| JURY DUTY: Anupama Chopra
Life as a jury member isnt all fun
At least, there is one Indian on a Cannes jury. Anupama Chopra ée Chandra, the TV journalist and film critic who has written a number of books, including one on Sholay, is a member of the Cannes jury for Un Certain Regard, which has 20 movies by first-time directors in contention.
Her presence illustrates it is not so easy to get away from the Chandra family. Anupama, who is married to the film-maker Vidhu Vinod Chopra, is the sister of Vikram Chandra, author of the 900-page Sacred Games, and of Tanuja Chandra, who has directed Mahima Chaudhary in Hope and a Little Sugar.
Poor Anupama had to sit through her opening film, Hunger, made by the black British director Steve McQueen. It tells of how Bobby Sands and other Irish Republican Army prisoners smeared their cells with their own excrement in 1981 in a bid to force Margaret Thatchers government to treat them as political prisoners. Sands died after a 66-day hunger strike which was preceded by brutal beatings by prison guards.
The excrement scenes were shown at great length and in loving detail. This is not Om Shanti Om kind of cinema, which explains why life-enhancing Bollywood fare never gets into Cannes competition.
I wonder how you could go to dinner after that, my wife said when I rang her.
I do feel a bit sick, I admitted. It was more like disgusted.
The British bashing went down well with the French audience which gave prolonged applause to the director and his cast, notably Michael Fassbender, an Irish actor who plays Sands.
As we came out, I asked one man what he thought. He might have been Iraqi for he said, Very good, its exactly like Iraq, before disappearing into the night.
Many in the Cannes audience were persuaded by the power of cinema to see Sands as a heroic martyr but I was not entirely convinced.
What makes Cannes unique, though, is the amazing diversity of cinema on offer.
For example, an Israeli animation film in the main competition, Waltz with Bashir, which revolves around one Israeli soldiers attempt to understand his countrys invasion of the Lebanon in the early-1980s, came as a revelation because I had not expected it to be quite so powerful and critical — of Israel.
| Of two worlds: Film-maker Shalin Sirkar
Shalin Sirkar, a 31-year-old film-maker of Indian origin from South Africa — she believes hers is the only Bengali family from a one million plus Indian population in a republic of 52m people — says: My ethnicity is Indian but I am South African. When India plays South Africa, I support South Africa.
But she is also proud she was born in 1977 in Pietermaritzburg, 78km north of Durban.
Pietermaritzburg is where Gandhi was kicked off the train, she reminds me.
Shalin is making a feature film, Home Sweet Home, set in South Africas Indian community. But according to Shalin, its economic prosperity disguises deep psychological flaws and the loss of a moral compass because the Indian-origin population is clinging on to outdated religious and ritualistic values.
My feeling is that Shalin, a graduate in politics, philosophy and economics, would be better off playing herself in a movie based on the remarkable history of her own family.
Her great grandfather emigrated to South Africa from India in the 1860s but everything else about him is shrouded in mystery. His son, Anantho Sirkar (1897-1989), and grandson, Ishwar Paul Sirkar (1937-1995), were both born in South Africa and did well in the construction business. Shalin has named her film company, Chalia, after her fathers nickname for her.
Shalin has now been to the mother country a few times but her film should be based on her first journey to India in 2004.
I went with my mother, says Shalin, who experienced extremes of highs and lows. I went through a range of intense, mind-blowing emotions, from ecstasy to fury.
Then, as now, she feels both Indian and South African.
|In the spotlight: Nina Lath Gupta
Its worrying but whats going right with the West Bengal state government? Nina Lath Gupta points to the West Bengal poster in the Indian Pavilion and confirms: West Bengal was the only one to respond when we wrote to all the state governments and Union territories asking them if they wanted to be promoted as a (film) location destination.
Nina, who is managing director of the National Film Development Corporation, adds: West Bengal was also the only one to send a poster.
Those with ideas should prepare to submit their proposals for Ninas ambition is for the NFDC to nurture new talent.
We have made films in 15 languages, she points out. The NFDC has played a huge role in discovering new talent. We have a 100 per cent production scheme under which the first feature of a director is eligible.
Under a separate co-production scheme, which can be a public-private partnership, the NFDC will pay up to a third of a Rs 3 crore budget film.
The NFDC has brought four films it has funded to Cannes — Via Darjeeling (about the age old Bengali tradition of adda); Bioscope; Lucky Red Seeds; and The White Elephants.
All are by first-time directors, says Nina.
|Its showtime: A poster of The Happening
Since India has claimed the director M. Night Shyamalan as a son of the soil, especially after the huge success of his very clever The Sixth Sense, I am happy to report that a giant poster of his new $57 million movie, The Happening, occupies the prime location outside the Carlton Hotel.
The film has been described as a paranoid thriller in which an estranged couple strive to escape an apocalyptic pandemic.
At the UTV stall in the Cannes Market, Gayatri Gulati, a senior manager in international distribution — she is also trying to flog Jodhaa Akbar to such non-traditional markets as China, South Korea, Japan and Turkey — confirms her company is co-producing The Happening and will distribute it in India.
In fact, Ronnie Screwvalas UTV is putting up half the budget and retaining distribution rights in India.
Perhaps the carefully selected release date will somehow determine whether The Happening turns out to be the happening movie we all desire — its Friday, June 13.
Next year the Cannes authorities should include one of Suchitra Sens films in the classics section — this year Vijay Anands Guide, starring Dev Anand, is being shown.
In her prime Suchitra Sen had the kind of ethereal beauty that would have been captured well at Cannes in evocative black and white photographs. She would be too frail to come now, of course, but her daughter, Moon Moon Sen, and granddaughters, Raima and Riya, could represent her.
One man who has met Suchitra Sen since she went into purdah is the director Jagmohan Mundhra, who brought Provoked to Cannes a couple of years ago and Shoot on Sight this year.
I am close to Moon Moon and had dropped in to see her in Calcutta about 10 years ago, recalls Jag. Moon Moon introduced me to her mother who had called to collect her granddaughters. She did not say much but even at her age she came across as a very regal lady.