The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Missing in Cannes: Indian film, but only on screen
- Stage set for soul-search on why biggest movie industry can’t impress selection committees

Cannes, May 15: Nice airport was busy this afternoon as thousands of cinema industry folk started flooding in for what is expected to be a very special Cannes.

This year marks the 60th Cannes Film Festival and though Venice and Berlin have mounted strong challenges, the French are pretty confident this remains the most important film festival in the world.

It’s certainly the most glamorous (though Ash, apparently, is not coming with husband Abhishek).

“For the anniversary we chose to mix heritage with modernity, well-known names and new blood,” said Giles Jacob, the president of the festival.

By a neat coincidence, this is also the 60th year of Indian Independence. It would have been nice if the French, who select the 20 films for competition from the 4,000-5,000 submitted, had picked one from India.

Sadly, there isn’t one. In fact, over 60 film festivals, not one Indian film has been picked for the top prize, the Palme d’Or, that is awarded to the winner of the main competition.

One screen writer and film activist, Bhuvan Lall, is trying to stir it up by convening a panel on Sunday to debate the very pertinent question: “Why not India' The inside story of why Indian films do not make it to the top festivals and awards.”

On the terrace over the Majestic beach, assorted luminaries —including critic Derek Malcolm, Hannah Fisher of the Bangkok Film Festival, Cameron Bailey of the Toronto Film Festival and Leslie Vanderpool of the Bahamas International Film Festival — will debate why the world’s biggest film industry fails to impress selection committees.

Lall has asked his speakers to address the conundrum: “India produces the largest number of films in the world, has had a creative history unparalleled in the history of the cinematic world and talent that has the potential to dominate global cinema. Yet, our films do not seem to attract global acclaim. We bask under the glory of small victories when we see a few Indian films make it to the US box office and break even overseas.”

At a time when there is a concerted attempt by both FICCI and the CII to make the Indian entertainment industry much more professional, the uncomfortable truths Lall has raised do need to be faced.

“The entertainment industry has never been so exciting, challenging and important to India,” Lall pointed out.

“Today, we embrace all the new ways to create content, distribute content and view content. We have so many more choices and, at once, many more business opportunities. Indian entertainment has been noticed worldwide but the breakthroughs have not happened.”

There will be a record number of Indians in Cannes this year and perhaps they will learn from what other countries have to offer.

Hong Kong director Wong Kar Wai, who headed last year’s Cannes jury, is in the running for the Palme d’Or with his first English language film, My Blueberry Nights, which opens the festival tomorrow.

It stars the singer Norah Jones, Anoushka Shankar’s much more famous half-sister. Her co-stars are Jude Law, Rachel Weisz and Natalie Portman.

Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof and Van Sant’s Paranoid Park are also among the 20 entries in competition.

Perhaps, the biggest film being screened this year but out of competition is A Mighty Heart, the feature version of Mariane Pearl’s book on the kidnap and murder in Karachi of her husband Daniel Pearl, the Mumbai-based reporter for the Wall Street Journal.

Directed by the British director, Michael Winterbottom, much of the film was shot in Pune where the streets are said to resemble those in Karachi. Produced by Brad Pitt, it stars Angelina Jolie as Mariane Pearl.

Hollywood glamour will tread the famous red carpet for the gala screening of Stephen Soderbergh’s Ocean’s 13. The film’s stars — Brand Pitt, George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Catherine Zeta Jones, Matt Damon and Al Pacino — are all expected to attend the premiere.

Like India, the British, too, have no films in competition, though Stephen Frears, director the much-acclaimed The Queen, is chairing the Cannes jury. He is joined by eight others, including Australian actress Toni Collette and Nobel Prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk. Eros International, distributors, will have a market screening of Cheeni Kum,“a sugar free romance”, starring Amitabh Bachchan, who might make an appearance.

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