There was more than a touch of India at the glittering opening ceremony of the 66th Cannes Film festival on Wednesday, as India’s Amitabh Bachchan declared the festival open alongside Hollywood idol Leonardo DiCaprio. Both men star in the festival’s opening film The Great Gatsby.
India is the guest of honour this year in order to celebrate 100 years of Indian cinema and there are two noted Indian actresses, Vidya Balan and Nandita Das, who are part of two separate juries. A teary Vidya Balan, who is on the jury of the main competition section, wearing a pinky-brown ghaghra that was meant to be straight out of an Indian miniature painting, but which managed to look homely and dowdy next to Nicole Kidman’s super chic, smiled on bravely as Amitabh Bachchan, wearing a black sequined jacket that appeared sparkly and out of place amid the more sober attire of the other male stars and directors, spoke a few words in Hindi for the folks back home. “I am very grateful to the Cannes Film Festival for honouring Indian cinema in this manner,” Mr. Bachchan said. It was a truly Bollywoodian moment.
This year’s stellar jury is chaired by Hollywood legend Steven Spielberg and includes big names such as Ang Lee, the Oscar-winning Taiwanese director of The Life of Pi, Romanian director Christian Mungiu, French actor and director Daniel Auteuil, and Australian actress and producer Nicole Kidman.
Weather-wise it was a miserable evening in the Riviera town of Cannes and stars mounted the famous red carpeted steps shielded by large black umbrellas under dripping rain. Audrey Tautou of Amelie Poulain fame was the mistress of ceremonies on Wednesday evening, which kicked off with a medley of scenes from Spielberg’s best known films, including Jaws, Jurassic Park, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, ET and his latest offering, Lincoln.
A visibly moved Spielberg said he had literally grown up with the festival. “This is the festival’s 66th year. I am now 66 and each year I grow older with the festival.” The audience, in which many well known faces of stars, actors and directors could be spotted, gave him a long, standing ovation.
The inaugural evening concluded with a screening of an over the top rendering of The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s eponymous novel, that has been panned by the critics. The film, which is all glitter and stardust, has been described as “the absolute extravaganza.” It is directed by Baz Luhrmann who gave us Moulin Rouge, Romeo and Juliet.