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Film Makers And Stars In Cannes Talk About Indian Cinema's Past, Future And Controversy

posted 19 May 2013, 15:42 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 19 May 2013, 15:43 ]

India celebrates its 100th birthday internationally at the Cannes film festival.

CANNESFRANCE (MAY 19, 2013) (REUTERS) -  The Cannes film festival celebrated 100 years of Indian cinema on Sunday (May 19) with the world premiere of 'Bombay Talkies' -- a movie which celebrates the Indian public's love of their movie industry.

Indian movie actors and a new wave of directors are on a mission at this year's festival -- to show that their industry is more than just Bollywood.

The largest Indian contingent to date is on the French Riviera at the world's leading cinema showcase to promote their country, which has the world's biggest film industry, making over 1,000 films a year compared to about 600 in Hollywood.

Movies from Mumbai-based 'Bollywood' and other regional Indian films have struggled at the global box office with Indian cinema largely dismissed as lengthy, song-and-dance numbers.

But the industry sees the 66th Cannes festival, where India is "guest country" to mark its centenary, as a chance to showcase a new genre of Indian movies globally and to promote India as a place to both make films and win a massive audience.

The Indian visitors to Cannes are also keen to lure investment to their film industry, which is forecast to grow to $5 billion by 2014 from $3.2 billion in 2010, according to a report by Ernst & Young.

India's presence has been high-profile since the start of the 12-day festival with acting legend Amitabh Bachchan on the red carpet on opening night to mark his Hollywood debut in Baz Luhrmann's "The Great Gatsby" alongside Leonardo DiCaprio.

"Cinema in India was an entity many, many years ago from its inception which was socially somewhat not acceptable. People working with films were considered to be in for a dig, but gradually it has developed into a parallel culture. I don't know whether this is good for the country or not. We have a history of 5,000 years of culture but it is there and I am so happy that it has happened and there's great recognition all over the world suddenly towards us and I can only look upon it with great pride," Bachchan told Reuters TV on Thursday.

Actress Vidya Balan also walked the red carpet in the pouring rain as one of nine members of a jury led by U.S. filmmaker Steven Spielberg that will decide the coveted Palme D'Or award for best picture on the final day, May 26.

A gala dinner to mark Indian cinema's centenary was held on Sunday and attended by a list of stars including actresses Aishwarya Rai BachchanSonam Kapoor andFreida Pinto.

Anurag Kathyap, who launched his movie "Gangs of Wasseypur" for an international audience last year at the festival, and who has five films he has either produced or directed in selections at the festival including 'Bombay Talkies' says the centenary's timing marks a new start for their industry.

"It's a very interesting time in Indian cinema because in a sense we've come out of where we were kind of stuck in only a single kind of cinema -- only one kind of films we made which everybody in a really funny kind of way called it 'Bollywood' but I think we've come out of there where our mainstream cinema which everyone called 'Bollywood' is redefining itself, is becoming more rooted, more real where we have much more independent films being made, much more edgier films being made. All sorts of cinema co-exist today," he said.

There has been a debate in India about cinema and its influence over people and its depiction of women following a series of widely-reported violent rape crimes.

"There is a certain amount of film makers and a certain faction of movies that come out that completely objectify women but they are objectifying everything. They're objectifying violence, they're objectifying masculinity, they're objectifying everything," Zoya Akhtar, one of the four directors of 'Bombay Talkies', said.

There are even male actors that are running to take their clothes off on-screen, so they're objectifying everything and so the female representation is frightening in a lot of the films. But people are talking about it and it's coming up but at the same time is that the sole cause for crime in India? No," she said.

Bachchan, asked if a more progressive portrayal of women was needed, said early education was key.

"I think at the same time the people need to be educated. They need to be told from a very young age what is right and what is wrong and that process needs to be developed by the state," he said.

Dibarak Banerjee is another one of the directors involved in 'Bombay Talkies'.

"Just a few days ago there was a huge debate on what the censors in India can get away or not get away with, how much can they proscribe? I mean, Indians ourselves, the film makers and the audience, are discussing. So much so the censor board of India actually did a festival of all the films that it cut just to explain to the audience how it works. And I thought it was a wonderful idea, it was a wonderful thing and I've never heard of it anywhere else so there's a huge, very exciting debate going on about how we see our own cinema in India of course, and that's also very exciting," he said.

There is no Indian film in either of the two main competitions at Cannes.

The last Indian film selected to vie for the coveted Palme D'Or was "Swaham" in 1994 while "Udaan" competed in Un Certain Regard for emerging filmmakers in 2010.

But four Indian films will be screened at this year's festival -- "Monsoon Shootout", another thriller "Ugly", a tribute to the industry centenary called "Bombay Talkies", and love story "Dabba" (Lunchbox).