun, impressed with the Camera D’Or.
* Since then, though several short films have made the competitive grade, Murali Nair is one of the few directors who has won a feature film prize at Cannes with his Marana Simhasanam in 1999; his film Arimpara (2003) was also showcased to compete. Works of several directors, including Mani Kaul, Gautam Ghose, Adoor Gopalakrishnan have been feted in the as well.
* Last year, Vikramaditya Motwane’s Udaan was India’s officially selected entry at Cannes after seven years. The festival also held a special screening of Mrinal Sen’s Khandhar, a 1984 Cannes entry, as part of its befitting tribute to Indian cinema.