Lingerie locha at Cannes
The first time I went to the Cannes Film Festival was 18 years ago. I had won the National Award for Best Film Critic in 1998, and this partly galvanised my international film career
The first time I went to the Cannes Film Festival was 18 years ago. I had won the National Award for Best Film Critic in 1998, and this partly galvanised my international film career. Soon after, I was greatly honoured to be on the FIPRESCI (International Federation of Film Critics) Jury of three top festivals back to back: the Berlin Film Festival in 2000, Cannes Film Festival in 2001 and Venice Film Festival in 2002.
When Cannes happened, I felt a thrill, joy, pride — and total panic. "What do I wear?" I shrieked. Having snorted at journalists who wrote about what people wore at Cannes, instead of the films, it served me right. But okay, it isn't every day you're on the jury at Cannes.
I called my style-queen friend, Rashmi Dhanwani. "You'll need an opening ceremony dress, closing ceremony dress and jury award dress. Meet me at Linking Road," she said, taking complete charge of the situation. I nodded meekly. Our tastes matched closely — less is more, and quiet elegance over style statements. My opening ceremony dress was a discreet, grey, halter-neck gown, with a hint of rhinestones at the neckline. She said I'd need suitable lingerie to go with the off-shoulder gown. That's when I discovered the world of lingerie atrocia in the stuffy trial rooms of Linking Road. There were imaginative strapless bras, transparent plastic bra straps, Japanese 'nipple covers', like little round band-aids to flatten out any pointiness. There were silicone gel 'nippleless' breasts that you glued on to your actual breasts.
These were wobbly, flesh-coloured things that seemed to watch me balefully from the shop counter. I nearly fainted. Anyway, Cannes set my heart soaring. The grey gown was perfect for the tapis rouge, the red carpet, amidst the shutterbugs. For all the lingerie locha, I realised it's not so much what you wear, as how you wear it — and sashayed out with a bright smile and a spring in my step.
Later, I guiltily walked past all those queuing in the hot sun, to prime, 'reserved for jury' seats. On one occasion, I found Uma Thurman seated right behind me. That year, they had Michael Haneke's The Pianist, Mohsen Makhmalbaf's Kandahar and Nanni Moretti's The Son's Room (which later won the main FIPRESCI Jury prize). Murali Nair's Pattiyude Divasam (A Dog's Day, Malayalam) was in Un Certain Regard. The jury discussions were a real education, and I learnt how differently critics from various countries see the same film.
On awards night, I wore a silk sari, if I remember right: usually, Indian elegance wins with me in the end. There were squeals, lingering hugs and filmmakers bursting into tears when we announced the FIPRESCI Jury prizes. I realised how it could change someone's entire career and life to win a prize at Cannes, and was deeply humbled to be a part of so much happiness. After champagne and a farewell dinner, as friends walked me to my hotel, I bindaas walked barefoot on the pavement, coolly carrying my stupid, fancy stilettos by their straps in my hand, and nobody gave a damn. One thing was for sure. No Linking Road lingerie locha for me. Ever again.
Meenakshi Shedde is South Asia Consultant to the Berlin Film Festival, award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rajasthan's Suman Rao bags Miss India 2019 crown