Nostalgia for Indian cinema in Cannes

CANNES, May 22: Film industry professionals from India have lamented the absence of an Indian movie at the Cannes film festival this year while vowing to return stronger in the future.
It was a memorable moment for India cinema in Cannes when Malayalam director Shaji N Karun, producer Bobby Bedi, Marathi filmmaker Sumitra Bhave, veteran actor Mohan Agashe, and Malti Sahai, a former head of the Directorate of Film Festivals (DFF), gathered at the ongoing Cannes festival to introspect on the absence of an Indian entry at the famous festival this year.
The 72nd edition of the Cannes festival also marks a quarter-century of India’s absence from the prestigious competition section of the festival. The last Indian film to vie for the Palme d’Or, the top prize of the Cannes festival, was the Malayalam film ‘Swaham’, directed by Karun, in 1994.
“The national anthem played before the world premiere of ‘Swaham’ at Cannes in 1994,” recalled Karun. “It was a great honour to represent India here,” said Karun while participating in a function at the Cannes film market organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry on Sunday.
Ms Sahai, who headed the DFF in 1994, said she it was a proud moment for Indian cinema when ‘Swaham’ was screened in the competition section in Cannes. “We felt we had arrived somewhere,” said Ms Sahai, who walked the red carpet with Karun for the world premiere of ‘Swaham’.
“We had invited ten senior journalists from across the world to be present in Cannes while ‘Swaham’ competed for the Palme d’Or,” she said. “After the screening, the journalists said India had arrived.”
“I am saddened by the fact that we have not had an Indian film in competition after 1994,” Ms Sahai said.
Another Indian film was also in Cannes in 1994. ‘Bandit Queen’ directed by Shekhar Gupta was part of the Directors’ Fortnight parallel programme of the Cannes festival. “It was the first time I met Shaji N Karun,” said Bobby Bedi, who produced ‘Bandit Queen’.
‘Bandit Queen’ won accolades in Cannes for its realistic portrayal of a low-caste woman, who suffered gang rape, child abuse and caste discrimination before becoming a dreaded bandit. The film went on to become an international success after its world premiere in Cannes.
Veteran Marathi filmmaker Sumitra Bhave called for support to young filmmakers. “Our young and talented directors making films having authentic stories need encouragement,” said Bhave, who has directed the Marathi film ‘Dithee’, screened in the Cannes film market this year.
Karun lamented the lack of support to independent filmmakers by producers. “The producers are not supporting us,” said Karun, who self-financed ‘Swaham’ after no one came forward to produce the film.
French producer Pierre Assouline, who produced Karun’s ‘Vanaprastham’ starring Mohanlal, which was part of the official selection at the Cannes festival in 1999, said it was important for Indian cinema to be presence in Cannes. “India needs not only stars on the red carpet, but films in official selection,” said Assouline. “It is not about making the right film, but timing it for selection in Cannes,” he added.
Last year, ‘Manto’ directed by Nandita Das was the only Indian film in official selection in Cannes.