It’s that time of the year, when the Indian film industry gets jittery, as the Cannes Film Festival (May 14-25, 2014) is round the corner. Every filmmaker with a new movie fantasises about sashaying down the red carpet at Cannes, as he waits anxiously for announcement of the festival selection. The topmost question in his mind is: what does Cannes want? If he could get a checklist, he would tick off the requirements and jugaad his way to the red carpet.
Even though I have 30 years’ experience in film-related work and 15 years in film curating, the answer to what festivals look for, remains nebulous. In my experience, the festivals say: we’re looking for something original that pushes boundaries and will surprise us, with a political or social revelation or comment. Christian Jeune, Director of the Film Department, Cannes Film Festival, said in an interview: “The more you are local, the more you are universal. Never do a film for a festival.”
When I asked Dieter Kosslick, director of the Berlin Film Festival, why Indian films rarely make it to the Competition section, he replied, “Indian films have special situations and special ways of explaining those situations. Some situations we cannot understand in the West.” Marco Mueller, director of the Venice Film Festival, said, “Our objectives have remained the same: to engage and provoke the public’s intelligence and sensibility with the evidence of images that can fascinate you, make you dream, but also make you think…” All this is googly for the Indian filmmaker — “Point pe aaja, na?” he wails, exasperated. He would prefer a bullet point list like sex-violence-laughs-tears -climax.
The truth is, there is no formula for festivals, just as there is no formula for box-office success. Yet, Indian cinema is enjoying an exciting vitality, with promising new voices in various languages, riding the festival circuit. The talented directors include Anand Gandhi, Vasan Bala, Umesh Kulkarni, Q and Shilpa Ranade.
It’s a question of perception. Many festivals want to build relationships with India and China and their markets, so our filmmakers benefit from this too. But what is mainstream for us, is experimental for them. Sanjay Leela Bhansali was ‘discovered’ at Berlin, when his Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam was shown in the International Forum of New Cinema, their most experimental section. His Devdas was screened at Cannes. When Karan Johar’s Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna was shown at Toronto, he, Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan were interviewed in the ‘Mavericks’ section, with Michael Moore.
Avinash Arun, whose Killa (The Fort) won the Crystal Bear in Berlin earlier this year, has the last word. He reveals that on hearing his script, Archit Devadhar, his savvy, pint-size protagonist, said, “First of all, it’s not a children’s film. Second, will the film travel abroad?” (It did.) Way to go!