India just does not make the kind of cinema that stand shoulder-to-shoulder with some of movies created by European and American directors.
Over the three decades that I have been writing on Indian affairs, including the country’s cinema that has been exploding much like the population, I have been dismayed by the fact that its movies rarely find important slots in most major film festivals.
If India with a population of a billion-plus and 1,200-1,300 movies popping out the cans every year has been trying to break into the queen of film festivals, Cannes Competition, for years, the nation has been as unsuccessful at Venice, the oldest movie festival in the world, having begun in 1932 at the height of Fascism.
The Venice International Film Festival – whose 68th edition is now on at the Adriatic island of Lido, just off the ancient city of Venice, once immortalised by Shakespeare in a play about Jews and Christians, about ruthless commerce and gentle mercy – may have selected three Indian movies.
But these are not from the current crop of India’s happening directors. What is more, they are not even slotted in the top competition section. Two of the films are in Orizzonti or New Horizons. The third is a tribute to Mani Kaul, who died recently. His 1970s “Duvida” will play with a brand new print.
One of the Orizzonti’s India entries is Amit Dutta’s “Sonchidi” (Golden Bird). His couple of earlier movies have been screened at Venice. But who is Dutta? Ask any film-goer in India, the question will draw a blank. Complete blank.
Even I have never met him: I am told he leads a reclusive existence in Jammu, and very few have access to even his phone number. He has never been to Venice!
Besides, he makes a kind of cinema that is not only highly experimental, but beyond the comprehension of the average cinema buff.
And with Dutta’s movies finding no theatrical outlet in India, they vanish just after every festival.
The second Indian film at Venice is a debut work by Gurvinder Singh in Punjabi, “Anhey Ghorhey Da Daan” (Alms for the Blind Horse).
“Anhey Ghorhey Da Daan” purports to be a poignant look at the suffering and humiliation of some of India’s working classes. Singh said that the “movie tries to talk about the years of subordination of the struggling classes reflected in the macrocosm of events spinning beyond their control”.
Now try and set these Indian films against Venice’s other offerings. And note the contrast.
The international list
This year, all the 65 movies in the Festival’s main sections are never-before-screened-anywhere premieres. That irresistible George Clooney arrived on the Lido on the opening night with his “Ides of March “– about the dirty politics of Howard Dean’s 2004 American presidential campaign.
And that alluring Madonna brought her “W.E”., tracing the relationship between American divorcee Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII. The man left the throne of England for his love, but what about the woman? Madonna’s work talks about this.
Apart from Clooney and Madonna, Al Pacino will be at Venice for “Wilde Salome”, where he will be King Herod.
Kate Winslet will be on the island to promote two competition films. She stars along with Jodie Foster and Christopher Waltz (“Inglorious Basterds”) in Roman Polanski’s gripping “Carnage” (about irrational adult behaviour), and with Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon and Jude Law in Steven Soderbergh’s “Contagion”.
And then there is some provocative fare: David Cronenberg’s Sigmund Freud-Carl Jung study, “A Dangerous Method”, with Keira Knightley and Viggo Mortensen; Abel Ferrara’s “4:44 The Last Day on Earth”, starring Willem Dafoe; William Friedkin’s Killer Joe and the Mia Farrow starrer, “Dark Horse”, from Todd Solondz, a helmer whose middle name can well be controversy.
Obviously, Dutta and Singh pale in comparison. Very much so.
India does not care
Admittedly, last year we saw at Venice comparatively better of the Indian cinema: Anurag Kashyap’s “That Girl in Yellow Boots” (which opened in India just a while ago), and Mani Ratnam’s Tamil-Hindi disaster-at-the-box-office, “Raavanan-Raavan”. At least, these names mean something in India.
Maybe India does not care. For it has a whopping home market in a country where cinema still remains one of the cheapest forms of entertainment.
So, why bother making films that the world wants to see? Why create something for the festival circuit with its uppity critics and arty crowds? Why at all?
Fine, but Indian cinema must stop cribbing then and tell the world that it makes movies only for its own masses. Period.
Gautaman Bhaskaran is a Chennai-India based author, columnist and film critic, and can be contacted at [email protected]. He is a FMT columnist.