Nandita Das

A look at Cannes

  • June 1, 2010

Just a few days ago the 63rd Cannes Film Festival ended with as much hype as it usually does. We read more stories about the red carpet than the films. Nonetheless it reminded me of my memorable ten days in Cannes in 2005. Just for nostalgia I started to read what I had written then. The first part was titled, ‘Looking forward to Cannes’ and was written soon after I got the news of my selection. “While I am surprised to be selected in such a prestigious jury, it is a validation of the choices I have made. At times there has been self doubt, but not enough to counter my instinct of doing things that make me happy or what I believe in. I am aware that the festival is full of glitter and glamour, but my focus will be to take my jury responsibilities seriously and not to get bogged down by the baggage it comes with. I am looking forward to a great learning experience and also having a wonderful time.” And that it sure was!

The second part was titled Looking back at Cannes, written soon after the festival. “It has been an important milestone in my understanding of films and human psyche. The deliberations with an eclectic mix of artists, intellectuals and film makers was a delight. The jury comprised of Tony Morrison, a Literature Nobel Laureate, Serbian director Emir Kusturica, the winner of two Palme d’Ors, brilliant actor, Javier Bardem and Salma Hayek, John Woo, the great action film maker, the brilliant Turkish German director Fatih Akin, winner of the Golden Bear at Berlin and Anias Warda and Benoit Jacquot, two eminent and very distinct film-makers from France.”

It became obvious as we expressed our opinions about the films, that we were primarily revealing ourselves- who we were and the cultural, social and historical contexts that we were bringing with us. While we all know that viewing an art form is subjective, it was astonishing to see how nine people could so strongly and vociferously disagree on certain aspects of a film. Our respective gender, age, upbringing, exposure…all came into play as we shared our views on the films. It was fascinating to see such varied opinions on the films we analysed. I found myself being more thoughtful and open and at the same time opinionated about what I thought was good or bad cinema. But it was remarkable how we eventually ended up functioning as a cohesive group and in fact were quite inseparable for those ten days. 

Interestingly, some of what I wrote then is not too different from what I feel now. 

“Cannes film festival is more than just a film festival. It’s a ‘mela’ (carnival), where the rich, the famous, the powerful, the opportunist, the struggler, the aspiring, the dreamer all come together to experience and express, to watch and learn, to negotiate and network, to indulge and enjoy. Cannes was truly a microcosm of sorts. I will remember this experience as a moment in my life where my perspectives on films, life in general and the world in transition, all shifted towards a broader understanding.”

There is so much that happens in those 10 days, but sadly what primarily trickles down through our media to us is which Indian actress wore what. As Cannes is also about glamour, designer clothes, media hoopla and walking the famous red carpet, that is no surprise. I remember when I arrived at the airport in 2005 with one medium sized suitcase, they were shocked. Outside two cars were waiting for me as I was told that most actresses came with no less than 10 suitcases, just as Salma Hayek had come with 16! It became obvious to me that each of us inhabits a unique universe. Soon enough, I became the butt of jokes in the jury office as the “lightest juror ever”!

Through all of this thankfully my focus remained on the film and the stimulating conversations around them. After seven years we had an Indian entry, Udaan, although still not in the main competition. This year we also had Mrinal Sen’s Khandahar shown in the Classic section. We try and inch into the film scenario, but the truth is that it has been a very long while since an Indian film even entered the main competition. Is it because economics has so interfered with art that we have stopped making world class films or is it because a truly good film in India doesn’t have access to such film festivals. Maybe more of the former than the later. Nonetheless, the Cannes experience will always bring a smile to my face.

Virata Parvam


Director: Udugula Venu

Language: Telugu

Character Name: Shakuntala

Key Cast: Kundan Alexzed, Chakrapani Ananda, Banerjee

Feastivals and Awards: NA

Film Stills: 9

BTS: 11