Representing India at Cannes

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Sir: Rohena Gera

With just a few movies making the cut at the 71st Cannes Film Festival, India, which is the world’s largest producer of movies, remains woefully under-represented country at the prestigious movie extravaganza

By Saibal Chatterjee

With a solitary film in the official selection, the world’s largest producer of movies, India, will definitely not be the most visible nation at the 71st Cannes Film Festival.
The title that has made the cut is Nandita Das’ second directorial venture, Manto. The film stars Cannes regular Nawazuddin Siddiqui (Miss Lovely, Gangs of Wasseypur, Raman Raghav 2.0) as the eponymous Urdu writer who chronicled the turmoil and the human cost of Partition like nobody else.

Manto: Nandita Das

The cast of the anticipated film, to be screened in Un Certain Regard, also features Rasika Dugal (Qissa – The Tale of a Lonely Ghost) in the role of Manto’s wife Safia, Tahir Raj Bhasin as 1940s movie star Shyam, and Rajshri Deshpande as the writer Ismat Chughtai.
“Manto was a politically engaged writer whose work was infused with deep humanism,” Das told this writer last year in Cannes where the first look of the film was unveiled. “He gave voice to the voiceless by turning the spotlight on workers, prostitutes and others living on the margins of society.”

The year before that, when she and lead actor Siddiqui were in Cannes to announce that the film was set to roll, the writer-director had revealed: “It’s not a cradle-to-grave biopic but a drama celebrating the life and work of a writer who was a natural rebel, a man who went against the tide without being a conscious activist.”
Manto covers a period of seven years between 1946 and 1952, which was an important phase in the history of the subcontinent as well as in the life of the combative writer who had several run-ins with the authorities on both sides of India-Pakistan border on account of his incendiary, outspoken ways.
“Manto’s ‘simple yet profound’ narratives are today as relevant as ever,” Das had said. “That is what draws me to him. He talks about everything I care for – freedom of expression, the question of identities thrust upon us, about wedges being driven between groups.”
India has a film in La Semaine de la Critique (Critics Week) – Oune-based Rohena Gera’s first fiction feature, Sir (Monsieur). It is an Indo-French co-production. Sir has been produced by Gera and her French-born husband Brice Poisson’s Inkpot Films.
Inkpot Films also funded Gera’s micro-budget documentary What’s Love Got to Do With It?, which probed, with humour and bemusement, the phenomenon of well-heeled, widely-travelled young Indians opting for arranged marriages over love. It was the first Indian documentary to be purchased by Netflix.
Sir, featuring film producer and actor Vivek Gomber (Court) and Tillotama Shome (Qissa – The Tale of a Lonely Ghost), is about a domestic help who works for a young man from a wealthy Mumbai family. The two belong to spaces that exist on separate sides of a huge social divide but are compelled to look for common ground.
Sir is the only non-European film among the seven features that are competing for Critics Week prizes. International sales of the film are handled by Paris-based mk2 Films, which has as many as five titles in the Cannes Film Festival’s main Competition.

Indian Movies at Cannes Film Market

Elsewhere on the Croisette, Indian actors and directors will seek a piece of the action via industry screenings in the Marche du Film and other promotional activities on the sidelines of the festival.
Chennai-based movie star Dhanush will put in an appearance with the team of the Indo-French co-production The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir.
The actor plays the male lead in the Ken Scott-directed film adapted from the Romain Puertolas novel The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe. His co-stars in the film are Berenice Bejo, Gerard Jugnot, Barkhad Abdi and Erin Moriarty. The film is slated for release soon after the festival winds up.
Bollywood star-actor Manoj Bajpayee will travel to Cannes for the unveiling of the first look of Ajji director Devashish Makhija’s next film, Bhonsle. The synopsis of the film reads: Bhonsle, a terminally-ill local policeman, retired against his will, finds himself forging an unlikely companionship with a 23-year-old North Indian girl and her little brother, while the raging conflict destroying the world around them reaches his doorstep, giving him one last battle worth fighting for.
Bhonsle, produced by Singapore-based streaming platform Muvizz, is the third feature directed by Makhija, whose previous film, Ajii, had its world premiere at the Busan International Film Festival last year. Makhija and Bajpayee had worked together on the critically acclaimed short film Taandav.
Muvizz will also present another independent film in Cannes, Zaigham Imam’s Nakkash, produced by Pawan Tiwari and starring InaamulHaq, Kumud Mishra and Sharib Hashmi.
Among other films in the Marche du Film will be Aneek Chaudhuri’s White, an experimental, dialogue-less film that tells stories of three survivors of sexual violence.
The young Kolkata-based director’s previous film, The Wife’s Letter, which amalgamated a Rabindranath Tagore story with an aesthetic inspired by Salvador Dali’s surreal art, was screened in the Cannes market last year.

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