If ever evidence was needed that cinema has become a crucial part of India's "diplomatic armoury", it is provided by the country's large pavilion at the 60th Cannes Film Festival.
The India Pavilion, double the size it was last year, has been designed as a hub for the concerted promotion of the country's films on the French Riviera all through the duration of the event.
Inaugurating the seafront pavilion this afternoon, Indias ambassador to France Ranjan Mathai said: "I am delighted to have India represented in such a huge way in Cannes."
"The Indian economy is booming and, therefore, worldwide interest in our films has grown rapidly. Cinema has indeed become an important part of our diplomatic armoury."
The India Pavilion occupies 150 square metres in the film festival's International Village and represents over 150 films made and promoted by more than 80 companies. Last year, the pavilion had only 75 square meters of space.
More than 20 Indian exhibitors, under the aegis of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), have set up booths in the Palais. India, as a partner country, is promoting 35 new films in the Cannes Film Market this year.
It was in 2001, Mathai recalled, that India had a pavilion of its own in Cannes for the first time. The following year, the festival organised an out of competition red carpet screening of Sanjay Leela Bhansalis Devdas, he pointed out.
"Indias profile in Cannes has grown consistently," said Mathai, who took over as envoy to France only three months ago. "Our films have begun to enter the mainstream market in France and the rest of Europe."
Bobby Bedi, president of CII's Entertainment Committee, is particularly excited about the seven Indian films to be screened in the Tous les Cinemas du Monde (All the Cinemas of the World) section of the festival.
"The reaction to these films is going to be crucial," he said. "These films have been selected by somebody who has an international perspective and the response to them will give young Indian filmmakers a sense of direction."
Serge Sobzynscki, the head of Tous les Cinemas du Monde who watched a total of 108 films to select seven Indian entries, said, "Cannes' links with India go back all the way to the first edition of the festival and we are keen to maintain that continuity. My selection has been driven by the need to present the entire gamut of Indian cinema to a French and international audience."
Following the opening of the India Focus on Saturday afternoon, a phalanx of Bollywood stars present in Cannes will walk the red carpet in traditional Indian attire for the gala screening that evening.