For years, Indian cinema, despite its numbers and domestic popularity, had remained a joke, a huge joke at that, outside the country’s shoreline. But this is changing. At least there are some indications.
Recently at Cannes, there were three Indian films -- with two screening outside the Film Festival -- that just about appear to be changing the perception of a cinema that relied on garishly coloured costumes, loud songs, vulgar pelvic thrusts, heaving bosoms and dozens of dances. And often these did not push the narrative ahead. Rather, they were interruptive and intrusive.
At Cannes, critics called these three movies, alternative cinema. True, only that such films are not exactly new in India. For decades, we have seen men like Satyajit Ray, Ritwick Ghatak, Mrinal Sen, Aravindan, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Shyam Benegal and Girish Kasaravalli among others create pictures that were realistic and shorn of pretension. Benegal even worked within the broad parameters of Bollywood (and its stifling system), that essentially Hindi language cinema coming from Bombay or Mumbai.
However, lately, Bollywood has been throwing up directors who have given us a more sensible kind of cinema which is firmly rooted to the ground. It may have its songs and dances, but these do not distract the flow. Nor do they seem like irritating roadblocks.
Anurag Kashyap, one of India’s most prominent offbeat directors, brought his two-part movie about corrupt coal mafias, Gangs of Wasseypur, as part of the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight. He also produced Vasan Bala’s Peddlers, which was screened in the Cannes Critics’ Week. Ashim Ahluwalia’s Miss Lovely, on India’s 1980s sleazy B-film porn industry, was in the Festival’s official selection, A Certain Regard.
Interestingly, these men form part of a helming tribe in India, which does not believe in star power. It is primarily interested in a good story (a prerequisite for a good movie, as the late Ismail Merchant used to say), a good script and actors who can perform, not throw tantrums and demand (and get) vulgar sums of money as fees.
These films are largely planned and executed by India’s middleclass, and reflect its dreams and concerns. In all the three movies that were shown at Cannes, these are clearly highlighted.
Will then Indian cinema gain the long dreamt off international acclaim, and was this year’s Cannes a harbinger of things to come?
Next year, the Festival’s focus will be India, and one hopes that the country would make some intelligent cinema. Otherwise, as the Festival’s Deputy General Delegate, Christian Jeune, said, “we would be left with just elephants on the beach”.