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From bikini to burkini: The time for topless, semi-clad women in Cannes is over

Cannes, which was one of the 30 French resorts that banned burkinis last summer, is all set to see women donning full-body swimsuits.

world cinema Updated: Apr 26, 2017 14:04 IST
Gautaman Bhaskaran
Gautaman Bhaskaran
Hindustan Times, Chennai
A burkini-clad woman by the beach. Cannes might see them in May when the festival begins.(Shutterstock)

There was a time when Cannes was famous for its bikini-clad women. And the annual 12-day movie festival there every May saw not just bikinis on its sunny sea-front, but also topless women who provided the oomph outside the auditoriums - a kind of sensationalism that gave them a chance to adorn the covers and pages of glamour magazines. As time went by, something sexier came along with topless women, svelte and seductive, playing volley-ball on the sand. One had wondered then which was a greater attraction at Cannes, the films or the females.

But in what appears like an unbelievable U-turn, Cannes, which was one of the 30 French resorts that banned burkinis last summer, is all set to see women donning full-body swimsuits. And what better time can there be than the festival -- when the small city on the picture postcard French Riviera wakes up to croissant and coffee, followed by a day at the cinemas or the fashion boulevards or the beach.

The ban was overturned on August 26 by a French court, and the French-Algerian businessman, Rachid Nekkaz (who had earlier spear-headed a campaign against the proscription), told the media the other day that no event could be better than the Cannes Film Festival to celebrate this victory “guaranteeing freedom to bathe in burkinis on the French beaches”.

The French Riviera city, once the playground for playboys and the racing track for the rich and the fun-place for the famous, was the first to pass an order against the burkini. The Mayor of Cannes, David Lisnard, said after a terror attack at Nice on July 14 (Bastille Day), just a 30-minute drive from his city, that the ban was essentially to address security concerns. He also added that Euro 38 would be fined on those found sporting a burkini.

But the Council of State ruled “emotion and concerns prompted by terror attacks in France, and in particular those in Nice, could not justify in law the contested prohibition measure”.

It is this victory that Nekkaz will be toasting with a campaign headlined, ‘Let’s All Wear Burkinis On The Beaches During The Cannes Film Festival’. Nekkaz’s crusade will end on May 26, the final Friday of the cinema event.

Nekkaz was born to Algerian parents. He is a self-made millionaire, and is often described as a maverick militant. But his nickname is even more catchy, Zorro of the Niqab. He pooh-poohs all this calling himself a secular Muslim.

But for one like this writer who has made Cannes his annual pilgrimage point for 27 years, the change on the beach may seem as scandalous as the skimpy that Cannes was notoriously known for. And this alluring image was propagated and propelled by not just the ordinary folks on the beach, but also the celebrities. One of them was Simone Silva, a French star, who during the 1954 Festival manufactured a photo opportunity that turned into a shameful scandal. She ran up to the Hollywood actor, Robert Mitchum - who was posing for pictures - and threw herself into his arms, making sure her flimsy top slipped off her shoulders. The man was all confused and perhaps even embarrassed with his wife next to him. But Mitchum, all chivalry, pulled Simone close to his chest trying to cover the little dignity of hers that still remained!

The incident was clearly a harbinger of things to come at Cannes, and in the 1980s and the 1990s, the beach transformed itself into a no-holds-barred studio of sorts with dozens of aspiring models and actors dropping their dresses to seduce shutterbugs to shoot them into stardom.

However, this May, Cannes will be all coy and covered with Mr Zorro supervising a new kind of style. Cannes runs from May 17 to 28.

(Gautaman Bhaskaran will cover the upcoming 70th edition of the Cannes Film Festival.)

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First Published: Apr 26, 2017 13:32 IST