So the Indian jamboree at the Cannes Film Festival has come to an end. For this year at least. Perhaps there might be a flutter in store for us on awards night on May 26 because Anurag Kashyap’s Ugly, in competition, is seen as a serious contender in the Director’s Fortnight section, and two other Indian films, Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox and Amit Kumar’s Monsoon Shootout have received huge critical acclaim, particularly the latter.
The special Indian evening to celebrate 100 years of the country’s cinema began with a screening of Bombay Talkies, a four-handed exercise, consisting of four short fictions by our best new talent, Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee and Karan Johar.
Thierry Fremeaux, the Festival’s co-director said: “There have always been two traditions in Indian cinema, that of Bollywood and that of the cinema d’auteur of which Satyajit Ray is the best-known exponent. Today we can clearly see the emergence of a third stream, that of independent film-makers who are going international through co-productions, breaking away from the old mould to give us a new vibrant cinema that portrays the fast-paced reality of a changing India.”
The atmosphere at the massive sit-down dinner that followed was very similar to a noisy marriage-party-under-shamiana in India. Guests strolling over from one table to the other, autograph hunters chasing up favourite stars and directors, the constant flash of cameras accompanied by the deafening sound of extremely loud chatter. A far cry from the quiet, discreetly elegant dinners that characterise the French. Aishwarya Rai arrived dressed in gold and black with a gold tiara, her head looking like a stately, if somewhat matronly Spanish galleon, and immediately there was a mad scramble for photos with the diva.
The evening featured a recital by Anoushka Shankar and her accompanists, with a fusion piece in raga Kirwani followed by her own re-working of one of maestro Ravi Shankar’s unforgettable songs from the Bollywood classic Anuradha. India’s Tourism Minister, the actor Chiranjeevi talked about the creation of a Single Window Facility to help foreign filmmakers wishing to enter into co-productions or shoot their pictures in India.
“There will be just one agency that will handle all requests and obtain the required permissions and authorisations from the concerned ministries,” he said.
French Culture Minister Aurelie Filipetti said the links between France and India are both long and strong. “Our film industry began in 1895, while the first Indian film was made in 1913, exactly a hundred years ago. We must build further on these very strong ties,” she said.
No kudos to the caterers at the dinner, however. The meal was Indian with a pretentious, mile-long menu. The waiters had not been briefed about the large numbers of vegetarians amid the diners and several guests recoiled in horror at seeing an entrée composed of kebabs and veggie dishes slapped down before them. It took an interminable time for the thalis to arrive and the vegetarians, who had missed their entrée, had to wait an eternity before being served cold, rock-hard poories straight out of a lunar landscape accompanied by a teaspoonful each of palak paneer or makhani daal. The pudding never turned up because by then the guests were so fed up of waiting they had started moving towards the doors. Worse was to come, and as it turned out, the vegetarians wreaked sweet revenge on the meat eaters, several of whom complained of attacks of Delhi Belly through the night!
A word about The Lunchbox and Monsoon Shootout. There couldn’t be a greater contrast between the two films. The latter is a gritty noir, played out in three sequences, in which a green police officer has to make a life and death decision – whether to shoot or not to shoot a criminal he has trapped in an alley. The man could be unarmed. Or not.
“His decision takes him on a journey that pits him against a system that both expects and demands compromises. But every choice carries a price tag,” director Amit Kumar told The Hindu. The director said he was deeply influenced by the films of Eric Rohmer, one of France’s New Wave directors.
“I do not remember the title of the film but there was this man who spends the whole night talking to a woman. He desperately wants to sleep with her but something holds him back – there’s a constraint, perhaps he’s married. Anyway, this moral dilemma is what struck me in Rohmer and this is what my film is about.”
Hollywood Reporter gave the film a glowing review as did The Guardian and other newspapers including France’s Liberation. With the headline “Newcomer Amit Kumar makes a splash directing an artful genre piece set in a Mumbai downpour,” Hollywood Reporter described it as “A cunningly intricate first film from India, that combines the best of two worlds – a ferocious Mumbai cops and gangsters drama, and a satisfyingly arty plot that turns in on itself to examine the outcome of three possible choices a rookie cop might make when he confronts a ruthless killer. Three times the story returns to a key moment: a boy with a gun uncertain whether to pull the trigger. Though the idea of Dirty Harry meeting Sliding Doors may sound abstract, writer-director Amit Kumar pulls it off gracefully, without losing the sense of heightened drama that earned the film a Midnight Movie slot in Cannes. The Fortissimo release should make good headway in territories open to India and exotic genre fare and put Kumar on festival radar.”
The Lunchbox is a gentle romance that captures the suffocating atmosphere of Mumbai and travel on its crowded locals. A long-distance romance blossoms between a widowed Catholic accountant masterfully played by Irrfan Khan and a housewife who is a magical cook when the lunch she sends her husband is mistakenly delivered by the Dabbawala to Mr. Fernandes.
In the competition section on Monday, two noteworthy films, Wara No Tate (Shield of Straw) by Takashi Miike of Japan and Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi’s A Castle in Italy, once again drawing on the family, were screened.
Takashi Miike, who defines himself as “a filmmaker who tries everything,” adds another genre to his list thus feeding his ferocious appetite. After the Yakusa films that marked the beginning of his success (Dead or Alive, 1999-2002), his horror films (Audition, 1999 and Imprint, 2006), his ultraviolent thrillers (Ichi the Killer, 2001) or his 3D samurai film (Ichimei - Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai, in Competition, 2011), Wara No Tate orchestrates all the components of a survival thriller with a masterful hand.
Bruni-Tedeschi who is the sister of France’s former first lady, has mined a rich autobiographical vein in her earlier ventures too, notably in her last offering Actresses. In A Castle in Italy, which is in the main competition section, she describes a family that falls apart, a dawning love and an ailing brother. Federica, Marcelline, Louise. The heroines of Bruni-Tedeschi are never very far from her own self.