By Gautaman Bhaskaran
The Indian paparazzo at the recently concluded Cannes Film Festival was focussed. Bollywood and nothing beyond. Even here, it was the pretty Bollywood that the paparazzo trained its cameras and dictaphones on. It had to be an Aishwarya Rai or a Sonam Kapoor or a Katrina Kaif. Not Nandita Das, not Richa Chadda — who are considered not attractive enough to warrant big splashy displays in print.
Some years ago, when Suhasini Mani Ratnam came to Cannes with the trailer of the Hindi-Tamil bilingual movie, Raavan/Raavanan, the Indian paparazzi went for their usual kill. They zeroed in on Rai and Abhishek Bachchan, while the south Indian hero, Vikram, stood in a corner — perhaps smarting under the humiliation of being totally ignored. Noticing this, I walked up to him and started a conversation, which lead to an article. I ignored Rai and Bachchan, and boy one should have seen the looks they gave me!
Rai, of course, spoilt her reputation at Cannes, though briefly, when she went there a few years ago with Madhur Bhandarkar to announce his Heroine. It was a breakfast meeting where the Indian media was in its full force — with no sign of foreign journalists. But a couple of weeks later, Rai announced, to the utter shock and disbelief of Bhandarkar, that she was pregnant. The director almost slipped into depression — till he found his Heroine, Kareena Kapoor.
I have never understood why Indian directors fly all the way to Cannes to announce their new films. They may as well do it in Mumbai or Delhi or Chennai. Also, I have found that the foreign media, by and large, is not too interested in such announcements, and stay away from such press meets.
This reminds me. What happened to Shekhar Kapoor’s Paani — whose launch he announced at Cannes many years ago.
This year, the Indian media at Cannes was the least bothered about Chadda, who starred in Masaan, screened as part of the Festival’s A Certain Regard. I saw her walking on the Croisette. No cameras were following here. No media men, while there were fiery debates about what Sonam wore or what Rai adorned or how Kaif walked up the Red Carpet!
Rai was all the more in the news, because she was talking about her so-called comeback movie, Jazbaa. Kapoor released a coffee-table book on spiritual cookery at the Indian pavilion with even the Indian Ambassador to France in attendance. I never saw the pavilion so crowded as it was on Sonam’s day. In a white gown which generously revealed her cleavage, she was the cynosure of every camera!
Sadly, Chadda’s presence at the pavilion a few days later caused no flutter.
It was not just Masaan and its actors who were cold shouldered by the Indian paparazzi, but even Gurvinder Singh — whose Chauthi Koot played in A Certain Regard — was unhappy. A report in The Telegraph said Singh lamented that the Indian media had shown no interest in his film. “The Indian journalists coming to Cannes unfortunately discover Cannes through movie stars,” he quipped. More specifically through what they wear, I would add here.
What is more, neither Rai nor Kapoor made even a passing mention of either Chauthi Koot or Masaan. Still worse, they did not even seem to be aware of the films for which they were walking the Red Carpet.
For example, when The Telegraph asked Kapoor if she had watched any movie at the festival yet, she said, “I did not watch the film (for which she walked the red carpet). I could not sit in the gown, so I came back, but I want to catch... I heard there is a wonderful documentary by an Indian director...”
She was referring to Asif Kapadia’s documentary on Amy Winehouse, Amy. Kapoor could not remember the title!
Golden Palm for Dheepan
The top Palm d’Or at the just-concluded Cannes Film Festival went to French director Jacques Audiard’s Tamil-language Dheepan. The Festival’s only Tamil movie in this writer’s 26 years at Cannes, Dheepan is a haunting story of a former Tamil Tiger (part of Vellupillai Prabhakaran’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which fought for a separate homeland for the minority Tamils in Sri Lanka). Dheepan migrates to France — along with a woman and a child who act as his wife and daughter — in search of peace, which does not come that easily in the Parisian suburb that he makes his new home, where drug-pedalling, gun-toting gangs make life hell for Dheepan and his “family”.
For Tamils, not just in Sri Lanka, but also in Tamil Nadu — the two communities passionately bonded to each other through language — Dheepan’s victory in the world’s most renowned film festival will be a matter of great pride.
And Dheepan was not the favourite among bookies or even critics. Mediamen had predicted that Todd Haynes’ lesbian drama, Carol, or Hou Hsiao-hsien’s historical 9th century account of intrigues in the royal court, The Assassin, would take Cannes’ most prestigious award. The bookies said that Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Lobster, about human anxieties, relationships and loneliness, would clinch the Palm.
Dheepan proved third-time-lucky for Audiard, who won the Best Screenplay Award at Cannes in 1996 with A Self-Made Hero and picked up the Grand Prix for A Prophet in 2009.
Later at a Press conference, Audiard said: “I wanted to reflect on the situation that is happening in the Mediterranean. Those people who sell roses to us in a café, where they come from, what is their background, their motivations — that is what spurred me on.”
Cinema is fascinated by war — sometimes even more than love and romance. And at the 68th edition of the festival, we saw Audiard’s brilliant take on the Sri Lankan ethnic strife that plunged the picturesque island nation into a 30-year bloody mess. Thousands were killed, thousands maimed and orphaned, and one of them is nine-year-old Illayaal (Claudine Vinasithamby) in Audiard’s competing fictional feature, Dheepan.
Dheepan, like Prasanna Vithanage’s haunting film, With You, Without You, is an attempt to soothe souls tortured by the war. Dheepan opens with a funeral pyre which seemingly indicates that Sri Lankans and the nation itself want to lay to rest the inglorious past — laced with rancour and revenge. Audiard’s is a story as touching as Vithanage’s.
Dheepan (Antonythasan Jesuthasan) does not want to have anything to do with even the memory of the war. He cremates his former comrades, burns his own uniform before seeking political asylum in France, and to make this look authentic, he finds a woman Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan)to act as his wife and Illayaal as their daughter to make the family complete.
However, when they settle down in a Paris suburb, peace does not come easily to them. The place is infested with criminal gangs whose bullets and bravado disturb Yalini and the little girl even as they try desperately to shake off their messy past.
The movie has several arresting moments — as we see Dheepan (after telling off a former Tiger colonel that the war for him is truly over) becoming a caretaker for the housing complex where he lives, as we see Yalini taking on the job of a carer and Ilayaal beginning her French lessons in a new school.
In a way, Audiard’s film is a strong comment on immigrant experience in France, but it is also a powerful statement on war and the uphill task of those coming to terms with it — and seeking a peaceful way out of it. The climax could not have said this in a stronger way.
Dheepan was certainly one of the best titles that I saw in this festival, and Audiard truly deserved the Palm.
* Gautaman Bhaskaran has
covered the Cannes Film
Festival for 26 years, and may be
e-mailed at [email protected]
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