Here we go again. Last week, our films and filmmakers headed to the scenic French town for a bit of sun and a lot of hype. How many of the films that we take to Cannes each year actually end up being recognised as cinema of worth in the international arena?
If truth be told, Indian cinema remains a bit of a joke in the international arena. We have the regular desi festival junkies who visit Cannes, Berlin and Toronto year after year. But what happens to films that are shown, and apparently applauded, at these global film festivals (every Indian entry claims to get a standing ovation)?
Hansal Mehta’s Omerta, which was screened at the Toronto Film Festival last year, released in India last month to near-empty theatres and abysmal collections. Anurag Kashyap’s Mukkabaaz which opened to tremendous expectations sank without a trace. With it also sank talented actor Vineet Singh’s hope of becoming a star.
Not only do films get labeled ‘festival types’, actors too get branded as festival regulars. Nawazuddin Siddiqui has rapidly become one. He was seen at Cannes again this year representing Nandita Das’s Manto. A film that won wah-wahs from the critics but would be largely ignored by the masses who would rather see a bio-pic on Sanjay Dutt than Sadat Hassan Manto.
The sad fact of life about self-crowned cinematic masterpieces is that they amount to nothing more than self-pleasure. All those associated with a ‘festival film’ think they have a great product on their hand while audiences prefer Judwa 8 to Omerta and Golmaal 19 to Titli.
That’s the sobering truth all arthouse cinema must live with.
At Cannes, I saw everyone — from Manoj Bajpai to Mallika Sherawat — this year. What were they doing there? Manoj, it seems, was representing a film titled Bhosle. Like many of the films that choose to be premiered at international film festivals, this one too is likely to sink when it releases in India.
At least Manoj and Nawazuddin have a reputation for being festival-friendly actors. But what is Mallika Sherawat’s credentials for going to Cannes year after year? Whom does she represent? Has she ever had a single film of hers shown at Cannes? Does she even qualify as an actor any more?
We need to seriously answer questions about Indian cinema’s presence in the international arena. Besides Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox, which Indian film in recent times has made a global impact?
Shekhar Kapur, who is the only Indian filmmaker to make a global impact since Satyajit Ray, thinks India has a long way to go before making a mark in the Western market. “I think a global curiosity about Bollywood in the West has existed for nearly ten years. However, that curiosity still remains unexplored by us. I think we’ve a huge amount of filmmaking talent. But they are not provided the right opportunities.”
Shekhar feels it is lack of funds which is the culprit. “There is a reason why China is so far ahead. They aspire to be world class. We don’t. Someone like Anurag Kashyap is defeated by the finances here,” he said.
Bandit Queen, which Shekhar made, was done on a “really measly budget”, as he says it. But according to him the problem is that too many of Indian filmmakers aspire to do genres that do not come naturally to Indians. “They got very heavily influenced by Mexican films, because Mexican filmmakers have attained a global recognition that we have not,” he says, adding that everyone in India is happy just being a small player.
“When our films do 200 crores or 300 crores we are happy. Everyone congratulates one another. Slumdog Millionaire did 2,000 crores,” he points out.
Shekhar agrees that the only Indian film to have a made a global impact in recent times is “The Lunchbox”. Now director Ritesh Batra is making films from outside India.
“I believe we’ve chained ourselves by celebrating the Indian market. It is dominated by just a handful of big players. Any business that is monopolised by a few cannot grow because there isn’t much innovation or diversity,” Shekhar says.
I agree, wholeheartedly.