The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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A hug, not a kiss, at Cannes
- ‘Long-lost’ Mumbai friends find each other & Vivek won’t let go

Cannes, May 20: For a couple who are allegedly not a couple, they behaved very much like a couple. But then we are entering the Alice in Wonderland world of mirrors where Aishwarya Rai and Vivek Oberoi are the main actors in this new and exciting drama but where nothing may be what it seems to be.

At the main Indian party hosted by the Confederation of Indian Industry in Cannes last night at the Carlton Beach Restaurant, Aishwarya turned up late just when it seemed she would snub the occasion. But as a jury member, she has other responsibilities. When she appeared, it was lights, camera, action. She looked cool and serene, as always, in the middle of the scrum.

The chief guest, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Union minister of state for information and broadcasting, was forgotten. Aishwarya was greeted by the host, Anand Mahindra, and his photogenic wife, Anuradha.

Into the scrum was introduced the Mumbai socialite, Parmeshwar Godrej, who had turned up in Cannes presumably because the French Riviera is now the centre of activity of the Indian jet set.

It was like one of those passages from the Mahabharata. The warrior with gifted powers can cut his or her way into the magic circle, but getting out requires another set of skills.

Suddenly, inside the circle was the actor, Vivek Oberoi. To say he and Aishwarya fell upon each other would be to wander into the realms of Bollywood fantasy. Let us say they hugged each other like long-lost friends. At this point, Oberoi should have stood discreetly aside and allowed Aishwarya to work the crowds.

Security at the party was ultra strict. Shekhar Kapur, master of ceremonies, announced: “There are 1,000 people outside wanting to get in. What shall I do'”

The presence of Oberoi puzzled the knowledgeable folk from Mumbai and Delhi. The questions several asked included the following: Why is he here' (Beats me.) Does he have a film to promote' (No.) Does he have any business in Cannes' (No.) Has he come just to party' (Must be a factor.) Is he naive' (Difficult question.) Does he think we are naive' (Yes.)

If these considerations entered Oberoi’s mind, he appeared not to be bothered. He took over the show and escorted Aishwarya through the crowds, standing next to her, hogging her limelight and appearing to all the world that they were, well, close.

“Perhaps they are outing themselves,” suggested a former senior I&B official, who discussed this most pressing of questions over dinner last night. “Perhaps he wants to link himself to her rising star.”

May be. May be he was just pleased to see a good friend. Who knows'

It remains to be recorded that the Indian evening was compered by Sunil Dutt’s daughter, Priya, with Shilpa Shetty and a troupe dancing several filmi numbers to represent five decades of women in Indian films. Some found the performance a trifle tacky but others considered it to be energetic. In any case, a French TV confessed that in many years of covering Cannes they had seen nothing like it.

Standing on the sidelines was the elegant and dignified figure of Hema Malini, who was dressed in Chopard jewellery last night, as was Shilpa Shetty.

Hema was on her first visit to Cannes, which was unknown territory to Hindi films in her younger days.

“That time it wasn’t there,” she said. “Otherwise nice, lovely films like Sholay would have been here. It is unfortunate my time is lost — passed. Everything is happening now. These girls are very lucky.”

She approved of Indian government involvement. “The (I&B) ministry is taking a lot of interest. We are doing it in a big way. I have come to be here — it’s very nice to see everything in Cannes. I am just absorbing everything.”

It was disclosed last night that a team from the Cannes Film Festival will visit India to offer further help and guidance so that Goa can be turned into an Indian version of Cannes. The French culture minister is also to visit India later this year.

The “Honourable Indian Minister”, as he is called in these parts, got a bit carried away last night and pledged to reduce bureaucracy for foreign film-makers wanting to shoot movies in India.

“It is natural that in the biggest film festival in the world the biggest film producer in the world, India, has to have a very powerful presence,” declared Prasad. “That is our whole ambition. India is a happening centre for entertainment. If the nineties were a decade for IT and communication, this first decade of the 21st century is the decade of Indian entertainment.”

Tonight, Indians in Cannes were gearing up for the big event of the week — the Hinduja party at the family villa overlooking the blue waters of the Cote d’Azur. Gopi and Ashok Hinduja are already in Cannes.

“SP (Srichand Hinduja),” said one of his staff with reverence in his voice, “is flying in this afternoon from Geneva”.

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