It’s a big India night on Sunday as Cannes celebrates 100 years of Indian cinema with the screening of Bombay Talkies and a gala dinner to follow. The sun peeped out in the morning but there was a brisk wind and meteorologists forecast rain in the evening which means it’s going to be difficult for our Bollywood beauties with their flimsy saris and backless cholis. But they’re brave, our stars, chins up, prepared to brave the cold and the rain, for that one photo op on the Cannes red carpet.
So much has been written about Bombay Talkies in India that it would be futile to re-critique it. Suffice to say that there are four separate films within this film made by Karan Johar, Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar and Dibakar Banerjee. In a departure from the norm, The Hindu decided to ask the four directors to react to the worst things said or written about their films and this is what they groused about:
Karan Johar: “I was really angered by a blog that appeared on a website called the First Post. The blogger questioned the depiction of the homosexual character and why he had to be the home breaker who bit the hand that fed him. And it was just a ridiculous, idiotic piece of writing because the blogger did not understand the layers and the complexities of the film. In India if you are depicting a homosexual character you are expected to portray him as a victim in order to express empathy. But my take was completely different. I was looking at the issue of inadequate parenting. A macho father who calls his son a eunuch, a man who can’t tell the difference between a homosexual and a eunuch and who thinks he can beat his son into normalcy. That is parental abuse, which messes up the child big time. Now that child grows up to become a destructive human being and he doesn’t hesitate to seduce his friend’s husband. So it’s a commentary on parenting and the blogger who was extremely venomous had failed to understand the film!”
Anurag Kashyap: “They’ve said all sorts of awful things about my film like, What is wrong with Anurag, why is he making such a light film, this film has no substance. They said it wasn’t serious enough, that they did not expect something like this from ME! But you know, I don’t give a damn. I made the film I wanted to make and I had a wonderful time doing it. In fact I went back and saw my film again to see what was wrong with it and I found nothing wrong with it. I really wanted to go out there and have fun with this film and I did. So hang the critics!”
Zoya Akhtar: “There was a lot of bad stuff said about my film but stuff that you couldn’t put your finger on. Like: it should have been cut differently or that it was too abrupt or that it should have gone on longer. But what really bothered me was this guy who tweeted that the film was absolutely repulsive to see a child cross dress. I’m not on twitter but I wanted to write to him and tell him, “This is a film for you.” I grew up with boys and we would all cross dress. Some of the boys grew up to realise they were gay while others went on to get married and have children. It’s also nice to play act. Girls have much more things you can wear, shoes, lipstick so it’s more fun. The point is when you’re an eight-year-old boy it can go any which way. And you cannot be repulsed by what a child does. I found this person’s comments very disturbing and I hope he or she does not have children. This sort of comment is indicative of moral policing and placing people in predetermined sexual modes and gender branding and there’s no place there for a child’s world.”
Dibaker Banerjee: “I am not the right person to ask because I don’t read reviews. Someone once wrote: “We think this is a copy of Satyajit Ray.” Now that was nasty. But then there was also this review in The Times of India that had a line I have never understood. “The presence of Emo in Banerjee’s film was more whimsy than control.” Can someone tell me what that means? When I make a film I don’t try to show off my language skills, I just try to make a film. When critics write they too should not rely only on their linguistic skills but there should be some substance in what they say. “More whimsy than control”? Now my films have lots of issues and those can be discussed. But I don’t think a lack of control is my problem.”
Coen brothers Joel and Ethan have returned to Cannes in competition this year with Inside Llewyn Davis, a film that is part road movie, part folk music scene in Greenwich Village in the early 60’s. They won the Golden Palm for Barton Fink in 1991. Oscar Isaac, playing the lead, is a down and out, struggling, folk singer who dosses down in a different apartment every other night sponging off friends and well-wishers. The movie, which takes you on a bizarre drive from New York to Chicago and back in the dead of a winter blizzard, leaves you wondering if he will turn his back on music and return to a mundane job in the merchant navy.
“It’s just rotten luck. The guy’s just not in the right place at the right time. He has a slightly destructive streak. He is looking for authenticity and is not career minded. He has an internal conflict and is torn between success and failure,” Isaac said about his role.