Big friendly giant with an India connect

Steven Spielberg's The BFG (Big Friendly Giant), which one journalist called "one of the greatest movies of the year", had its world premiere in Cannes yesterday.

By Amit Roy in Cannes
  • Published 16.05.16
Spielberg (left) with Ruby Barnhill and Mark Rylance in Cannes. (Reuters)

Cannes, May 15: Steven Spielberg's The BFG (Big Friendly Giant), which one journalist called "one of the greatest movies of the year", had its world premiere in Cannes yesterday.

In a sense, history - and the magic of Hollywood - was repeating itself, for Spielberg's iconic ET was also released in Cannes 34 years ago on May 26, 1982.

But this time, a movie that is guaranteed to be a global success judging by the reaction of journalists at Spielberg's post-screening news conference has an India connection. Reliance has a credit at the very start of the 1 hour 55 minute film.

By a strange coincidence, Roald Dahl wrote BFG, on which the movie is based, in 1982. The central character, a little girl called Sophie, who befriends the BFG in his battle against other bigger and not so friendly giants, was named after his own granddaughter.

Asked by The Telegraph to confirm the India link, Spielberg was very positive in his reply. Seated between the film's leading stars, 11-year-old Ruby Barnhill, who plays Sophie, and Mark Rylance, who is the BFG, Spielberg spoke of the "fantastic relationship" with his Indian partners.

"I also just want to say Reliance has been with us for seven years. They have stuck with us and they joined my new company, Amblin Entertainment. They were fully behind BFG and we have just a fantastic relationship."

Spielberg said he enjoyed working with Reliance and went out of his way to refer to Amitabh Jhunjhunwala, group managing director of the Reliance-ADA Group: "Amitabh is here in Cannes."

DreamWorks' financial partner, Reliance Entertainment, will release the film in India.

With so many territories and cultures involved, Spielberg responded to another question - whether he made movies not just for the English-speaking world, but for audiences across the world, including India.

"That would be the ultimate dream for the dream country of Hollywood," he said. "My hope is that the feelings and emotions of this film everybody can relate to. There does not have to be a language barrier. Every movie is an orphan until it is adopted by someone."

Melissa Mathison, who wrote the screenplay of ET, did the same for BFG. She died last November, causing Spielberg to say: "And very bittersweet as it turned out for us."

Kathleen Kennedy, who produced ET, was present at the news conference as the producer of BFG.

Dahl, who was born 100 years ago, invented a language that has delighted children all over the world. Spielberg said it was for different countries to work out how to say "whizzpopper" in their own language - when the story moves to Buckingham Palace, the Queen (played by Penelope Wilton of Downton Abbey fame) is shown doing whizpoppers along with other courtiers.

Other expressions in liberal use include Majester (for the Queen), snozzcumber (a gruesome vegetable only found in Giant Country), telly-telly bunkum box (television), human beans (human beings), rummytot (nonsense) and frobscottle (carbonated soft drink with the bubbles going down, thereby producing the desired result).

The not-so-friendly giants have such names as Bloodbottler, Maidsmasher, Childchewer, Meatdripper, Butcherboy and Bonecrusher - characters familiar to Dahl fans.

Spielberg gave Ruby an encouraging pat when she was asked what she made of being at the Cannes premiere. "It's a dream come true. The only thing that I'd ever done before this was going to a drama class for a very long time, and doing a children's TV show," she said to loud applause. "It's amazing to think I'm here now."

When the news conference was over, her mother hovered around her protectively.

Spielberg, who emphasised the importance of casting, said finding the right Sophie was crucial. "She is one of the strongest female characters I think I have ever had in one of my films. She gives so much love and encouragement to the BFG."

Thousands of girls came for trials but Spielberg knew he had his Sophie the moment he set eyes on Ruby from Knutsford in Cheshire. Spielberg termed the relationship between Sophie and the BFG "a love story".