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Babus at Cannes

 | May 24, 2013

Why is the Indian government sending high ranking government officials to Cannes, but not the person who would benefit the most?

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Shocking as it may seem, Shankar Mohan, the Director of the International Film Festival of Indian (IFFI), the country’s arguably biggest movie event held every November at Panaji in Goa is not to be seen at the ongoing Cannes Film Festival, the world’s most important movie festival and the third largest media event after the Oscars and World Cup Football.

Mohan’s absence appears particularly glaring, for Cannes offers one of the richest movie packages in the world, and like Casablanca’s Rick’s Café, “where everybody goes”, the Croisette on the French Riviera is also where any film festival worth its salt sends its director.

Why, the Mumbai Film Festival’s Director, S Narayanan (who is at Cannes for the 25th year) is here at Cannes, and so too two of his deputies. So, while Mumbai has a three-member team scouting for movies, establishing contacts with foreign producers and helmers, IFFI appears to care less.

Not just Mumbai, the director of just about every film festival across the globe is here at Cannes.

Even, the director of the humble Chennai Film Festival, and he is here with his huge team to select cinema for his December event.

Part of India’s Union Information and Broadcasting Ministry, IFFI has been floundering for years now, largely because the government has given it precious little support.

For years, it had no permanent director, and now when one has been appointed, he is hardly ever allowed to function the way he ought to.

What is more upsetting than the absence of the IFFI Director was the presence of three bureaucrats — or “babus” as they are termed in India — at Cannes: the Federal Secretary of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, due to retire in June (and who is perhaps, going by the rule book, not supposed to be travelling abroad now), the Federal Joint Secretary Films and the Federal Director of Films.

These bureaucrats, who are by no stretch of imagination experts on cinema, were here at Cannes at the tax-payers’ expense for several days during the Festival, and were often seen at the India Pavillion.

Pray, what exactly has the government sent these officials to Cannes for? As one Cannes regular from India quipped, “they are here to shop and have a great all-expense paid vacation”.

At a time, when the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government is under a heavy cloud, trying to weather one scam storm after another, we had three officials from the Federal Information and Broadcasting Ministry here at Cannes, men who had really no business to have be here.

Gautaman Bhaskaran is India Editor of FMT, and Chennai-based author, columnist and movie critic, who is now covering the Cannes Film Festival. He may be emailed at [email protected]


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