By Anjely Rais. Posted on April 29, 2016
Anurag Kashyap’s Raman Raghav 2.0 premiering at Cannes Directors’ Fortnight 2016 epitomizes the trend that has been gaining considerable strength in the past five years: Indian Independent (that’s the key word for sure) cinema is certainly seducing the French cinema lovers.
It all really started in 2013 with The Lunchbox. Ritesh Batra’s film conquered the hearts of the French audience and corresponded to their taste for stories that talk about societies, traditions and daily struggles, with which they are not familiar. In recent times, films like Masaan, Qissa (or Le Secret de Kanwar), Titli (Titli, Chronique d’une Famille Indienne) and the soon to be released Parched (La Saison des Femmes) illustrate the variety of the Indian Cinema that’s being watched in France at the moment.
Now, where does this growing interest take its roots? What kind of audience is particularly attracted to Indian Cinema? Is there a special type of movie that has more success? I'd like to discuss here.
In 2004, classics of Indian cinema were screened at The Pompidou Centre in Paris. There, the Parisians discovered Sikander, Mughal E Azam, Umrao Jaan, Pakeezah, Sujata, Devdas and many more such masterpieces of Indian Cinema. Viewers were absolutely fascinated by these films. Some people even got mad at others for laughing d-uring humorous scenes- so amazed they were that they couldn’t consider laughing for even a second. A similar event called ‘A Hundred Years of Indian Cinema’ took place in 2013 at the Guimet Museum.
Then there is this blessed street ‘Rue Champollion’ in Paris, where you can find marvelous cinema halls screening all kinds of classical movies from across the globe. All the movies of Satyajit Ray were screened there recently and the show of Apu was always full, and some people in the queue told me they had already watched it ten times and still came every time it was showing.
There is a fascination among French people for Indian classics. I think the main reason for this is that Indian cinema is both mainstream as well as refined. The rhythm and the construction of the script make these films appealing to all kinds of audiences. Mughal-E-Azam mixes the most refined Urdu with an incredible photography and marvelous actors such as Madhubala and Dilip Kumar. It’s a tragic love story with all the ingredients for melodrama, but it is presented in the most refined form.
The second type of Indian films well-known in France are the commercial cinema from the 90’s - 2000’s. The Dharma Productions’ movies Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai are probably the most famous in France. This kind of mainstream Indian cinema is the representation of how the French pictured Bollywood for quite some time.
However, there’s also space for unusual characters and innovative scripts, which would shed light on the core issues in the Indian society. There’s room for movies that give word and space to people and situations usually unseen.
In the past few years, it has been evident that the French audience are more than happy to watch the contemporary narratives arising from India. There are great initiatives like FFAST, the Festival of South Asian Transgressive Cinema, which has been started by Hélène Kessous and Nemesis Srour. Film festivals like these act as a window towards Indian contemporary cinema for the French.
Filmmakers Bauddhayan Mukherji (Teenkahon) and Kanu Behl (Titli) at FFAST 2015
Masaan represents a great success in that sense. It is a co-production between Arte, a French-German TV channel, and Guneet Monga, Anurag Kashyap and Manish Mundra, the major independent producers in India today. The photography by Avinash Arun Dhaware is gorgeous, and the poetry is mesmerizing. The characters are moving as they are youngsters behaving in a perfectly normal way for their age, but are opposed by the society. The pyres create intensity, power and also beauty in some way.
Another promising movie to be released in coming days is Thithi, by Raam Reddy. It is the kind of film that could see a lot of success in France, the likes of it already had at Locarno. It's a jazzy, yet bizarre film which could be very popular, being set in a peculiar village, with a burlesque story and humorous situations.
The co-production system in France is very dynamic. It is based on four main pillars: the CNC - Centre National de la Cinématographie (the equivalent of NFDC in India), the network of the French Institutes, the TV channel Arte and the institution UniFrance. Filmmakers from all over the world can apply for the grant ‘Aide aux Cinémas du Monde’, which is given with the purpose of encouraging co-productions with foreign countries. Films like Poésia Sin Fin by Alejandro Jodorowsky (France/ Chile) or Much Loved by Nabil Ayouch (Morocco) and Lamb by Yared Zeleke (Ethiopia) recently benefited from that funding. UniFrance supports the exportation of French cinema as well as the contacts with foreign industries.
A 2014 interview of Anurag Kashyap at the FFAST sums it up: “The kind of diversity we see in France, we don't see it in any other country. (…) There is also all these support systems that the film-makers have here, from UniFrance, from the festivals, from the Sales Agents. Everyone is really supportive of cinema and it really treats cinema as a cultural ambassador. I love that whole interaction we have here.”
The most striking feature of Indian cinema today is its variety, which reflects India’s diversity in its truest sense. Multiple states, languages, religions, cultures, social classes and issues appear in all their complexity, multiplicity and nuances in Indian cinema.
This is a powerful phase and opens up avenues for all kinds of filmmakers beyond commercial movies. Guneet Monga, one of the most important producers today, is a representative of this new generation of cinema in India. I am looking forward to seeing her future work, as well as that of women filmmakers like Gauri Shinde, director of English Vinglish and Payal Sethi, whose movie Leeches has been screened at several festivals.
As a French-Indian student, who has been amazed by the works of Ray, Ghatak, Ali, Mehta and Nair among others, I am also looking forward to see what the next-gen directors & producers like Batra, Ghaywan, Kashyap, Monga, and Mundra will do in the upcoming years.
Anjely Raïs is a French-Indian postgraduate student from the Institute of Political Studies of Paris. She'll be working in film production for Drishyam Films in June 2016. She'll be writing for Jamuura about the specifics of both Indian and French cinema.