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Friday, Oct 18, 2019

Travel: At Cannes, it IS about films!

Don’t be fooled by the fashion and the frippery. Behind the scenes, there are billions of dollars in business

brunch Updated: Jun 23, 2019 00:35 IST
Sanjeev Bijli
Sanjeev Bijli
Hindustan Times
The Grand Theatre Lumiere is the main hall of the opening ceremony
The Grand Theatre Lumiere is the main hall of the opening ceremony(AFP)
         

Someone once said she wished the Cannes Film Festival was more about films than fashion. It actually is about films, but the fashion is better reported. Those of us in the film industry who actually go there for business know the other side, and it is just as hard work as the European Film Market in Berlin and the American Film Market in Los Angeles. True, Cannes is the biggest film festival in the world today, attracting brands like L’Oréal and Chopard, amongst others, because of the glamour associated with it. But it is first and foremost about films.

Cabbing it to Cannes

The Cannes Film Festival means films from around the world being screened in competition over 12 days for the coveted Palme d’Or award, all selected by an esteemed jury. There are also films with a niche appeal in the section called Un Certain Regard, and Out of Competition screenings. The festival is about major films being premiered for the first time (this year it was Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), when stars fly down to walk the red carpet. And it is the industry event that draws aspiring filmmakers, because the careers of Quentin Tarantino, the Weinstein brothers and others, were apparently launched here. But behind this mega dose of creativity and glamour, Cannes is a film market, where billions of dollars worth of business is done in those 12 days, through sales of international rights for various films.

In 2016, actress Julia Roberts ascended the steps barefoot to protest against the ‘no flats’ rule on the red carpet
In 2016, actress Julia Roberts ascended the steps barefoot to protest against the ‘no flats’ rule on the red carpet ( Getty images )

I first went to Cannes in 1998. After we opened our first multiplex, Anupam in Saket, New Delhi, we got a lot of feedback from our customers about why some films aren’t released in India. In those days we played all the Indian films and English films that were brought in by major studios such as Fox, Disney, Warner brothers and Paramount. I started to do my research and realised that many of the films that we heard of were in fact not studio films, but were being produced and distributed by independent studios such as New Line and Miramax. And there was no one importing these films to India.

Thus began my journey to start PVR pictures and import independent English films.

The writer, Sanjeev Bijli, and his nephew Aamer at the Grand Theatre Lumiere for the premier of Rocketman on May 16
The writer, Sanjeev Bijli, and his nephew Aamer at the Grand Theatre Lumiere for the premier of Rocketman on May 16 ( Courtesy: Sanjeev Bijli )

I was so unfamiliar with the world of festivals that on my first trip, I didn’t even stay in Cannes. Hotels in Cannes seemed very expensive, so I booked something in Juan les Pins, a small town 45 minutes from Cannes. This would be a lovely decision if you were on a holiday on the French Riviera, but it is most inconvenient if you plan to do business at Cannes. The money I saved on the hotel was spent on expensive cabs back and forth from the festival. Lesson learned, I spent a week there and came back with one film: The Mask, starring Jim Carrey!

Buy-buy glamour

Now, after 20 years of attending film markets, I can’t even fathom buying just one film. We buy and distribute at least 40 films a year. Over the years, we have acquired and brought to Indian cinemas Oscar-winning gems such as Chicago, 12 Years a Slave, The Room and most recently, Moonlight, not to mention blockbusters such as The Wolf of Wall Street, Imitation Game, Twilight series and the John Wick series amongst many others.

(From left) Leonardo DiCaprio, Quentin Tarantino, Daniela Tarantino, David Heyman, Shannon McIntosh, Margot Robbie and Brad Pitt at the premier of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on May 21
(From left) Leonardo DiCaprio, Quentin Tarantino, Daniela Tarantino, David Heyman, Shannon McIntosh, Margot Robbie and Brad Pitt at the premier of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on May 21 ( Getty images )

The thrill of having bet on a good film and watching it become a blockbuster on its release, or garnering awards at ceremonies around the world is what makes show business a great business!

Every time I leave for Cannes, I get ‘I envy you’ vibes from everyone I know. Most people think I’ll be walking the red carpet every night, attending glamorous yacht parties and rubbing shoulders with celebrities. “You didn’t see Aishwarya Rai!” they exclaim on my return. “Oh no, so sorry. I was busy working and I am sure she was super busy with her commitments.”

A snapshot of the charming cobbled streets of Le Suquet, the old town in Cannes
A snapshot of the charming cobbled streets of Le Suquet, the old town in Cannes ( Sanjeev Bijli )

Work at Cannes is prepping before every market, reading 70 odd scripts and deciding which ones to buy. Our day typically starts at 8.30am with meetings with independent sales agents and producers, where we buy films of interest, interspersed with screenings of films we have bought or plan to buy. We also attend pitches by directors and producers and sometimes actors, who share their vision of a film they are selling at the market. One pitch we attended this year was with acclaimed actor and director Robin Wright for her first film as a director, The Road.

Brilliant experience!

The red carpet premiere tickets
The red carpet premiere tickets ( Sanjeev Bijli )

We wrap up around 7pm, and have typically clocked 15,000 steps walking up and down the Croisette. Then comes the fun part, if you still have energy that is! Chances are you will because the buzz on the Croisette is so infectious that you end up attending cocktail parties on the beach, parties at private villas, or at the very least have sumptuous meals at one of the hundreds of great restaurants in the area. My favourite is in the old town of Le Suquet. The charming cobbled streets are lined with amazing small restaurants that have both great food and great ambience.

Gimme red!

This year, the 72nd Cannes Marché du Film, was very special for me. I walked the red carpet not once, but twice! This wasn’t the first time I’d done that – way back in 2006, I’d ticked that particular box for the highly acclaimed Paris Je T’aime, a film we distributed in India. But this year I wanted my nephew, who was accompanying me to Cannes for the first time, to experience the thrill of walking up the steps of the Grand Theatre Lumiere as photographers with their flashbulbs going berserk line both sides of the red carpet. It is still a very special feeling and the allure of it is still very much intact. The latter is because this red carpet is where significant moments that are etched in our memories unfolded. Remember the 1991 premiere of Truth or Dare, when Madonna waited to walk up to the top of the stairs of the Grand Theatre Lumiere, and then removed her pink satin cloak to reveal that iconic silver conical bustier by Jean Paul Gaultier? And in 2016, when Julia Roberts ascended the steps barefoot to protest against the ‘no flats’ rule on the red carpet? Both these incidents and many more have happened on this red carpet over the years.

On the Promenade de la Croisette, you can see fashionable visitors sashay down
On the Promenade de la Croisette, you can see fashionable visitors sashay down ( AFP )

Our first red carpet this year was for the highly-anticipated biopic of Sir Elton John, Rocketman. Directed by Dexter Fletcher, starring Taron Egerton as Elton, and with an amazing supporting cast including Jamie Bell and Richard Madden, the film got a 10-minute standing ovation. It has since been released all over the world to mixed reviews and a gross of nearly $60 million, but one thing is for certain, Taron was phenomenal and is guaranteed a spot at the Golden Globes next year, if not the Oscars!

Rocketman, the biopic of Sir Elton John, was premiered on May 16 and has been very well-received at the box office
Rocketman, the biopic of Sir Elton John, was premiered on May 16 and has been very well-received at the box office ( Getty images )

Our next red carpet a couple of days later at 11pm (yes, they have them starting as late as that), was for Asif Kapadia’s superbly directed Diego Maradona. Asif, winner of an academy award and four Baftas, has directed The Warrior, Senna, and Amy amongst others, and is known for making feature length documentaries using real life footage. I loved Maradona so much that I acquired it, and it will be release in India this September.

A week of films, meetings, screenings, pitches, and I fall in love with the world of movies once again. And for those who think Cannes is just about fashion, glamour and parties, think again!

Author bio: Sanjeev Bijli is Joint Managing Director of PVR cinemas, and a much loved face on Delhi’s social scene

From HT Brunch, June 23, 2019

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First Published: Jun 22, 2019 23:30 IST

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