The Cannes Film Festival will announce its list of movies on April 18 in Paris. The question is how Indian will this summer be at Cannes?
The Festival’s 66th edition is special for India. For it will be the Country of Focus, with 100 years of Indian cinema being celebrated on the French Riviera.
Of course some may object to 2013 being the centenary year. Yves Thoraval says in his book, The Cinemas of India, that “chronologically, the first Indian fiction film – a success needles to say – was the religious movie, Pundalik (1912), directed by Nanabhai Govind Chitre, Ram Chandra Gopal Torney and PR Tipnis.”
Dhundiraj Govind Phalke or Dadasaheb Phalke came with his fiction feature, Raja Harishchandra, only a year later in 1913. Yet, this is accepted as the first Indian film, with Pundalik having lost out in the race on a vague technical issue!
However, movies were being made in India even before Pundalik or Raja Harishchandra was produced. Hiralal Sen began making documentaries as early as 1898 (Dancing Scenes from the Flowers of Persia was one) in Bengal. In 1901, Sakharam Bhatvadekar, popularly called Save Dada, made The Return of Wrangler Paranjpye to India (on an Indian mathematician who was honoured by Cambridge University).
Admittedly, Pundalik and Raja Harishchandra were the first full length fiction features.
Hopefully, Cannes will select some Indian films and screen them in two of its most important sections, Competition and A Certain Regard. And hopefully, languages other than Hindi would make it.
In the meantime, what we know for sure is that two of India’s leading stars will walk the Red Carpet at Cannes. They are Rajnikanth, whose unparalleled fan following can well be a subject for a serious thesis, and Amitabh Bachchan, often described as the one-man movie industry.
While Bachchan will be at Cannes as part of his first ever Hollywood movie, Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, which opens the Festival on May 15, Rajnikanth will be out there with the trailer of Kochadaiyaan, set to hit the screens within a few months.
Interestingly, the Festival has been used as a launch pad for some desi films. Shekhar Kapur announced his “Paani” there a couple of years ago. Nobody knows when it will be made. Madhur Bhandarkar took whom he though would be his Heroine to Cannes to talk about his new venture. That the heroine herself had to be replaced soon after this PR exercise is another story. Mani Ratnam sent wife Suhasini to screen a teaser of his bilingual Raavan/Raavanan, which crashed at the boxoffice.
Unfortunately, Cannes has not been a lucky mascot for Indian cinema, no, not in a long long time. No, not since Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali in 1956 or Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Elippathayam (Rat Trap) in 1982. Ray’s work placed India on the world cinema map. Adoor’s work went on to become a classic, perhaps his finest work till now which made the master a favourite in Europe.
Will the Festival, which runs till May 26, spell luck for Indian cinema this time? (Gautaman Bhaskaran has covered Cannes for over 20 years, and will be at the French Riviera this summer as well.)