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Uday hopes for scorned Grace

Cannes, May 14: So who is right, Uday Chopra, of Yash Raj Films, who today attended the post screening news conference of Grace of Monaco in Cannes and predicted that “Indian audiences will react very positively to it” — or western critics who poured scorn on the movie based on the life of the late Princess Grace of Monaco.

Writing for The Guardian, Peter Bradshaw said: “The cringe-factor is ionospherically high. A fleet of ambulances may have to be stationed outside the Palais to take tuxed audiences to hospital afterwards to have their toes uncurled under general anaesthetic.”

The Daily Telegraph commented: “By the end of the first scene [critics] had started curling up, like startled armadillos, into tight little balls of embarrassment,” the paper wrote.

Had I seen the same movie?

I checked with a few other Indian journalists — like me, they, too, had loved it. Average Indian mark: 8/10. May be Indians, bred essentially on Bollywood, enjoy a movie if it is, well, enjoyable, while westerners, especially critics who have been coming to Cannes for years and years, want challenging and demanding cinema.

When I asked Chopra for his thinking behind investing in this Hollywood movie, he said that when he first heard of the script, he “chased it down”.

“We are a film making family,” he explained.

Yash Raj Films gets a prominent credit at the start of the movie, which today opened the Cannes Film Festival, the 67th, though out of competition.

“It makes you proud as an Indian,” whispered an Indian old timer.

With Nicole Kidman, who plays the title role, listening, along with the French director, Olivier Dahan, and the English actor, Tim Roth, who is cast as Prince Rainier of Monaco, Chopra talked about the Indian involvement in Grace of Monaco.

Old hands could not recall another occasion when there has been Indian collaboration in a Cannes opener (always crucial to the success of the festival). So, at least, Chopra was at the top table with one of the biggest actresses in the world.

One also has to admit Kidman lit up the news conference, with even experienced journalists drooling as they asked her questions. “I like the way you say, ‘sex’,” she told the Daily Mail reporter.

Chopra said there was an element of fate in the way Grace Kelley’s marriage ran into trouble. In time, her differences with Rainier, whom she met and married after a quick romance in 1956, were sorted out. There was also an element of fate in the way the “war” between Prince Rainier and President de Gaulle were resolved.

The French President, who was furious that French companies were registering in Monaco to avoid paying tax and who at one stage blockaded all roads and the port and threatened to annexe the principality.

The film, dealing with events in 1962-63, shows Grace Kelly throwing a sumptuous Red Cross Ball which de Gaulle is persuaded to attend. He is won over by her charm and lifts the blockade.

“We Indians believe in fate,” added Chopra. After the news conference had ended, he told me: “We are looking for a June release in India — probably mid-June.”

The film has become embroiled in a lot of politics, mostly involving the US producer Harvey Weinstein, who has made a separate American cut from the same raw material. This is apparently lighter and frothier and suitable for US audiences — Chopra has not specified which version will be seen in India.

So will Indian audiences like the movie?

My guess is yes. After all the US propaganda against the movie, it turned out to be surprisingly engaging.

Looking at Nicole Kidman, first on screen, and then in real life at the news conference, one could not help the thought she is what Grace Kelly must have been like. In the movie, the actress observes that after marriage she had left Grace Kelly behind in Hollywood and been transformed into Her Serene Highness Princess Monaco of Monaco.

Another way to look at it is to regard the manner in which she saved Monaco from being swallowed up by France as possibly Grace Kelly’s final and finest role.

This never happened in real life but there is an entertaining section which shows Alfred Hitchcock arriving at the palace in Monaco with the script of Marnie. Hitchcock is coached by a femalecourtier at the palace to bow to the Princess and address her as royalty.

Of course, all that goes out of the window as she calls him “Hitch” and he addresses her as “Gracie”. In real life, they spoke on the phone.

Kidman has been to Cannes on numerous occasions and knows how to answer questions simply and eloquently.

She spoke of how she had spent five months watching masses of old footage of Grace Kelly though she did not wanted to “mimic” the princess. The diamonds from Cartier and the designer wear from Dior had also helped in creating the lush images — at times there was a Sanjay Leela Bhanasali feel to the movie.

Kidman revealed she had seen all of Hitchcock’s work “My favourite performance of Grace is Rear Window, that’s my favourite Hitchcock film.”

Her best answer came when she was asked if would give up her acting career for love?

“I have never had to,” she replied without a moment’s hesitation. “Without question. I would not think twice about it. Love is the core emotion.”

 
 
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