In its 75th year of independence, India is the Nation of Honor at the Mecca of film festivals Cannes. Led by Anurag Thakur, Minister of Information and Broadcasting a delegation of reputed personalities like A R Rahman, Sekhar Kapur, Prasoon Joshi and Vani Tripathi Tikoo among others were present at the Red Carpet at Cannes 2022. Deepika Padukone is serving as a jury member at the festival.
All this razzmatazz has not added any feather to the cap of the nation’s cinema. Not a single Indian film is in any of the competitive sections. A restored version of Satyajit Ray’s Pratidwandi and G Aravindan’s Thampu are being screened at the Cannes classic section. Pratidwandi has been preserved and restored by the Nation Film Archives and Thampu has been restored by Shivendra Singh Dungarpur of the Film Heritage Foundation.
Ironically, Arijit Dutta, producer of Pratiwandi has neither been shown the restored version nor invited to the screening at Cannes. A disputed Arijit Dutta says, ”My mother Purnima Dutta produced Pratidwandi under the banner of Piyali Films. She earlier did give consent for the screening of the film. Sadly we have neither seen the restored version nor been invited to the classic section screening.”
On the other hand, Shivendra Singh Dungarpur who preserved and restored Thampu frame by frame followed the right track. “I invited and showed the restored version of the film to its director Late G. Aravindan’s family. They were pleased lent their consent and the film is being screened.” The classic section has a vantage charm of its own where earlier Charulata, Khandahar and Guide were screened to big applause.
What was the basis for selecting Deepika Padukone as a jury member? Asks Goutam Ghose, ”It must be to add to the glamour quotient at Cannes.” The selection of the Bollywood diva as a jury has raised many eyebrows about her merit to fathom depths of classic cinema. Earlier Mrinal Sen strongly protested against Aishwariya Rai being a jury member at Cannes.
In 1951, Chetan Anand refused to be on a jury at Cannes though his directorial debut, Neechanagar won a Grand Prix at Cannes first film festival in 1946. He felt he was not qualified to hold such a coveted post. Satyajit Ray was initially selected as a jury in the late 60’s but due to an air ticket problem, he refused to be present. Mrinal Sen served twice as a jury member at Cannes and earned accolades for his impartial decisions.
It remains an irony as to why Bimal Ray, Guru Dutt, Shyam Benegal, Goutam Ghose or Govind Nihalani were never invited to be jury members at Cannes. True Amitabh Bachhan and Sekhar Kaour inaugurated Cannes Film Festivals. Were Balraj Sahni, Nargis, Nutan, Soumitra Chatterjee, Madhabi Mukherjee, Nasiruddin Shah or Shabana Azmi incompetent for such a coveted heat? Retrospectives of Raj Kapoor, Guru Dutt and Smita Patil at Cannes were big successes.
Remembers Kamini Kaushal, the heroine of Neechanagar, ”Though I was not present at Cannes for the screening of my film, I heard from many media persons, Neechanagar received a standing ovation. David Lean marveled at the film’s dialectical montages.” Sandip Ray recalls, ”In 1982, the silver jubilee of Cannes, all the award winners were invited. My father was received with true dignity and his talents were publicly applauded.”
Ingmar Bergman stated after viewing Devi at Cannes that actress Sharmila Tagore’s eyes haunted him in his dreams. The European media was full of praise for Balraj Sahni’s studied performance in Garm Hawa after it was screened at Cannes in 1973. Mrinal Sen had won a Jury Award for his brilliant film on middle-class family exploitation of child labor for Kharij in 1982.
It is high time a resurrection takes place in Indian cinema and films like tore are made with modern backdrops. As Madhur Bhandarkar rightly says, ”There should be true successors to the great league of Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Chetan Anand and MS Sathyu to bring encomiums to Cannes.”