When India shone at Venice Film Festival

When India shone at Venice Film Festival

While glory for India at big festivals is scarce, Metrolife remembers five golden moments India had at Venice

The French poster of ‘Uttara’. The Venice award is mentioned here.

Venice is the oldest film festival in the world and the grand prize, The Golden Lion, is one of the most coveted film awards in the world. Much to everyone’s surprise, this year’s Golden Lion has gone to one of the most anticipated films of the year, ‘Joker’.

With ‘Joker’s’ victory, Venice has opened a can of worms. While some critics have praised the film, others have criticised it for empowering certain individuals who feel that they are
unfairly treated by society and see this as a justification for turning to violence.

There was only Indian film that got the spotlight at Venice this year, Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s ‘Chola’. However, it did not win any prize.

While there is significant Indian media coverage for Indian films at festivals such as Venice, Berlin and Cannes, few of the films, in fact, go on to win prizes. The Indian presence is usually felt when celebrities walk the carpet. And their clothes get written about more than their achievements in cinema.

There is also occasionally the inclusion of an Indian actor or director in the jury of the festivals. But these do not necessarily mean glory for them.

There, however, were five times in the past when India held its head up high at Venice. Metrolife takes you through these moments.

The first Golden Lion


Perhaps to this very day, India’s greatest filmmaker is Satyajit Ray. He emerged into the world cinema scene when India cinema was still making baby steps. While there were a few good filmmakers like Bimal Roy working there at the time, there was no one quite world-class. 

Ray burst into the Indian cinema scene with ‘Pather Panchali’ (1955). Over the next couple of years, he would complete The Apu trilogy, that would go on to revolutionise Indian cinema. ‘Aparajito’ (1956) is the second film in the trilogy and the first-ever winner of the Golden Lion. The film tells the story of a complex relationship with his mother after his father’s death.

Still considered one of the greatest Indian films ever made, ‘Aparajito’ would go on to make a profound impact on world cinema.

The only actor


‘Paar’ is not one of Hindi’s most remembered films. Released in 1984 and part of Hindi’s alternate cinema movement, the film told a story of exploitation in rural Bihar. The film boasted an impressive cast of Shabana Azmi, Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri and Utpal Dutt, but it was Naseeruddin would go on to shine at the festival.

He picked up the Best Actor award at the 1984 festival, and to this day, remains the only actor to have made the achievement.

Spotlight on director

Homoerotic undertones in an Indian film is a rare thing. The Bengali filmmaker and Buddhadeb Dasgupta not only touched on the subject but even created a very moving film on it.

Titled ‘Uttara’, and released in 2000, the film is about wrestling. But what it does is upturn the very macho sport on its head and explore homoeroticism. And for this brilliant move, Dasgupta was awarded the Best Director award at the 2000 Venice festival and remains the only director to have clinched the glory.

Monsoon Wedding

Second Golden Lion

The most popular movie on this list undoubtedly is Mira Nair’s ‘Monsoon Wedding’ (2001). In the years since the film’s release, the film has gained a cult status among a section of India’s movie-going public.

Made around the turn of the 20th century, ‘Monsoon Wedding’ has a distinctly modern feel to it. The film scans the unevenness in the underbelly of the Indian family. Centred on people who are in relationships outside of the traditional marriage set-up, and exploring the psychological after-effects of child abuse, the film remains as fresh as the day it was made.

Mira Nair won a couple of awards at the 2001 Venice festival for the film, including the Golden Lion.

A powerful critique


One of the most acclaimed Indian films of recent years, ‘Court’ was not in competition for Golden Lion, but instead in the Orizzonti section. It won both the Orizzonti prize and the ‘Lion of the Future’ prize at the 2014 Venice film festival.

In the tradition of ‘Paar’, ‘Court’ is an attack on an antiquated system. It tells the story of a protest singer who has been accused of encouraging a man-hole singer to commit suicide through his song. The film has been favourably compared to the works of Satyajit Ray, Charles Dickens and Franz Kafka.


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