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India dreams: If Cannes can, so can Goa

Cannes, May 18: This might sound too good to be true but plans were revealed today to turn the holiday resort of Goa, with its inviting mix of palm trees, sandy beaches and Portuguese architecture, into an Indian version of Cannes.

The Union minister of state for information and broadcasting, Ravi Shankar Prasad, told The Telegraph in an exclusive interview: “The dream is Cannes in Goa.”

If the dream comes off, the $900-a-night room rate at the Noga Hilton in Cannes, where some members of the Indian delegation are putting up — Cannes is horribly expensive at the best of times — will have been worth the investment.

It was revealed that Prasad’s ministry is in an advanced stage of talks with the Goa government, with the bigwigs of the Confederation of Indian Industry putting in their financial muscle to ensure the scheme comes off.

Asked whether he was serious, Prasad responded: “If you want to know in percentage terms, it’s 100 per cent. I have had a very meaningful dialogue with the Goan chief minister. He is equally keen. We are going to work it out very soon. I am very keen to have a proper Indian international venue in Goa.”

Prasad, who has followed Sushma Swaraj to Cannes, said: “I am a dreamer that way and a very optimistic dreamer. I am quite sure that with the support of the government, the great Indian film industry, the film people and the Goa government, we will make it a great success.”

He said: “In terms of facilitation, if it requires some monetary assistance that will also be there. But we are going to work as a team. We shall try to expedite it very fast.”

He has been won over by Cannes, without doubt the most glamourous of the world’s film festivals. “Cannes is a wonderful model. If one can set a high standard, why not'” he said.

Asked whether he believed India could match Cannes for glamour, the minister replied: “India never lacks in glamour. We have abundance of glamour. We shall be using it properly. It will be a good mix of creativity and glamour.”

The minister defended Aishwarya Rai for her presence in Cannes for there has been some carping by a few Indian old-timers that heavyweight producers and directors ought to be on the main jury rather than an actress.

Prasad was having none of that. “We are proud of her,” he commented. “She is a signature and an icon, a truly extraordinary actress who is doing exceedingly well.”

Confirming Prasad’s plans, Suresh K. Amonkar, the minister in the Goa government with responsibility for a number of portfolios, including tourism, pondered whether Goa would become an Indian Cannes.

“We want to build a Goa Cannes,” he said. “We can sell it on our brand name — Goa. This is a model which we have come to study. This is very serious, otherwise there was no purpose of my coming here.”

He pointed out that Goa already possessed good infrastructure. “We have good roads, good hotels. With this international film festival in mind we would like to develop it very soon. The time frame is two or three years.”

The three-member Goa delegation to Cannes, said to be the first sent by an Indian state to a film festival, has already met senior figures in the Cannes management.

“We have seen a lot of people in Cannes,” said Amonkar. “We are going to interview the Cannes marketing director. We need a bit of additional infrastructure. Beauty-wise, we can beat Cannes.” He put the cost of developing Goa at between Rs 150 crore and Rs 250 crore. “This is a joint venture, with the Goa government the facilitator. The CII and other partners are there.”

The details on what may prove to be one of the most ambitious plans undertaken by the Indian government were provided by a civil servant, Rajesh Singh, the press liaison officer to the Goa chief minister.

He said: “It was the Indian government which first mooted the idea that Goa should become the permanent venue for an international film festival.

“We have been handling tourists already, up to 15 lakh tourists every year. There’s no problem. We have the facilities. Every five-star hotel has an international name — Leela is there, Marriott is there, Taj is there. We are in the process of creating facilities, the infrastructure is already on. We need an auditorium, for instance. We are in the process of creating all of that.”

He further revealed: “We are planning a festival very soon. It will be the first one in Goa, an international film festival. What we are also planning in November or December is an Indian film market, a buyers and sellers forum.”

He was careful about the comparison with Cannes. “What we are looking at specifically in Cannes is just the basic exposure to how a festival is done. We have also had feedback from people in the market. We spoke to Subhash Ghai yesterday and he was kind enough to give us advice. He said, ‘Fantastic, go ahead. It’s the perfect place for a festival.’”

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