Raj Kumar Hirani?s Lage Raho Munnabhai elicited a three-minute standing ovation at Cannes.
Serge Sobczynski’s ‘All the Cinemas of the World’ drew all of his seven Indian directors to Cannes. From Tamil Nadu, Mani Ratnam arrived to present Guru; from Mumbai, Bhavna Talwar for her debut film Dharm; Rajkumar Hirani for Lage Raho Munnabhai (eliciting a 3-minute standing ovation); Mridul Toolsidass for Missed Call; from Kolkata, Rituparno Ghosh for Dosar; from Kerala, Dr Biju for Saira and from Tamil Nadu, for Veyil.
Sunday May 20 afternoon’s highlight was the panel discussion with these directors on current trends in Indian cinema, starting with how Indian cinema worked in terms of creativity and content and ending with problems of funding and production.
The articulate Rituparno Ghosh led the discussion for most of the way, focusing it on the intricacies and conflicts that Indian cinema, regional and mainstream, faced with Hindi leading the box-office in India and abroad. Munnabhai being re-made in two South Indian languages, he felt, meant that the original’s true essence was lost. While Hirani agreed in principle he felt it was inevitable and necessary for a popular film to reach wider audiences by whatever means – and language – that made it most accessible to wider markets. Dr Biju said that for him making films in his own milieu and language was essential. Bhavna Talwar said her debut work Dharm was set in Benaras, a place unfamiliar to her along with its setting of religious practice, which is what her film is about. But the film’s content guided her, she said, and she felt comfortable with the process. She added, in reply to a question, that she never for a moment felt hampered at being a woman director making her first film.
When it came to raising money, Dr Biju said that in Kerala the vastly neglected art film depended entirely on like-minded and generous independent producers. All the filmmakers felt that State funding was not available these days. They relied on production houses backing them, on foreign tie-ups and private financial backers.
Mani Ratnam had the last word. When asked if the industry was too star-driven, he replied succinctly, “For me, a “star” is not a bad word – entirely the contrary. A star is an invaluable ally for those filmmakers who want to make a different kind of cinema, one that aims at new ideas. A star is both experienced and accomplished and brings his/her artistry and edge to the film. Because a star is known, it helps a film to be accepted and to travel. And nowadays, a star is looking for challenging material and roles.” The other two major directors, Hirani and Ghosh, were in complete agreement.
All the directors were hopeful about looking into the future with their work. But they suggested that creativity and originality were needed in greater force and strength to extend Indian cinema to its maximum potential.
On the international front, the buzz of the day was Michael Moore’s Sicko. He retained his hold on Cannes as their documentary mascot. His film, a caustic, incisive expos? on the malpractices and injustice of the American public health systems, was enthusiastically endorsed all round.