Updated: May 19, 2022 6:13:59 pm
Seventy-five years has a nice, solid ring to it. And after two years of Covid, a film festival on the ground feels even more of a celebration. The 75th edition of the Cannes Film Festival opens today with its usual fanfare: red carpet galas at the Palais, stars sweeping down the Croisette, and film press lining up for much-anticipated goodies. It’s May, it’s Cannes, and all’s right with the world.
India is the ‘county of honour’ at the Marche du Cinema, the film market which runs adjacent to the festival, a giant bee-hive thronged by buyers and sellers and agents. This year, six Indian films will be officially screened at the market: R Madhavan’s ‘Rocketry The Nambi Effect’, Nikhil Mahajan’s ‘Godavari’, Achal Mishra’s ‘Dhuin’, Shankar Shrikumar’s ‘Alpha Beta Gamma’, Biswajeet Bora’s ‘Boomba Ride’, Jayaraj’s ‘Tree Full of Parrots’. And Deepika Padukone joins a very select band of ‘desis’ which has done top jury duty at the Cannes film festival.
In the middle of pre-travel-flurry, Mahajan talks about what ‘Godavari’ means to him. The passing of filmmaker Nishikant Kamath, dear friend and mentor to both Mahajan and his lead actor Jitendra Joshi, has been a great shock. ‘We couldn’t think of a better tribute to Nishikant but to make this film, which is so closely connected to life and death’. The film follows a man who is filled with rage, the kind of ‘crazy amount of suppressed rage’ Mahajan has noticed in his own ‘Maharashtrian middle-class male world’, as well as in himself, which no one talks about. It is unusual for an Indian film to have a lead character so determinedly unlikable, and as we begin knowing more about him, a river runs through it.
Achal Mishra’s sophomore effort ‘Dhuin’, which comes after his lovely ode-to-a-lost-time ‘Gamak Ghar’, is another slice of life in an Indian village, but this one is slender, almost novella-length. Shot during the pandemic, it features a young man whose sights are set upon Mumbai and the movies. Like so many other young men, he wants to become the next Pankaj Tripathi, that son of their soil who is now a star. The film needs a bit more scaffolding, but you can see that it comes from a filmmaker with an unerring eye.
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A handful of other Indian films will be screened in other sections. Satyajit Ray’s 1970 ‘Pratidwandi’, in which a very young Dhritiman Chatterjee plays a disaffected urban Bengali navigating a Calcutta impacted by rising Naxalism, growing joblessness, and accompanying cynicism, is in the Cannes Classics section. Ray’s pastoral sagas of the 60s (Pather Panchali, The Apu trilogy) led to his great city movies in the 70s. One of the highlights of ‘Pratidwandi’, restored by the NFAI, is the feckless character played by Chatterjee, telling an interviewer that one of the most significant markers of their time is the Vietnam war, not the first man landing on the moon. The look on the interlocutor’s face is priceless. It is a look which separates one generation from another, and one belief system from another: two men sitting across each other with absolutely no clue how to talk to each other.
Saunak Sen’s brilliant documentary ‘All That Breathes’ which premiered early this year at Sundance, is in the Special Screenings section, a rare exception for a festival which insists on world premieres. Anyone who has lived in Delhi, one of the most polluted cities in the world, has seen birds literally drop from the skies, and knows what it is like to be suffused by constant greyness. The film marries a strong concern for ecology with an awareness of the rancid political atmosphere in the Capital, and you can feel that suffocation countered by the concerned, committed young men who tend to the injured birds.
Another restored classic is G Aravindan’s ‘Thampu’, which the Cannes selectors have called the best restored film in the last fifteen years, according to Shivendra Dungarpur who runs the Film Heritage Foundation (FHF). He has been working tirelessly on the film’s restoration in association with his partners, and it will be screened at the same theatre which showed the restored version of ‘Kalpana’, exactly a decade back.
‘I can’t wait to be there’, he says. Nor can we.
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