Celebrities such as Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Sonam Kapoor and Mallika Sherawat will walk the red carpet at the Festival de Cannes that started on Wednesday, but four films on or from India hope to share some of the limelight. Here’s a preview:
Mugabe’s Zimababwe (2011)
By Shrenik Rao
Selected under the Hot Picks category, the movie chronicles three decades of Robert Mugabe’s rule and human rights abuses. Hyderabad-based civil servant Shrenik Rao says that in history textbooks in school, Mugabe used to be portrayed as a leader who resisted oppression from the white minority in Zimbabwe. “But when I had grown up, the picture of Mugabe that I saw projected in newspaper stories was dramatically different. It was then that the idea of making a film about him came to my mind,” says Rao.
His passion pushed him towards assembling a crew picked from nine different countries, people he deemed “as passionate as I was about this”, and shooting in three different countries—Zimbabwe, England and Scotland. Shooting a film about Mugabe in Zimbabwe was never going to be easy. “It’s difficult to go in there and shoot,” he says. “Even people from BBC and CNN had been denied access in the past. I knew I was up against it. I had to push really hard to get the requisite permission.” His persistence bore fruit in 2006, when he finally received the nod. Eighteen months of extensive shooting followed. He interviewed the vice-president of Zimbabwe, the governor of the country’s reserve bank, Mugabe’s vociferous political opponent Arthur Mutambara, and even a man whose family had been hounded into exile. He interviewed almost everyone influential in running Zimbabwe, with one major exception—who was Mugabe himself.
“After I had interviewed the vice-president, Mugabe changed his mind, and going back on his promise, decided against letting me interview him,” says Rao.
Nonetheless, his film manages to probe the political complexities of the nation and Mugabe’s countless human rights abuses. It chronicles his journey from 1980 to the present day, relying on shot footage and reconstructed scenarios to pace the narrative. Rao also shot undercover to buttress the investigative tone of the film. He refuses to disclose the name of the film’s producer, but is forthcoming on the issue of raising funds generated by an idea that is universally pertinent. “Mugabe is known worldwide, and since the film is in English, it was always going to appeal to a wider audience,” he says.
Mugabe’s Zimbabwe is Rao’s second film. His first film was also about the dictator, a fact he laughs off, due to the obvious obsessive connotations. “See, Mugabe was a great leader,” he muses, “But power got to his head. He is now riding a tiger he cannot get off. He’s going to be eaten if he divests himself of the power. His insecurities add to his mistake of not relinquishing power the way Mandela did.”
Rao signs off with a quote from Foucault, which played an important role in providing him with the afflatus necessary to make this film: “Power produces resistance to itself.”
By Vimukthi Jayasundara
A film in Bengali by Sri Lankan director Vimukthi Jayasundara, Chatrak chronicles a Kolkata resident’s return to his home from Dubai: the title literally translates to mushrooms and refers to the cropping of new buildings crafted in novel architecture across the city. Jayasundara, who received the Camera d’Or at Cannes in 2005 for his first feature film, The Forsaken Land (2005), has attempted to pay tribute both to a city and the films of Ritwik Ghatak, whose work he admires.
Bappaditya Bandopadhyay, the producer of Chatrak, met Jayasundara at the Osian’s Cinefan film festival in 2005. “Between talks, he suggested making a film in Kolkata. Ever since that first meeting, we had been in constant contact. Soon, we decided to make a film with Vimukthi at the helm,” says Bandopadhyay.
Jayasundara travelled to Kolkata and roamed the city for two months, conversing with diverse people to register the nuances of Bengali life for his script. He then returned to his home in Paris and finished the draft. The script that emerged concerned an architect’s journey to Dubai to make money, leaving behind his girlfriend and others. Only when he returns to Kolkata does he realize the enormity of change sweeping the city.
Wasn’t it going to be difficult for him to project Bengali sensibilities without seeming distant? Bandopadhyay demurs. “Vimukthi has his own distinct film language. His association with Bengali cinema has been very strong since he follows our films really closely. I never doubted that he was the right man for the job,” he says. Jayasundara also shared a camaraderie with lead actors Sudip Mukherjee and Paoli Dam.
Shot in November and December, the film is still in the post-production phase. The Directors Fortnight screening in Cannes would thus mark its maiden showing. Bandyopadhyay has decided to release the film in Kolkata after Durga Puja.
Bollywood–The Greatest Love Story Ever Told (2011)
By Shekhar Kapur and Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra
This film, in a way, was born at Cannes itself. Shekhar Kapur, director of Bandit Queen and Mr India fame, was asked by Thierry Fremaux, director, Cannes Film Festival, to make a film exploring the worldwide popularity of Indian song and dance extravaganzas. “I returned to India and began writing a treatment for the intended film,” says Kapur. “I decided against extensive use of talking heads or any kind of analysis. Just song and dance, and the absurdities that make our cinema so uniquely Indian, recognizable and widely popular amongst billions of people around the world.”
Since Kapur was busy with his Paani, he decided to rope in Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, known for Rang de Basanti (2006), and the American documentary film-maker Jeff Zimbalist for the directorial duties. “Rakeysh has both made such films and understood the music and dance rampant within such films. With the collaboration of Jeff, I ensured different perspectives,” says Kapur.
The documentary chronicles the progress of Bollywood’s song and dance tradition from Guru Dutt to Shammi Kapoor right to Shah Rukh Khan.
“Since the film has been made for Cannes, it is going to have its premiere right there. We have received a prime slot since we are showing right after Pirates of the Caribbean (2011) Out of Competition on 14 May,” signs off Kapur.
Gabhricha Paus (2009)
By Satish Manwar
Being screened under Cannes Cinephiles, this film’s journey to completion was as arduous as its protagonist’s—a farmer trying to eke out a livelihood in a parched Vidarbha, while trying not to be crushed by debt.
“I took the script to innumerable producers, who called it great before turning it down. My first producer backed out six months into the project. I had given up hope completely,” says Satish Manwar, the director. His lead actor Girish Kulkarni came to the rescue by suggesting Prashant Pethe as a prospective producer. Finally, after three years of toil, the crew began shooting. Ironically, the rain that so eludes the struggling farmer in the film threatened to derail Manwar’s film—it poured incessantly. Yet they managed to somehow complete the shooting within a month in 2008.
Although the film was released as early as 2009, the producers weren’t able to show it at Cannes. “Pethe wanted to distribute the film and recover his money as early as possible,” says Manwar.
The film has spent two years travelling the world and gathering acclaim. Its universality has ensured it’s entry to the premier film festival in the world.
Read blog posts from Cannes by producer and film enthusiast Sunil Doshi at www.livemint.com/blogs/livelounge