When the Quentin Tarantino jury at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival gave the top Palm d'Or for Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 - a scathing documentary on the Bush administration - a lot of people were unhappy. They said that this was a political decision of a jury that was as opposed to President Bush as Moore himself. The people felt that there were many other entries, notably fiction features, which merited the prize. But there were no public protests against the jury's verdict. No morchas at Cannes.
However, in India, things do go overboard. A few days ago, there was a protest at the ongoing International Film Festival of India (IFFI) by all those who were grieved that their movies had not been chosen for the Indian Panorama - a section which showcases the cream of Indian cinema and often viewed as one of the most prestigious events at the annual event taking place in Panaji.
This year, there were about 180-odd films that had been sent up for a possible inclusion in the Panorama. A 13-member jury, headed by the renowned cinematographer-director, AK Bir, watched the movies over 23 days to pick 26. Not an easy task for any jury.
Cannes, for instance, works for three months to pick 40 works or so from close to 3000 submissions. The same is the case with Venice or Berlin. Obviously, most of what comes in has to be rejected. But there are no public protests. Private cribbing, well, yes.
But in India, all those who have been given the go by in the Panorama make a hue and cry over it. They seldom accept the jury's choice with grace. Sometimes, they go to court and make it messy for the Directorate of Film Festivals, which organises IFFI.
Also, most moviemakers do not care to understand that the Panorama is meant to exhibit the best of Indian cinema - irrespective of language or budget. One of the members of this year's Panorama jury, Ganga Raju Gunnam, a producer-writer-director from Andhra Pradesh, was bombarded with questions when he went back home to Hyderabad. Why is it that not a single Telugu film had made it to this important section, he was asked time and again. "Because there was no Telugu movie worth a berth on the Panorama", he quipped and quipped.
Sadly, like much else in India, we are still parochial. We still think in the confines of language, religion, caste and so on. And we bring these factors into play when we choose films for the Panorama, forgetting that this is not a Panorama of Telugu or Tamil or Bengali or Assamese or Hindi or Oriya movies - but a Panorama of Indian cinema, and the best of Indian cinema at that.
There is another kind of prejudice at work. Must a big-budget and big-star picture like Drishyam be part of the Panorama - which it is this year? Why not? Must a film, however wonderfully made, be kept out of Panorama just because it was made on a big budget? Does it not deserve to be seen by a world audience? Also, must Drishyam be out of the Panorama race, just because it has superstar Mohanlal in it?
A similar example would be Venu's Munnariyippu - which has Mammootty playing a convict, and what a great performance, and what a great film as well.
It is time producers and directors realised that the Indian Panorama is not one of those areas guided by some kind of reservation policy.
One young director, whose debut work was not selected for Panorama, lamented that he was poor, had used his last penny to make the movie and Panorama was his last chance to reap something from what he had invested. Surely, this cannot be a reason.
Also, the young man must understand that a jury's decision is final, and questioning it can only be futile.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran was part of the Indian Panorama Feature Film Jury, and is now covering the International Film Festival of India for Hindustan Times.)