It was my first brush with the coveted Festival de Cannes. Our short film "Elixir", where I am a lead actor, has been chosen by the jury for screening at the Short Film Corner or Cannes Court Metrage. It was our humble red carpet moment.
Outside this coveted red carpet of Palais des Festivals, I saw young men and women, gorgeously dressed in designer tuxedoes and gowns, standing since morning with placards held high. It was not a protest against freedom of expression in cinema, it was neither a protest against art taking a backseat and losing out to the glitz and glamour in the Festival de Cannes, in its 69th chapter. It was a desparate urge for an extra pass to a screening wherein they will get an opportunity to walk the red carpet. It didn't matter which film. The red carpet was the only thing that mattered to these youths. They have their jobs, but everything else took a back seat between May 11 and 22 of 2016. It is not about the cinema it is about the red carpet.
The coveted red carpet reminded me of some glorious moments in history. In the year 1960, the director Federico Fellini and the actor Marcello Mastroianni walked the red carpet to showcase La Dolce Vita, which won the Palme d'Or. Created in 1955, the Palme d’Or award is the most coveted award that celebrates excellence in world cinema and has been dominated by European cinema, and Hollywood influence has been controlled over the years. After Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” in 1994, no other commercially-successful Hollywood movie was able to get the coveted award.
However, there has been a very interesting trend in the festival. Earlier, during Mastroianni's time the celebrities who walked the red carpet were also making films of a class that was winning Palme d’Or. But over ages, there has been a distinct gap beween the celebrities chosen by Cannes for walking the red carpet, who are made the face of the Film Festival and the people whose films are appreciated by jury or the one that is winning the Palme d’Or. The gap kept increasing with every passing year. Small wonder, 17 years after La Dolce Vita, a 29-year-old Austrian bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger descended on the Croisette to promote George Butler’s $190,000 documentary about weightlifters, 'Pumping Iron.' Or in 1992, stars Sharon Stone and Michael Douglas walked the red carpet to showcase the uncut version of Basic Instinct. The face of Cannes Film festival from India this year were glam divas Aishwarya Rai and Sonam Kapoor.
What first strike me about the festival was that the entire set up was very much glamour-oriented. The guards in their black suits and dark glasses, the barricades, the helicopters, the yachts, the luxury cars with their dark windows rolled up -- every inch of the festival will make it evident that it is about a high-glamour celebrity-driven show, and thus the need for high security and secrecy.
I was lucky that amid this high-security, my new-found status as an actor gave me an opportunity to have a brief chat with the beautiful French actor Marion Cotillard (of The Dark Knight Returns, Inception fame). We took a selfie and she congratulated me for the film and for my upcoming book on luxury “Decoding Luxe”. She was happy that our film was of regional origin and it was our maiden effort. She told me how she loved Cannes and the sea.
However, this status was not enough to get me an entry at George Clooney's private yacht party in the night.
I don't blame the rudeness of the guards, I don't blame the high-security that treats you like a lesser mortal. My friend and associate producer Rushvir Singh was denied entry to a certain red carpet screening because he was wearing a turban. When he refused to open the turban, they blatantly refused him entry.
It is understandable because the star-crazed crowd at most times behaves in a manner that the guards are forced to have strict norms at all times.
I realised that the entire focus somehow has shifted to the glitz and glamour that is associated with the event -- be it the red carpet galas or the after hour yacht parties. That is where people choose to be.
Unfortunately, the screenings of some fantastic European films are not able to attract such crowds or interest. The same is true for even non-European movies that are still very true to the art and a quite far from glamour. No star, no audience: had become the norm, rather than an exception.
I must add that Festival de Cannes has given recognition to first time film makers, actors and their low-budget short films and documentaries like “Gudh” by an SRFTI alumni or “Memories and my mother” or even to our short film “Elixir”, amid the Hollywood and Bollywood multi-million-dollar blockbusters. It allows such “low budget’ and “unglamorous” films to co-exist with the blockbuster commercial Hollywood and Bollywood films under the same umbrella called Festival de Cannes.
However, in this overdose of razzle dazzle people are more focused on star activities and less on the art of cinema. Good cinema ideally should have been able to run full houses during screenings in such world-class platforms where it is about celebrating good cinema. Unfortunately, that has not been the case.
Be it Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sharon Stone or Aishwarya Rai, Festival de Cannes has long given in to the charisma of the glitterati that remains the favourite of the shutterbugs. With over 4,000 journalists representing 1,600 companies attending the event, the entire coverage is taken away by the flowing designer gowns and tuxedoes, far far away from the art of cinema.
The star power was also evident during the panel discussions at the Indian Pavilion too. I attended a few sessions and saw the biggest draw was during Anurag Kashyap's session. There were many more intersting panel discussions held for regional films by lesser known makers and non-stars, but they were not able to attract much interest even with more intersting stories.
My friend and director Anirban was happy to share a DVD of Elixir with Anurag. We await his feedback.
We are star-crazed and small wonder we will lose our focus if our eyes are dazzled with glitz and glamour of Festival de Cannes.