Indian cinema had a watershed moment at Cannes Film Festival 2024. Is the industry watching? - Hindustan Times

Indian cinema had a watershed moment at Cannes Film Festival 2024. Is the industry watching?

May 26, 2024 04:57 PM IST

With All We Imagine As Light winning the Grand Prix at Cannes, it is time to celebrate, but also to reflect on the precise contributions to this honour.

"Please don't wait another 30 years to have an Indian film," said director Payal Kapadia at the closing ceremony of the 77th edition of the Cannes Film Festival. She was on stage to accept the Grand Prix, the second highest prize of the festival for All We Imagine As Light. The moment was historic, and Indian Cinema truly had a watershed moment at the festival known to have launched some of the biggest, most celebrated filmmakers working in the world right now. (Also read: Cannes Film Festival: All We Imagine As Light scripts history, becomes first Indian film to win Grand Prix)

Payal Kapadia with her cast Chhaya Kadam, Divya Prabha and Kani Kusruti after she was awarded with the Grand Prix for the film All We Imagine as Light by Viola Davis during the Closing Ceremony at the 77th edition of the Cannes Film Festival.(AFP)
Payal Kapadia with her cast Chhaya Kadam, Divya Prabha and Kani Kusruti after she was awarded with the Grand Prix for the film All We Imagine as Light by Viola Davis during the Closing Ceremony at the 77th edition of the Cannes Film Festival.(AFP)

India at Cannes

Just a day before the closing ceremony, the awards for the Un Certain Regard section were also announced. Two Indian films were in contention at this section, Sandhya Suri's cop drama Santosh starring Shahana Goswami, and Bulgarian director Konstantin Bojanov's The Shameless. It was lead actor Anasuya Sengupta of The Shameless who scripted history, becoming the first Indian actor to clinch an acting award. She was chosen as the Best Actress by the jury headed by Xavier Dolan. There was more. Sunflowers Were The First Ones To Know, a short film directed by FTII student Chidananda S Naik was adjudged as the winner of the La Cinef Award for Best Short Film.

As emblematic as this moment is for Indian Cinema, I cannot help but notice the ground realities that have surfaced in the past few weeks. The first film in 30 years to enter the Main Competition section, All We Imagine As Light is a French-Indo co-production, made by the Paris-based producers Hakim and Julien Graff, of petit chaos, and Zico Maitra of Chalk & Cheese Films out of Mumbai. The last film in the race was way back in 1994, when Shaji N. Karun's Swaham returned empty handed. Quentin Tarantino had won the Palme d'Or that year for Pulp Fiction.

Meanwhile, The Shameless is a coproduction from Switzerland’s Akka Films, Taiwan’s House on Fire, France’s Urban Factory, India’s Teamo Productions HQ Limited and Bulgaria’s Klas Film. Indian Cinema has relatively fared well in the Un Certain Regard category in the last few years, notably with Neeraj Ghaywan's Masaan, Gurvinder Singh's Chauthi Koot and Nandita Das' Manto. On the other hand, the short film Sunflowers Were The First Ones To Know is a diploma film made by Chidananda S Naik, whose win marked the first time a film by a student from 1-year Television course of FTII has been recognized at Cannes.

Yet many artists and filmmakers have also expressed a fair share of concern about how much of these wins can be credited to the Indian film industry. Shreya Dhanwantary, the actor from Scam 1992, took to X to say, "I know we wanna view this as a collective victory for the Indian film industry but I believe it truly belongs to Payal Kapadia & her incredible cast and crew. Making a film here is tough, especially when it doesn't follow the rules. More, if it doesn’t tick certain boxes." She further added, "This achievement is solely theirs. No one made it easy for them, and they got here on their own. Congratulations, Payal Kapadia and team! You deserve this glory. This is your moment."

Filmmaker Pan Nalin, whose 2022 film Last Film Show was shortlisted as the Indian entry for the Best International Feature Film at the 95th Academy Awards, also asked a similar question the evening before All We Imagine As Light won the Grand Prix. "PREDICTION: Tonight Greta Gerwig will change something for Indian Cinema. Sad truth is that Indian Film ‘industry’ has almost nothing or very little to do with it. But Payal Kapadia is already that much needed change. Only France knows who is the force behind the talent," he wrote. It might as well be apt to put into context that Kapadia's documentary feature The Night of Knowing Nothing, has not seen a release in India.

Does that mean there is a lack of nurture and encouragement in the prevailing mainstream film industry, an absence of a discerning body that would support these films on an international platform? At Cannes, India makes its presence felt, predominantly on the red carpet. From Aishwarya Rai Bachchan to Kiara Advani, Aditi Rao Hydari to Shobita Dhulipala, the stars have made a splash for their red carpet looks. Then there was also a crowd of Indian influencers on the red carpet, namely Nancy Tyagi, Niharika NM, Ankush Bahuguna, Raj Shamani, Ayush Mehra, RJ Karishma, Virat Ghelani and Vishnu Kaushal. With sponsored trips to Cannes by its festival media partner Brut, they have also served as panelists on the Bharat Pavillion. Social media was abuzz with either the changing accents of some stars or the forced interviews ahead of the red carpet. Amid this noise, the attention to these Indian projects at Cannes felt way too little.

With Indian films having such a strong showcase at Cannes this year, I think it is an important time for the industry, as an entire unit, to re-evaluate and reflect on their priorities. These are rooted Indian stories, that are not tailored to meet the mainstream expectations of the Western audiences, which are making a definitive mark on a global stage.

Tanmay Dhanania, who played a pivotal role in The Shameless, took to his Instagram account to share a post in which he called out the hypocrisy of sending people who have ‘nothing to do with cinema’ to the festival, while the ones who are having their films screened there, are struggling to gather the required funds. In an interview with film critic Sucharita Tyagi at Cannes, actor Shahana Goswami added that most of the team have a ‘budget’. “Sometimes I wish there was a better structure to supporting people,” she said, while stressing that there should be a space to create a ‘grant’ for people who are attending the festival. Not just stars, but also cinematographers, editors, film critics.

This is a complex and necessary question that the film industry needs to address with integrity and reason. Who gets to celebrate these wins? All We Imagine As Light has achieved this success on the contribution of its own merit, without any industry support. It defied expectations and chalked out its own path to that Cannes stage. So that credit of achievement belongs only to Indian Cinema, not to the Indian film industry. When the same director's previous feature has still not seen the light of a release day here, the industry is revealing a painfully obvious rhetoric of ‘knowing nothing’, as if the audience must not know where the ‘light’ exists. But emerge it does, in one way or other, until the world sits up and take notice.

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