The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cannes close shave for Chameli ace

Cannes, May 17: The acclaimed Indian director Sudhir Mishra, who narrowly escaped a drowning tragedy in Cannes last night, today robustly defended the role of political films, including notably Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 911 whose world premiere at the festival had “all the force of a hand grenade’’.

There is little doubt that Moore’s anti-Bush film, which Disney has “officially decided to prohibit”, is the talk of Cannes. Journalists are hanging on to every pronouncement by Moore, who won an Oscar last year with his anti-gun culture documentary, Bowling for Columbine.

He has received strong support from fellow directors from around the world, who see Moore as an unorthodox but effective champion of artistic freedom. Mishra, one of India’s rising directors after Chameli and Hazaaron Khwahishein Aisi, very nearly did not make it this morning.

While going to attend a dinner party yesterday on a yacht moored in Cannes harbour, he missed the two feet gap between the vessel and the pier. As Mishra, a tall, heavy man, dropped like a stone into the water, the yacht edged closer to the pier, threatening either to crush him or trap him underneath. Either, onlookers said, would have been fatal.

Fortunately, two expert yachtsmen, who spotted Mishra disappear under the water, dived in, managed to locate him in time and had the Indian, bruised and bleeding, hauled out of the water. Although drenched and clearly in shock, Mishra’s immediate response ought to go down in Cannes history.

“Have you saved my script'” he asked his producer friend from Mumbai, Viveck Vaswani.

Giving priority to the things that really matter in life, Vaswani was seen pouring water out of Mishra’s bag which was also recovered from the water.

“I saved Mishra’s script of The Nawab, Nautch Girl and the John Company from the Mediterranean but I could not save his mobile,” Vaswani said today. “I was up all night in hospital with him. Had Sudhir been trapped under the boat, it would have been fatal.”

Mishra himself recalled: “The normal instinct is to swim but I did not flail out and I decided to go straight down to the bottom. If I had tried to swim, I might have got trapped under the boat.”

Mishra’s near tragedy was witnessed by The Telegraph, which today (after congratulating the director on his hair-breadth escape) discussed the significance of Moore’s movie.

He sees Fahrenheit 911, which has been at the centre of a huge row in the US, as possessing particular importance for India. “Firstly, whatever America does influences us all,” said Mishra. “It is important for us to understand how America works, especially the young Indians who want to head for the US of A.”

Mishra said that Indian directors should emulate Moore and make hard-hitting political films, rather than be persuaded or seduced into producing either “kitsch or spiritual movies” both for Indian and overseas markets.

“The West wants to simplify India into terms which they can understand,” he added. “If this process continues and we don’t deal with the hard issues of the country, we won’t have any films of our own. In the 1950s, the films, at least, reflected the big social concerns of the day.”

Fahrenheit 911, although predictably anti-war and anti-Bush, is nevertheless a landmark movie which will be studied by documentary makers all over the world.

No single film can bring down an American President, but if there is one movie capable of mortally wounding President Bush in the run-up to the election, then Fahrenheit 911 might well be it. Moore said in Cannes that the White House, realising what he was up to, had tried to put pressure on the film’s financiers to pull out. It has been reported that Disney’s subsidiary, Miramax, which was contracted to distribute the film, had also agreed to withdraw.

But at the first screening of Fahrenheit 911 in Cannes, The Telegraph spotted the larger than life figure of Harvey Weinstein, pugnacious head of Miramax. He would have judged from the audience reaction and the prolonged applause at the end that Miramax would be mad not to distribute a surefire winner.

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