CANNES, France (AP) — Indian cinema is being feted in Cannes on its 100th birthday. But amid the celebrations, the B-word — “Bollywood” — remains controversial.
The French film festival has rolled out the red carpet for Indian cinema this year, with events including a gala dinner and screening Sunday of “Bombay Talkies,” a portmanteau movie with four directors and a star-studded cast including Rani Mukerji, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Randeep Hooda and Saqib Saleem.
Several other Indian films are screening at the festival, which runs through May 26, including Amit Kumar’s police-corruption story “Monsoon Shootout” and Anurag Kashyap’s psychological thriller “Ugly” — though none is in competition for the coveted Palme d’Or prize.
Indian stars such as Aishwarya Rai, Freida Pinto and Amitabh Bachchan — who appears in festival opener “The Great Gatsby” — have a significant presence at Cannes’ red carpet galas and parties.
A hundred years after India released its first feature film “Raja Harischandra,” the country has the world’s most prolific film industry, turning out more than 1,000 movies a year and creating stars adored by millions around the world.
Now, its filmmakers want critical respect. Many feel the rest of the globe thinks Indian cinema is only limited to all-singing, all-dancing Bollywood extravaganzas.
“I just feel that the Indian film industry has its own identity and to be referred to in matching terms with Hollywood is perhaps not correct,” Indian film icon Bachchan told reporters at a “Gatsby” press conference.
Filmmakers in the country of a billion people are keen to stress that Indian cinema is far more diverse than Bollywood — both in terms of language and of style.
“If Indian cinema can break out of the shadow of Bollywood and be seen just as cinema from another country, like Thailand or Japan or Turkey, that would be the greatest achievement for Indian cinema,” said Dibakar Banerjee, one of the four directors of “Bombay Talkies.” ”And that’s started to happen, so that’s what I’m happy about.”
“Bombay Talkies” is certainly no Bollywood romp.
One of its four sections focuses on a man’s epic quest to meet Bachchan, while in another a young man longs to become a dancer. One centers on a failed actor struggling to prove his worth to his young daughter, and a fourth is about a man coming to terms with his sexuality.
That section features a gay kiss, a scene its director, Karan Johar, called a minor revolution for Indian cinema.
He said to have “two mainstream actors indulging in a scene like this … That hasn’t happened on a large scale like this before.”