Festival de Cannes and Indian Cinema

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Held usually in the month of May, the Cannes International Film Festival has already begun in Cannes, the city of France. The festival in one of the most prestigious film festivals held around the world. It is an annual event which previews new films of all genres. The Cannes Film Festival has its origins in the late 1930s, when Jean Zay, the French minister of national education, organised an international cinematographic festival. Zay was keen to establish an international cultural event in France to rival the Venice Film Festival. The Festival got materialised in 1946. It is said that the reputed Venice Film Festival was patronised by the Italian dictator Mussolini before the Second World War. Cannes Film Festival emerged as its anti-fascist counter event. Other international film festivals like the Toronto International Film Festival, Berlin International Film Festival, International Film Festival Rotterdam, New York Film Festival, Hong Kong Film Festival and South by South West are some of the international film festivals which are respected widely. Notably the Academy Award, popularly known as the Oscars is way down in the list of prestigious film festivals. There are many attributes that qualifies any festival’s importance. One key area that attracts film makers from across the globe is giving space to emerging film makers with innovative work. Another factor is the festival’s ability to attract first-rate world premieres from the best of time-honored film makers. The Cannes Film Festival excels in both counts besides other factors. Cannes offers an opportunity to determine a particular country’s image of its cinema. Each international festival of repute has their individuality and caters to specific criteria without compromising one very important point; none of the films that are screened at the festivals are crowd pleasers.

For a simple analogy, Vatican City is to the Catholics and so is Mecca to the Muslims. In the same vein, film festival is to the film makers and their films. A film that has taken part in any festival is considered to have touched a certain height of cinematic excellence. The Indian scenario in producing good cinema is in a tragic state, so to say. One important reason is the overarching nature of the films made in Mumbai that are tailored out from an assembly line production. Heavily financed by industrial fat cats, these films are mainly targeted for big returns. Or in simple terms, films are made for ‘box office hits’ to meet the taste of multiplex audience. No doubt, business logic demands return from any sort of investments. But what is unfortunate is the crass standardisation of the cinematic quality by profitability. The ‘Star system’ took birth along with the ‘box office’, a phenomenon that took roots in the US. Movies that are churned out from Hollywood started sprawling out to different parts of the world. Hollywood movies therefore have been overshadowing effect on most other films produced elsewhere. No wonder, the word ‘Bollywood’ has become almost synonymous with Indian cinema. India produces thousands of movies every year, not only from the tinsel town of Mumbai but also from other parts of the country. In fact, Indian cinema is hundred years old. Yet only a handful of them have been able to reach festival like the Cannes. The word ‘Indian Cinema’ is also a contested term, as it is not easy to define what exactly Indian cinema is: much like the definition of India with all its diversities that the country has. Manipuri film maker Aribam Syam Sharma, whose film Ishanou is among the coveted list of films from India that have participated in the Cannes has define Indian cinema as regional cinema. Meaning, the cinemas that are made at various regions of the country should be the identity of Indian cinema, and not those which are tailored out from Mumbai. Each year hosts of actors from Mumbai rush to attend the Cannes Festival. But they go without any films. As mentioned in the opening of the column, it was the French minister of national education that initiated the Cannes Festival. For India, still after its completion of hundred years of cinema, National Film Festival is conducted under the aegis of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry. Here lies the difference in perception and its approach to cinema. India is the largest film producing country in the world, without state funding. And the country has a long way to reach festival like Cannes at the desired level.

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