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Do B-Town filmmakers really benefit from the Cannes Film Festival?

Even though half of Bollywood ends up at Cannes Film Festival every year, the returns from the film festival are said to be disturbingly low. Is the festival bringing good returns or is it just a matter of prestige to be there?

At the Cannes film festival that is currently underway, red carpet appearances by Indian beauties once again grabbed the headlines. Like every year, there has been a steady stream of delegates from B-Town who find themselves at the French Riviera — where they pose for pictures, if nothing else. This has been so because Cannes is not just about competition; the festival offers scope for exploring new markets and that’s a race our industrywallahs don’t wish to be left behind in. The fact remains that it has been more than six decades since an Indian film bagged the top honour there.

Also read: Cannes 2014, Day 1 - Mallika Sherawat, Uday Chopra walk the red carpet with Hollywood stars

From left: Actor Lalit Behl, Ranveer Shorey, YRF’s Avtar Panesar, director Kanu Behl, actor Shashank Arora and Guneet Monga at a photo call for their film, 'Titli', at the ongoing Cannes Film Festival. Titli is the only Indian film in contention for an award at the fest. Pic/PTI
From left: Actor Lalit Behl, Ranveer Shorey, YRF’s Avtar Panesar, director Kanu Behl, actor Shashank Arora and Guneet Monga at a photo call for their film, Titli, at the ongoing Cannes Film Festival. Titli is the only Indian film in contention for an award at the fest. Pic/PTI

All of which begs the question: is all the brouhaha worth it in the end? Do filmmakers get decent returns after spending huge amounts on exhibiting their films at the festival in the non-competitive categories? Turns out the answers are not really straightforward. But there is an underlying hope to do better, regardless of the film’s fate.

The cast and crew of 'Kites' at its promotional screening at Cannes in 2009
The cast and crew of Kites at its promotional screening at Cannes in 2009

Indian premieres
Dibakar Banerjee, co-producer of Titli, the only Indian feature film in contention for an award this year, doesn’t sound worried about the film’s business prospects — at least for now. “Films and their market are interlinked and festivals act as a medium between the two. That’s also why we thought Titli should premiere at Cannes. We feel that it’s the best possible launch pad for the film. It is in the competitive category so obviously, it’s going to attract the best possible distributors.”

Also read: Neither representing Bollywood nor 'Titli' at Cannes: Dibakar Banerjee

Udaan (seen here is the film’s cast and crew) was officially selected to compete in the Un Certain Regard (A Certain Glance) category at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival
Udaan (seen here is the film’s cast and crew) was officially selected to compete in the Un Certain Regard (A Certain Glance) category at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival 

The competition category does get more eyeballs although Indian films have peripheral channels too. Like setting up stalls at the festival and hoping to find interested parties and territories. That’s one of the reasons why run-of-the-mill films like Shortcut Romeo, Kites and Hisss manage to get screened.

Madhur Bhandarkar, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Ronnie  Screwvala at the Cannes film festival in 2011 when the film,  Heroine, was announced
Madhur Bhandarkar, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Ronnie Screwvala at the Cannes film festival in 2011 when the film, Heroine, was announced

Making waves
Not very long ago, there was a stigma attached to the film fest circuit. But there’s no doubt that now there’s a sudden rise in Hindi films being screened at film festivals.

Both parts of Gangs of Wasseypur (seen here is the cast and crew of the film) were screened at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival as part of the Directors’ Fortnight
Both parts of Gangs of Wasseypur (seen here is the cast and crew of the film) were screened at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival as part of the Directors’ Fortnight

Ashim Ahluwalia’s Miss Lovely — which was screened at Cannes in 2012 — followed a slightly different route. Although the film hardly created waves upon its release in India, he managed to sell its theatrical rights in many territories, including the US, where the film will release on June 20, 2014. The film was also sold to distributors in Europe, including France and Eastern Europe as well as Latin America. Thanks to it screening at Cannes, Fortissimo Films sold the film in new markets such as Japan and Taiwan.

Also read: Good ol' glory: Bollywood films that bagged awards at Cannes

Directors Dibakar Banerjee, Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar and Karan Johar at the screening of Bombay Talkies at the Cannes Film Festival last year
Directors Dibakar Banerjee, Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar and Karan Johar at the screening of Bombay Talkies at the Cannes Film Festival last year

Ask him whether the hype about Cannes is for real and Ahluwalia chooses to play it safe. “I can’t comment on other films, but having Miss Lovely in the official competition category at Cannes was helped boost my film’s international sales. I would say that it was an essential platform for my film.”

Ashim Ahluwalia’s (extreme left) Miss Lovely competed in the Un Certain Regard section in 2012
Ashim Ahluwalia’s (extreme left) Miss Lovely competed in the Un Certain Regard section in 2012

Distant profits
Last year, DAR Motion Pictures, with films like The Lunchbox, Ugly and Monsoon Shootout, attended Cannes. All three ventures were premiered at the event although none were slated to win a major award. In such a scenario, business must be the motive, right? Wrong. According to Vivek Rangachari, producer at DAR, it’s too early to discuss profits. “It will take years before we talk about money. We have a long way to go before we stand shoulder to shoulder with international films. It won’t happen overnight anyway. Cannes might look like a glitzy event but it’s all about business. And that happens in the background with the sales agents, distributors and publicists from across the globe at work,” says Rangachari.

Ritesh Batra’s (third from right) debut film, The Lunchbox, bagged the Critics Week Viewers’ Choice Award at the 66th Cannes Film Festival in 2013
Ritesh Batra’s (third from right) debut film, The Lunchbox, bagged the Critics Week Viewers’ Choice Award at the 66th Cannes Film Festival in 2013

Wider reach
Director Anand Gandhi of The Ship of Theseus fame is currently working on his second cinematic venture, Tumbad. Interestingly, Ruchi Bhimani, the film’s producer, is at Cannes and she has an agenda on her mind; she’s scouting for suitable co-producers for the film. “The whole industry lands up there. The curiosity surrounding Indian films is recent and it has to be generated regularly because of the opportunities that lie ahead. It’s the same old question: How am I going to make my next film? Who’s going to watch it and how will I reach out to more people in different territories? Once you find people willing to back you, money is going to follow,” says Gandhi.

Obscure figures
Having shown three films at Cannes, including Bombay Talkies, Ugly and The Lunchbox, Anurag Kashyap is another regular at Cannes. He’s clearly in favour of the current trend. He believes that the event does help cinema — both art house as well as the commercial variety. “I don’t think the Cannes film festival is overrated. For instance, I don’t think people had any idea about how much business The Lunchbox did. Let me tell you that it’s much more than our mainstream films.”

Bollywood Cannes figures

Indeed, the latest buzz says that it has replaced Indonesian blockbuster The Raid 2 as the most profitable non-American film in the USA. But at the same time, getting the exact box office figures for this Ritesh Batra film has become quite a task.

Kashyap explains that when you sell a film’s worldwide rights to a distribution company, the company will exploit the film’s potential and they aren’t transparent about its collections. So we don’t get to read the exact figures. There are many companies that have their own overseas distribution houses. Why are they running them if these films are not making any money overseas? The answer is pretty simple. They make money but they just don’t report the figures,” he says.

All about the business
Trade analyst Komal Nahta says that when production houses or filmmakers set up stalls at Cannes in a bid to lure international distributors, they end up shelling out a hefty sum of money. “It’s more of an investment for the future. If a film sells well, great. If not, it’s a loss for the makers. But that’s what this business is all about — it’s a gamble,” he says.

Then again, not all Indian films manage to get to Cannes, despite many makers trying their best to showcase their work there. Director Ajay Bahl knows a thing or two about it. His film, BA Pass, missed the deadline for Cannes last year. He eventually released the film in India instead of waiting for one more year. “Getting selected in the competitive categories is the way to go for any film — be it Indian or international. Setting up a stall to sell a film in international territories, on the other hand, could be a cumbersome task,” he says.

(with inputs from Asira Tarannum)

Did you know?
If one had to consider box office collections, admission and screen counts across the world, only India has not been able to win top honours at Cannes over the past five years.

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