Cannes And India Love In Separation

By Pickle  May 13, 2024
Cannes And India Love In Separation, Pickle Media

By Pierre Assouline

What a relief to find an Indian film among the nominees for the Palme d’Or at Cannes 2024. The last time an Indian film got this far was 30 years ago with Swaham, directed by Shaji N. Karun and released in Europe by the undersigned. Back in Cannes 1994, I had the privilege of meeting Shaji and entrusting him years later with the direction of Vanaprastham, my own story and production. After an incredible 30-year wait, Indian cinema is now back at Cannes Competition with All We Imagine as Light, by the independent woman director Payal Kapadia.

“Why has there been such apparent scant regard for so long for Indian cinema at Cannes?” some might ask. Frankly, I think it only fitting that the Indian film industry questions the reasons for its long absence from the Competition at Cannes. “Let’s take a hard look at what Indian cinema has had to offer to the selection during the intervening years.” might be the right answer.

IT IS TIME FOR INDIAN-CRAFTED FILMS TO SHOW THE WORLD THE BEAUTY OF INDIA’S CULTURE. THOSE FILMS WILL CROSSOVER AND MAKE INDIA’S MOST CONFIDENTIAL IP RESONATE IN INTERNATIONAL FESTIVALS AND MARKETS

The Bollywood, Tollywood, Kollywood, Mollywood mainstream players, producers as well as regular or occasional film financiers, interested in International recognition and in Cannes’ Gold, need to realise that the cinema which they understand and master so well locally will never be a Cannes Competition pick. Instead of suggesting that Cannes executives must have some resentment against India, they would benefit from considering script & director-driven projects, taking a break from the “star system” and the “copy/remake” syndrome where filmmaking chews the already chewed under the dictate of brand-endorsing addicts.

Should the mainstream film industry persist in the illusion that it has gone global with statements like “opening worldwide”? Or should it rather start accepting that even when visually boosted with AI, fresh technical skills and state-of- the-art facilities, its cinema as it is still produced today can solely reach Indian audiences whether domestic or diaspora? Ironically, by recently acknowledging that growth in overseas revenues will only depend on opening-up culturally similar markets, such as China and the Middle East, Indian mainstream players are finally somehow accepting that their productions will continue to fail to attract non- diaspora Western audiences and therefore any Cannes Competition selection.

Unfortunately, the industry’s production loudest voices are not properly deciphering the preferences of audiences. They are rejoicing that in 2023, domestic theatrical revenues exceeded pre-pandemic levels, forgetting to credit that rise to a significant increase in ticket prices. Admissions are down over 5% compared to 2022, with less than 100 million cinema-goers in a country of 1.4 billion people. The Hindi language industry released 218 films in 2023 for an overall gross BO of INR 54 billion.

The new generation filmmakers should not let the trendy “mythologicals” be monopolised by those opportunistic mainstream filmmakers who, bereft of spiritual awareness, mistreat Bharat stories imposing on them the sole “Bahubali” or “RRR” Manichean cinematic modus operandi

Out of those 218 films, a mere 7 have collected INR 35.2 billion. Which means that collectively 211 Hindi films have grossed only INR 18.8 billion! Is Tamil cinema better off ? 271 releases grossed INR 20 billion. Out of those 271 films, a mere 2 have grossed INR 8 billion, which means that 269 Tamil films have collectively grossed only INR 12 billion! Exhibitors may rejoice, but independent producers and advocates of diversity in cinema, certainly not!

What remedy have EY experts recommended at the last FICCI Frames? “Increase significantly the average number of VFX shots per film to enhance the movie-going experience.” No doubt, here are people who have deeply understood the art of Cinema! How many VFX-packed movies have bombed at the box-office in India and elsewhere? This purely technical, financial approach might suit toothpaste and dish-washing- liquid, but not Art, any art, please! Can you imagine those “experts” advising Raja Ravi Varma or Amrita Sher-Gil?

SHOULD THE MAINSTREAM INDUSTRY PERSIST IN THE ILLUSION THAT IT HAS GONE GLOBAL WITH STATEMENTS LIKE “OPENING WORLDWIDE”?

EXHIBITORS MAY REJOICE OVER THE 2023 THEATRICAL FIGURES, BUT INDEPENDENT PRODUCERS AND ADVOCATES OF DIVERSITY IN CINEMA, CERTAINLY NOT.

UNFORTUNATELY, THE INDUSTRY’S PRODUCTION LOUDEST VOICES ARE NOT PROPERLY DECIPHERING THE PREFERENCES OF AUDIENCES.

“Our survey shows that for a majority of people your East and West blend is not today’s trend, choose your side!” Is their cinema sector health analysis not biased, ignoring what it takes for cinematic language to be universal and touch the hearts of audiences?

It is time for Indian-crafted films to show the world the beauty of India’s culture rather than follow Western films down the same old beaten track of portraying an “Indian genre” associated only with misery, social conflict and violence as their main topics. Sadly, those of the new generation filmmakers who are more apt in the handling of a universal cinema language, have been Westernized to think that shabby hardship is the only theme that will take them to international festivals. As films continue to impact and shape our culture, these new generation filmmakers should not let the trendy “mythologicals” be monopolised by those opportunistic mainstream filmmakers who, bereft of spiritual awareness, mistreat Bharat stories imposing on them the sole “Bahubali” or “RRR” Manichean cinematic modus operandi. Those Indian Heritage stories are not mythology, but History. As such, they deserve the exciting “based on a true story” teaser.

Take up the challenge, insightful young filmmakers, and envision a refreshing creative universal cinematic approach, whether minimalistic or flamboyant, but attentive not to deprive those stories of their original potency. Those films will crossover and make India’s most confidential IP resonate in international festivals and markets.

A producer in France and India with Selections and Awards including Competition in Venice, Competition and Jury Award in Locarno, Competition in Toronto, Official Selection in Cannes, National Award in India, Pierre Assouline currently works at establishing “The Uplifting Cinema Project”, a production slate of universal and uplifting films conveying India’s beauty to the world.

Pierre Assouline in Cannes: WhatsApp +33613215900 pierre@theupliftingcinemaproject.com

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