When Bollywood did Cannes

Inside story of what ‘Bollywood’ really does at Cannes

If you can forgive the terrible pun in the headline, my excuse is that the piece justifies it. The question is, who am I? As you may have gathered, I am the august Cineswami and this is the first of many rants, and hopefully some raves about that many-splendoured beast known as Bollywood.

First things first, let’s look at the term Bollywood itself. The great and the good of the Hindi film industry refuse to use the term, thinking it derogatory or pejorative. You know what guys, too bad. The exalted Amitabh Bachchan abhors the term and says so at every possible opportunity, preferring instead to use ‘Indian Film Industry’. Not only is this a mouthful, but also plain wrong. For, Bollywood is not the Indian film industry; it is merely the Hindi film industry, which is part of a much larger fabric of Indian cinema. The selfsame Bachchan also deigns to give an interview for Rakeysh Mehra’s atrocious documentary that is aptly titled Bollywood: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told that played as a special screening at Cannes to almost universal opprobrium.

Which dovetails neatly into the subject of this week’s piece – Bollywood at Cannes. Year upon year, an increasing number of Bollywood folk descend in large numbers upon Cannes. But I fail to see why. Their films are not in selection. Sure, Udaan was in last year, but that’s hardly a Bollywood film. So, filmmakers play their films in the market, something anyone with a bit of cash to book a screen can do and can lead to disastrous results, with Dam 999 and Dear Friend Hitler being reviled this year, for example.

Then there are a variety of Bollywood stars walking the red carpet showing off their increasingly pudgy bods. Again, why? The only paparazzi interested in them are the Indians, and surely those pictures can be taken for free at home? And filmmakers show up en masse, without any preparation, hoping to get meetings with the Hollywood studios. They don’t have a clue that in Cannes meetings with the studio bigwigs are set up via email months ahead. So, what do they do? They all hang out at the India Pavilion and gossip about Bollywood whilst drinking chai and quaffing cold samosas. Again, guys, you can meet for free back in Mumbai. A cup of coffee at the Juhu Marriott, where you hang out all the time, costs much less than your flights and accommodation in Cannes.

I’m not denying that some filmmakers do strike deals at Cannes, but the vast majority gape at the passing array of global stars and being ignored by them, then go home and boast to the local media that they had a very successful Cannes. In reality, the only success they have had is to eat kroissants on kroisset at Kans. The reference, of course, is the common Bollywood mispronunciation of croissants, and Croisette and Cannes.

Let’s also not forget the legendary annual Indian party, legendary for cheap wine and warm beer that both run out very soon, and cold food. This year it was slightly better in terms of the food and booze, but the attendees mostly were the same people who meet regularly in Mumbai anyway, rubbing shoulders with each other on foreign shores. (Yes, I was there, taking a hit for the home side as it were.) The only new face was British culture minister Ed Vaizey, who nobody recognised, so he spent all his time ogling the Bollywood cleavage on display. Did he get lucky? Now, that would be telling.