Would it not have been more representative of Indian cinema and of the centenary celebration had the four segments come from four different language regions?
The other day, a news report screamed that Tamil superstar Rajnikanth would be at the Cannes Film Festival with his new movie, Kochadaiyaan. Indeed, the actor would be at Festival’s 66th edition beginning on May 15. But not with his film, but a trailer of it. If I am right, the movie is not yet complete.
Cannes — in the incredibly picturesque south of France, by the glistening waters of the Mediterranean Sea, and once the playground of the rich and the famous – has been perennially used by Indian filmmakers to gain cheap publicity.
Media advertisements and reports have often in the past spoken of Indian movies being at the Festival. They have been, though not in the Festival but in the market. And, any Tom, Dick and Harry can show his film at the market, by hiring a screening room – of which a dime a dozen are available.
However, a screening in the market does in no way qualify a film to present itself with a Cannes tag.
The Festival has but two main sections, Competition and A Certain Regard, and a few minor segments, like Out of Competition, Special Screenings and Midnight Screenings.
Even the prestigious Directors’ Fortnight and Critics’ Week – which run along with the Festival – are not considered part of it, undoubtedly the world’s most glamorous and biggest. And my most favourite, where I would be marking time for the 23rd year.
Unfortunately, this year Cannes – as the Festival celebrates 100 years of Indian Cinema – seems to have been rather unfair to the cinemas other than the one produced in Mumbai. The two Indian movies in the Festival’s official sections, Bombay Talkies and Monsoon Shootout, are in the Hindi language. What is more, Bombay Talkies is made up of four short stories, and they are all by Mumbai directors and in the Hindi language.
Would it not have been more representative of Indian cinema and of the centenary celebration had the four segments come from four different language regions? We could have had a Hindi, Tamil, Bengali and Malayalam film.
And, Bombay Talkies has been chosen by Cannes as a “Tribute to Indian Cinema”!
Equally puzzling is the fact that both the movies have an Anurag Kashyap connection. While he has helmed one of the stories in Bombay Talkies, he has co-produced Monsoon Shootout.
Not just this, but the Anurag links take even deeper roots. Two Hindi movies – one each in the Critics’ Week and the Director’s Fortnight – have the Kashyap stamp. His Ugly plays in the Director’s Fortnight, and Dhaba (The Lunch-Box) in the Critics Week has been part-produced by Anurag.
Cannes certainly seems to be in love with Kashyap.
Finally, a word about Bombay Talkies, which opened in India on May 3.
The undoubtedly best segment here is Dibakar Banerjee’s (remember his Shanghai). He brilliantly reworks Satyajit Ray’s short story, Patol Babu Film Star, and unrolls the dreams and disappointments of a very ordinary man, who lives with his wife and little sick daughter in a Mumbai slum. Banerjee’s hero, Purandar, is youngish against Ray’s middle-aged, middle-class hero of once-upon-a-time Calcutta.
Pestered endlessly by the little girl for a story, Purandar steps out of his surreal atmosphere, crowded with an alarm clock (whose shrill ring does not move him, does not even get him to blink his eyes), a cock, an emu (yes, indeed that large bird, and whose presence may have been inspired by the tens of emu farms in India that took a beating recently) and a whole lot of giggling women washing clothes or utensils. He lands in the midst of a street-side crowd watching a film shoot.
The crew suddenly realises that it needs an extra hand, and we hear a woman asking her assistant through a mike to zero in on a guy in the crowd. Purandar is flabbergasted when he is picked, and asked to walk past the movie’s hero, brushing against him. Having had a little experience in his father’s theatre troupe, he tells the crew that the scene would be more authentic if he were to walk reading a newspaper. Fantastic says the crew, and our man is delighted.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui (Kahaani, Miss Lovely, Gangs of Wasseypur) is excellent as Purandar, especially when he is trying to rehearse imaginary lines just before his shot. Surrounded by strikingly tall white buildings, he is just lost to the world as he steps into his dream, the dream of stardom. Here is a struggling man doing the oddest of jobs being pushed into the limelight – reportedly a take from Siddiqui’s own life.
Also connected to the celluloid world is Zoya Akhtar’s (Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara) offering in which a small boy is obsessed with Katrina Kaif’s Sheila Ki Jawani, even dressing up as her and, in a stunning finale, dancing to the song on a public stage. When his elder sister finds her father reluctant to finance her school trip, she digs into her piggy bank, but there is not enough in it. So, she and her brother hatch a plan to stage the Sheila song with the boy doing the jig.
The children (particularly Naman Jain) are naturals, and propped up by strong lines, they get Akhtar’s short flying. Even more remarkable is the casualness of the lines. Here is an example. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” the boy asks his elder sister. “Nothing,” she says. “Nothing?” he asks again. “Nothing. But I want to travel the whole world.” “Oh, so you want to be an air hostess?” “No,” says the girl, “I want to be a passenger.”
Also with a strong link to cinema is Anurag Kashyap’s (Gangs of Wasseypur, Ugly) piece, the weakest, though, of the four in the anthology. Goaded by his bed-ridden father, a young man from Allahabad lands in Mumbai with a jar of sweet pickle to try and get Amitabh Bachchan taste it. The man waits outside Bachchan’s bungalow for days, befriending the watchmen, the roadside food seller and an Amitabh look alike. The film feels fine till this point, but when the man finally meets Bachchan in all his benevolence, there is something that rings hollow. The entire documentary effect is diluted, and Kashyap’s effort looks banal.
Finally, Karan Johar’s portion in the anthology has the least to do with cinema. Except that Rani Mukherjee’s Gayatri edits a movie gossip magazine and her husband (Randeep Hooda) is an ardent connoisseur of old Hindi film songs. And into their lives walks a gay intern, who flirts outrageously with Gayatri from day one. Though Johar presents a dramatic climax and manages to extract fine performances from his actors, he stretches his artistic licence to a point that his work not only flounders, but also seems downright stupid. I cannot think of an intern behaving so casually and so scandalously with his editor, and the editor choosing to be reciprocal. I cannot think of a senior television anchor (Hooda) beating up a visitor because he hugs him goodbye. There is, though, one fine sequence here: a beggar girl singing a lovely Hindi number. Her expression just haunts you long after the curtain falls.
Gautaman Bhaskaran is India Editor of FMT, and Chennai-based author, columnist and movie critic who will cover the coming Cannes Film Festival. He may be emailed at [email protected]