Not classic enough?

Cannes saga

What has happened to Indian cinema, which was once the talk of Cannes? Why are no more Indian films seen in the competitive section of Cannes like in the ‘50s, ‘60s and the ‘70s? Mrinal Sen answers, “If trash is churned in the name of classic or new-age cinema, how can one expect such films to ever have an entry at any prestigious festival? Films today are nowhere near the high standards set by classics like Moner Manush.”

Supporting Mrinal Sen’s side of the argument, Shekhar Kapur adds, “I had served as a member of the jury at Cannes last year. I realised that European and other Asian films are of far higher standards than those presently being made in India.”

The Indian contingent

The first Indian film to win laurels at Cannes was Neecha Nagar directed by Chetan Anand in 1946. It was the debut year of the Cannes Film Festival and the film won the prestigious Grand Prix jointly with Sir David Lean’s Brief Encounters. Later, films like Awara, Do Bigha Zamin, Buddha (a documentary by Rajvansh Khanna) and Mujhe Jeene Do, garnered a lot of praise at Cannes. Indian cinema was lauded internationally after Ray’s Pather Panchali won the Best Human Document at Cannes in 1955. His films like Devi, Teen Kanya and Paras Pathar also won accolades at Cannes. Garm Hawa in 1973 was highly applauded at Cannes, followed by Ankur and then the three Mrinal Sen classics — Ek Din Pratidin, Kharij and Khandahar.

In the last three-and-a-half decades, with the exception of Adoor Gopalkrishan’s Mukhamukham and a film by Murli Krishan, no other Indian film has made it to the Cannes competitive section, although retrospectives of Raj Kapoor, Guru Dutt and Smita Patil have been held at Cannes and even Dev Anand’s Guide received a warm reception at the classic section of the festival. Says Jills Jacob, chairman, Cannes Film Festival, “We are very keen to show more and more offbeat Indian films at Cannes. But none of the present films bear the masterly stamp of Ray’s or Mrinal Sen’s creations.” Says Govind Nihalani, “A classic like Charulata was rejected at Cannes. So how can one expect present films to compete?”

There is a feeling in Bollywood that Indian cinema is judged partially by the jury at Cannes, Berlin and Venice, compared to European cinema. But Goutam Ghosh disagrees. He says, “Until and unless cinema of international standards is created, Indian films will definitely not have a chance to be screened in the competitive section of Cannes.”

Mrinal Sen, Anurag Kashyap, Sharmila Tagore and Shekhar Kapur have served as jury members at Cannes. The selection of Aishwarya Rai as a jury member drew a lot of flak.

Besides, the open market at Cannes has also earned a lot of international criticism for promoting inconsequential films and culture. French high priest of neo wave cinema, Jean Luc Goddard, openly said last year, “Cannes is no more the paradise of good cinema but an auditorium for fashion parades.”

Though a lot of Ray and Sen’s films have been screened at Cannes, one wonders why Ritwik Ghatak, their brilliant contemporary, has been grossly neglected. Says Bappaditya Bandopadhyay, executive producer of Chatrak, “It is difficult to believe that Jayasundara, a Sri Lankan, being highly inspired by the works of Ritwik Ghatak, decided to direct a Bengali film. It is high time Cannes gave recognition to masters like Ritwik Ghatak and Tapan Sinha.”

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