India’s award-winning journey at Cannes
Indian cinema has fans all over the world. From the early days till date, films continue to make India proud by winning over audiences and juries across international forums. The awards that Indian films and filmmakers bring home from global film festivals bear testimony to that. And while we talk about international film festivals, ruling the roost amongst them is the Cannes Film Festival. Started in the late 1930’s, Cannes is one of the most prestigious and influential film festivals of the world. Being selected for the festival is an honor and several Indian films over the decades have rightfully won this opportunity.
Pandolin takes you down the memory lane of Cannes as we look at the Indian films that have won accolades at the festival.
Though the Cannes Film Festival officially began in 1939, it was stopped during the period of World War II and resumed in the year 1946.
Neecha Nagar, Chetan Anand’s directional debut was India’s first film to win a Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival in 1946. Today’s Palme d’Or – was then known as the Grand Prix du Festival International du Film. The anti-imperialist film focused on the vast differences between the rich and the poor in Indian society. It is also remembered for Pandit Ravi Shankar’s first cinematic score.
Bimal Roy’s Do Bigha Zamin was noted for its socialist theme. Roy was one of the pioneering directors of the neo-realist movement and his film was one of the early parallel cinemas of India. It won the Prix Internationale at the 1954 festival and was also nominated for the Grand Prize.
Pather Panchali was a landmark movie in Indian cinema. The film won the Palme d’Or for Best Human Document at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival. Satyajit Ray developed his own style of lyrical realism in his debut masterpiece which went on to become the first film from independent India to attract major international attention. It was Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, then Prime Minister who was moved by the film and ensured that it was entered in the festival. The screening at Cannes took place on one of the festival holidays at midnight and most of the jury members did not turn up. But a few film critics and Ray’s friends insisted and organized another screening where the entire jury was present.
Gotoma The Buddha was an Indian entry at the Cannes Film Festival in 1957. The documentary directed by director Rajbans Khanna was recognized for its visual fare in the simplistic story of Lord Buddha. The film was released by the government of India in 1957 as part of Buddha’s 2500th birthday celebration. It won a Special Mention by the jury at Cannes.
Mrinal Sen’s tragic drama, Kharij won the Special Jury Prize at the 1983 Cannes festival. It was also nominated for the Golden Palm. Based on a novel by Ramapada Chowdhury, the film revolves around a middle-class family whose child servant is found dead and what ensues after that. The film also won the National Award for best screenplay, best art direction and second best feature film. In 1982, Mrinal Sen was invited to be part of the international jury at the Cannes festival.
Mira Nair’s documentary-narrative Salaam Bombay, also her first feature film, won both the Camera d’Or and the Audience Award at the 1988 festival. The Camera d’Or was created in 1978 by Gilles Jacob and is awarded by an independent jury to the best first feature film presented in one of the Cannes’ selections. The film which chronicles the everyday life of children living on the city’s streets was applauded for the powerful exposure of reality. The film also won the National Award for best feature film in Hindi.
Malayalam director Shaji N. Karun’s debut film Piravi, won the Caméra d’Or – Mention d’honneur award at Cannes in 1989. This visually engrossing film was based on the real life incident of the disappearance of an engineering college student. Piravi won about 12 international awards including the Silver Leopard Grand Jury award at the Lacorno film festival and Charlie Chaplin award at the Edinburgh festival. Shaji was named Best Director at the National Awards and Piravi was awarded Best Film.
Malyalam film Marana Simhasanam by director Murali Nair is an unsettling story that talks about the first execution by electric chair in India. It was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival where it won the Caméra d’Or. The film is a powerful account of class oppression and political manipulation in our country. Marana Simhasanam also served as a member of Camera D’ Or jury in 2001.
In 2002, Manish Jha’s short film, A Very Very Silent Film, won the Jury Prize for the Best Short Film at the Cannes Film Festival. The film deals with the challenging exploration of the social ills that affect women in poverty and how they are victimized physically and mentally. Jha later went on to make notable films including Matrubhoomi: A Nation without Women (2003) and Anwar (2007).
And finally, after a hiatus of more than a decade, filmmaker Ritesh Batra brought home an award for his debut film Lunchbox. The film won the Critics Week Viewers Choice Award also known as Grand Rail d’Or at the 66th Cannes Film Festival. Produced by Anurag Kashyap, the film, features Irrfan Khan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Nimrat Kaur and was one of the four films in the official selection at Cannes. Anurag Kashyap was also presented with the French honor Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters in recognition of his role in promoting Indian cinema across the globe. A glorious year indeed to bring such laurels to the country as we celebrate the centenary of Indian cinema. India was also the guest country at the recently concluded 66th Cannes International Film Festival.
Though the visibility of Indian films and presence of Indian artists has seen a significant rise at the Cannes Film Festival, there is still tough competition to create an award- winning mark. But with interesting genres and experimenting filmmakers, Indian cinema is steadily progressing on the global map and the future looks bright.