India in Cannes- A Brief History

Here is a look at 70 years of Indian landmarks, signposts and points of departure at the Cannes Film Festival: by Saibal Chatterjee

Mrinal Sen

The Cannes Film Festival is in its 70th year. India, too, has traversed 70 years since Independence. Does the double anniversary have any significant parallels? Probably not. One is only a festival, the other is a vast, diverse nation of a billion plus people. But unconditional love for cinema embryonically links the two entities. Cannes has grown in leaps and bounds. So has India. But has the cinema of the world’s most prolific film producing country kept pace with the evolution of the festival that is known to set, and mirror, the global standards of the ever-dynamic medium? Here is a look at 70 years of Indian landmarks, signposts and points of departure at the Cannes Film Festival: by Saibal Chatterjee

In 2011, a year after Indian filmmaker Shekhar Kapur served on a Cannes Competition jury headed by Tim Burton, he produced Bollywood – The Greatest Love Story Ever Told. The film had a red-carpet screening at the festival. Directed by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and Jeff Zimbalist, the 81-minute freewheeling documentary was meant to throw light on the visual and musical dynamics of Mumbai’s song-and-dance Hindi movies. It did, but not to the desired extent. So the blind spot that Cannes has had regarding Indian cinema, which is often erroneously conflated into the catch-all phrase Bollywood, still persists even as new rays of hope have begun to emerge within and outside the multi-location Indian mainstream movie industry. Barring a short film by FTII Pune’s Payal Kapadia in the Cinefondation short films competition, India has drawn a blank in Cannes yet again. But, amid the understandable disappointment, let us not lose sight of the fact that India has had a long, fruitful association with the Cannes Film Festival although the Palme d’Or – and even the Un Certain Regard Prize – has eluded it. Through the many ups and downs that it has faced, the nation’s cinema has achieved just enough over the years not be dismissed as a Cannes pushover

Shaji N Karun

India got on the awards tally at the very first Cannes Film Festival in 1946. Chetan Anand’s Neecha Nagar, with a screenplay inspired by Maxim Gorky’s Lower Depths, won the festival’s Grand Prix alongside ten other films



Beginning with the ninth edition of the Cannes Film Festival (1956), where his debut fi lm Pather Panchali won the Prix du Document Humain, the Indian maestro travelled to the Croisette on several occasions in subsequent years. Satyajit Ray had three more titles in the Cannes Competition – Parash Pathar (1958), Devi (1962) and Ghare Baire (1984) – besides Ganashatru (1989) in the Special Screenings section. In 2013, one of his greatest fi lms, Charulata, was screened in Cannes Classics.


The film that is widely credited with putting Indian independent cinema on the world map, Pather Panchali has been screened in Cannes on as many as four occasions. Besides its premiere in 1956, when it heralded Ray’s arrival on the global stage, it was included in Special Screenings in 1992 (as a homage to the filmmaker who had passed away weeks earlier), Directors Fortnight in 1995, and Cannes Classics in 2005 (to mark the film’s 50th anniversary). It has never failed to cast a spell.


The stormy petrel of Bengali cinema has been a more frequent visitor to Cannes than even Satyajit Ray. Mrinal Sen’s first three trips to the French Riviera were with films selected for Directors Fortnight – Bhuvan Shome (1970), Padatik (1974) and Oka Oorie Katha (1978). He broke into the main festival in 1980 with Ek Din Pratidin, which competed for the Palme d’Or. He had two other films in competition – Kharij (1983), for which he won a Jury Prize, and Genesis (1986). Khandhar (1984) made it to Un Certain Regard. In 1982, Sen also served on the Cannes Competition jury. A restored print of the critically acclaimed Khandhar was screened in Cannes Classics in 2010 with Sen, then 87, in attendance.


Films Division, set up the year after India gained independence, was a regular presence in the Cannes Film Festival’s short films competition. Led by Mohan Bhavnani, FD’s first chief producer (1948-1955), the organisation’s stalwarts of the early years – Jagat Murari, Ezra Mir, Fali Bilimoria, P.V. Pathy and N.S. Thapa among them – kept India in the Cannes mix. Seven of Bhavnani’s short fi lms made the Cannes cut, beginning with a work aptly titled Festival Time. In what was a record that probably still stands, Bhavnani had three titles in the short films competition in a single year (1954) – Feminine Fashions, Folk Dances of India and River of Hope. That year, FD had two other films in the lineup – Pamposh (directed by Ezra Mir, who succeeded Bhavnani as FD chief producer) and Land of Enlightenment, made by Mohan Wadhwani. Post-1970, until the turn of the millennium, Indian short films went completely off the festival’s radar.


The filmmaker from Kerala made a strong impression in Cannes with his very first film, Piravi (1989), which screened in Un Certain Regard and earned him a Camera d’Or – Honourable Mention. The director’s second film, Swaham, competed for the Palme d’Or in 1994.That was the last time that India had a film in Competition in Cannes. Shaji’s Vanaprastham made it to the Un Certain Regard section in 1999.

Anurag Kashyap


Early in his career. Murali Nair registered his presence in Cannes in no uncertain terms. In 1996, he appeared in the Cannes official programme with the short film, Oru Needra Yathra. His debut feature, Marana Simhasanam (Throne of Death), included in Un Certain Regard in 1999, won the Camera d’Or. He was in the same section twice more – in 2001 and 2003 – with Pattiyude Divasam (A Dog’s Day) and Arimpara (A Story that Begins at the End) respectively. For seven years after the lukewarm critical response to Arimpara, India was blanked out of Cannes’ offi cial selection.


Established in 1995, the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute (SRFTI) has been in the forefront of grooming a new generation of Indian filmmakers. Since the launch of the Cannes Film Festival’s Cinefondation competition for short films from film schools, four of SRFTI’s alumni have made it to the selection: Tridib Poddar (Khoj, 2002), Anirban Datta (Tetris, 2006), Raka Dutta (Chinese Whispers, 2007) and Saurav Rai (Gudh, 2016).


The only Mumbai director to be in the Competition in Cannes twice is Bimal Roy. The first time he came to the Croisette was in 1954 with Do Bigha Zameen, which won the Prix International. He was back in Cannes the very next year with Biraj Bahu, an adaptation of a Saratchandra Chattopadhyay novel. In 1957, a featurelength non-fiction film produced by him, Gotama the Buddha, featured in the Cannes Competition lineup.


Raj Kapoor made it to the Cannes Competition a year before Bimal Roy. His Awara vied for the festival’s top prize in 1953. Two years later, Kapoor hit the Cannes headlines yet again, but this time as a producer. His film Boot Polish, directed by Prakash Arora (Kapoor’s assistant on Awara, Aag and Barsaat), competed for the Palme d’Or in 1955, the year the award was unveiled. GOUTAM GHOSE Kolkata-based Goutam Ghose made the trip to Cannes on four occasions – twice each in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1982, Dakhal was in Directors Fortnight; in 1988 Antarjali Yatra was presented in Un Certain Regard. Ghose’s 1990s fi lms to screen in Cannes are Padma Nadir Majhi (Directors Fortnight, 1993) and Gudia (Un Certain Regard, 50th Cannes Film Festival, 1997).


Anurag Kashyap, one of the leading lights of Mumbai’s new independent cinema, has been in the Cannes official selection only once – in 2013, when Bombay Talkies, a four-part anthology film, was included in the Special Screenings section. Besides Kashyap, the short fiction films were directed by Karan Johar, Dibakar Banerjee and Zoya Akhtar. Kashyap has had three films thus far in the parallel Directors Fortnight – Gangs of Wasseypur 1 & 2 (2012), Ugly (2014) and Raman Raghav 2.0 (2016).That apart, he produced/co-produced four other films that have premiered in Cannes in recent years – Vikramaditya Motwane’s Udaan (Un Certain Regard, 2010), Vasan Bala’s Peddlers (Critics Week, 2012), Amit Kumar’s Monsoon Shootout (Out of Competition, 2013) and Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox (Critics Week, 2013).

Neecha Nagar

Films Division, set up the year after India gained independence, was a regular presence in the Cannes Film Festival’s short films competition



India got on the awards tally at the very first Cannes Film Festival in 1946. Chetan Anand’s Neecha Nagar, with a screenplay inspired by Maxim Gorky’s Lower Depths, won the festival’s Grand Prix alongside ten other films. Among the winners were Roberto Rossellini’s Rome, Open City, Alf Sjober’s Hets, Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend and David Lean’s Brief Encounter.


The neo-realist classic was the second Indian film to bag an award at the Cannes Film Festival. It won the Prix International in 1954, one of the rare years when the country was represented in the Competition by two titles. The other film in contention was Kishore Sahu’s Mayurpankh, the story of a married Caucasian writer who falls in love with an Indian.


Baby Naaz (real name: Salma Baig), is the only Indian actor to win a prize at the Cannes Film Festival. The year was 1955 and the film was Boot Polish, made under Raj Kapoor’s production banner. Along with fellow child actor Ratan Kumar, the then 12-year-old actress won a Special Jury Award for a profoundly moving performance as an orphan girl left at the mercy of a wicked aunt. The Cannes award was jointly given to "the two child actors” in Boot Polish. Ratan Kumar, born Syed Nazir Ali, migrated to Pakistan in 1956 as a 14-year-old and died in the US late last year. Baby Naaz passed away in 1995, aged 53.

Pather Panchali


Pather Panchali is as much a part of Indian cinema folklore as it is of the Cannes Film Festival’s own history. In 1956, it won the Best Human Document Award, narrowly losing the Palme d’Or race to the French documentary Le Monde du Silence (The Silent World), directed by Louis Malle and famed oceanographer Jacques-Yves Cousteau. It was a year of heavy-hitters in the Cannes Competition, with the likes of Ingmar Bergman (Smiles of a Summer Night, which also won a Special Award), Akira Kurosawa (I Live in Fear) and Alfred Hitchcock (The Man Who Knew Too Much) going head to head. It was also the year when Henri- Georges Clouzot, known for his seminal French thrillers, landed a Special Jury Award for his Picasso documentary, Le Mystere Picasso (The Mystery of Picasso). The jury was headed by French actordirector- producer Maurice Lehmann.


The hour-long documentary about the life and times of Gautam Buddha, produced by Bimal Roy in collaboration with Films Division, won a Mention Exceptionelle at the 10th Cannes Film Festival in 1957. The fi lm, edited by Hrishikesh Mukherjee, had musical score by Salil Chowdhury.


After going un-awarded for over a quarter century, India was back in the reckoning with Mrinal Sen’s Kharij in 1983. The fi lm won the Jury Prize, finishing runner-up to the Palme d’Or-winner, Shohei Imamura’s The Ballad of Narayama. That year’s jury was headed by writer William Styron and included the fi lmmakers Youssef Chahine, Karel Reisz, Sergei Bondarchuk and Souleymane Cisse.


Included in the sidebar Directors Fortnight, Mira Nair’s stunning debut film won the Camera d’Or in 1988, making her the first Indian director to bag the honour. In 1991, Canadian-Indian filmmaker Deepa Mehta’s maiden venture Sam and Me, which played in Critics Week, earned a Camera d’Or – Special Distinction, but the film was a Canadian entry. The film’s cast was led by Indian actor Ranjit Chowdhry (who also wrote the screenplay) and included Om Puri, Kulbhushan Kharbanda and Javed Jaffrey.



The critically acclaimed Piravi was one of the favourites to win the Camera d’Or in 1989, but the film had to be content with an Honourable Mention. The film that won the Camera d’Or was My 20th Century, Hungarian director Ildiko Enyedi’s first feature. Enyedi won the Golden Bear in Berlin this year with her latest film, On Body and Soul.


Murali Nair’s Marana Simhasanam, which was one of two Malayalam films included in the Un Certain Regard section in 1999 (the other was Shaji N Karun’s Vanaprastham), won the Camera d’Or.


A six-minute film that probed the deleterious effects of poverty on women. A Very Very Silent Film gave India a reason to make a lot of noise in 2002. This was the year that Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas was accorded an Out of Competition gala screening in Cannes. The director walked the red carpet in the company of Shahrukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai. Amid the Bollywood buzz, it was the little-known Manish Jha who deservedly cornered the accolades.


One of two Indian films selected for Un Certain Regard in 2015 – the other was Gurvinder Singh’s Punjabi-language ChauthiKoot – Masaan, a low-key but moving drama set in Varanasi, returned home with the Promising Future Prize, which it shared with the Iranian film Navid, directed by Ida Panahandeh.

Vikramaditya Motwane"s Udaan



To date, two Marathi films – both from the 1950s – have been to Cannes in search of glory. The first to do so was, you’ve guessed it, V. Shantaram’s Amar Bhoopali, the true story of a simple cowherd blessed with the latent gift of poetry. It was in the Competition in 1952. In 1956, the year Cannes discovered Satyajit Ray, another Shantaram – Shantaram Athavale – travelled to the French Riviera with his Competition entry Shevagyachya Shenga (Drumsticks).


Even as Ray and Sen continued to register their presence in Cannes, a new crop of Indian filmmakers like Shyam Benegal, Mani Kaul, M.S. Sathyu and Adoor Gopalakrishnan made one-off appearances at the festival in the 1970s and 1980s. While Sathyu’s Garm Hawa (1974) and Benegal’s Nishant (1976) competed for the Palme d’Or, Kaul’s Satah Se Uthata Aadmi (1981) and Adoor’s Elippathayam (1982) made it to Un Certain Regard. Sandip Ray’s Uttoron, a film written by the director’s late father Satyajit Ray, screened in Un Certain Regard in 1994. The following year (1995), the same section saw the inclusion of the only Odia-language film ever to be in the Cannes official selection – Susant Misra’s Indradhanura Chhai. Manipuri director Aribam Syam Sharma’s Ishanou, which was selected for Un Certain Regard in 1991, is the only film ever from the Northeast to make the Cannes cut.


Launched in 1969, Directors Fortnight invited three of Mrinal Sen’s films in the 1970s – Buuvan Shome, Padatik and Oka Oorie Katha (Telugu). In subsequent decades, it provided a platform to films by several Indian directors of the post-Ray generation– Goutam Ghose’s Dakhal (1982) and Padma Nadir Majhi (1993), Rabindra Dharmaraj’s Chakra (1981), Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay! (1988), Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s Bagh Bahadur (1990) and Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen (1994). Since landing in Cannes with Gangs of Wasseypur and finding a foothold there, Anurag Kashyap has been a Directors Fortnight regular.

Neeraj Ghaywan's Masaan


India has had rather lean pickings in this parallel section that has been running since 1962. The first Indian film to break into Critics Week was over two decades after the section got off the ground – Nirad Mahapatra’s Odia film, Maya Miriga (1984).Vasan Bala’s Peddlers and Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox have since been screened in this section. Similarly, while a short films category was introduced in Critics Week in 1989, it wasn’t until 2006 that an Indian film found favour with the selectors. The entry was Gitanjali Rao’s award-winning animated film Painted Rainbow. In 2014, she was back in the section with True Love Story. Two Indian origin filmmakers, Deepa Mehta (Sam and Me) and Gurinder Chadha (A Nice Arrangement, short film) were in Critics Week in the same year – 1991. While the former film was a Canadian entry, the latter represented the United Kingdom.


A new breed of Indian cinema outliers has been putting up a good show in the major international film festivals. In Cannes, too, after a seven-year hiatus post-2003, independent filmmakers working both within the Bollywood system and outside it have been pressing on with intent. In 2010, Vikramaditya Motwane’s Udaan ended a protracted Cannes drought for India and, in a sense, opened the fl oodgates. Ashim Ahluwalia’s Miss Lovely (Un Certain Regard, 2012), Amit Kumar’s Monsoon Shootout (Out of Competition, 2013), Kanu Behl’s Titli (Un Certain Regard, 2014), Neeraj Ghaywan’s Masaan and Gurvinder Singh’s (both in Un Certain Regard, 2015) have managed to shorten India’s absences from the Cannes programme.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui in Monsoon Shootout


Cannes Classics, a section devoted to the history of cinema and the conservation of globally admired films, came into being in 2004. It has been a happy hunting ground for Indian classics. Besides the restored prints of Pather Panchali and Charulata, Cannes Classics has screened Vijay Anand’s Guide (2008, with Dev Anand at hand to introduce the film), Mrinal Sen’s Khandhar (2010) and Uday Shankar’s Kalpana (2012). In 2016, Cannes Classics included the 1959 Pakistani neo-realist film Jago Hua Savera (The Day Shall Dawn), directed by Aaejay Kardar. The film, shot in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) was adapted from a Manik Bandopadhyay story by poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz. The film had music composed by Timir Baran and a cast led by Indian actress Tripti Mitra. Also last year, the Indian documentary, The Cinema Travellers, made by Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya, made waves in Cannes Classics and went on to win an award.


The poster boy of Mumbai’s independent cinema has of late been a bit of a phenomenon in Cannes. No Indian screen actor has ever had as many films as him strewn across various sections of the Cannes Film Festival in a span of just two years. In 2012, two films featuring him in pivotal roles – Miss Lovely (Un Certain Regard) and Gangs of Wasseypur 1 & 2 (Directors Fortnight) – played on the Croisette. The following year, Nawazuddin went one better, appearing in three selected fi lms – Monsoon Shootout (Out of Competition), Bombay Talkies (Special Screenings) and The Lunchbox (Critics Week).

Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Devdas


The only Indian actor who has had as many films presented in Cannes as Nawazuddin Siddiqui is Satyajit Ray’s famed alter ego Soumitra Chatterjee but these fi ve films have been spread over a longer period of time. Soumitra, of course, had a headstart over Nawazuddin because two of his films – Devi (1962) and Ghare- Baire (1984) were in the Competition. His other three films in Cannes – Ganashatru (Special Screenings, 1989), Uttoron (Un Certain Regard, 1994) and Charulata (Cannes Classics, 2013).


One of the finest Hindi film actors of his generation, Balraj Sahni stands head and shoulders above any other Indian screen performer in terms of the number of Cannes Competition films he has been a part of. Four films featuring Sahni – Do Bigha Zameen (1954), Pardesi (1958), Lajwanti (1959) and GarmHawa (1974) – were presented in Cannes over a period of twenty years. Garm Hawa was screened in the Cannes Competition more than a year after the actor’s death. The essential

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