(May 21, 2023) “India is now on the global stage in world cinema, and it’s an honour to be a part of this momentous occasion,” said Oscar-winning producer Guneet Monga, as she yet again made it to the Cannes red carpet. Clad in a golden-toned saree, she attended Cannes 2023 as part of the Indian delegation. “It makes my heart swell with pride to see Indian cinema being cherished on a global stage at a prestigious film festival such as Cannes. To be able to celebrate the power of Indian cinema and witness its ability to bring people together is no less than a spectacle,” added Monga, who first made it to Cannes almost a decade ago. For years, she has been backing India’s new wave of films, many of which have screened at Cannes. And this year is no different, as India has once again made an indelible mark on the global landscape at Cannes Film Festival. Yet again, the Indian film industry displayed a spectacular show of soft power, reinforcing its standing in international cinema and garnering attention worldwide.
View this post on Instagram
Celebrating Indian cinema and culture
Leading the Indian contingent was Union Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting L. Murugan, who wowed the audience in Cannes by making an entry in a traditional veshti, pairing it with a shirt which features the national tricolour on the left and the G20 logo on the right. “The G20 logo on my shirt represents the year-long plan of showcasing our rich heritage to the world. It’s a moment of pride in representing the tricolour on a global platform like Cannes red carpet,” he said, as he inaugurated the Indian pavilion (designed and conceptualised by the National institute of Design, Ahmedabad) at the film festival.
It was in 2022 that India was named the Country of Honour at Cannes Market, putting the spotlight on the country’s cinema, culture, and heritage, and a perfect celebration of its soft power. And this year, India is taking the baton forward by showcasing India’s creative economy at International Village Riviera. Sara Ali Khan, who made her debut at Cannes 2023, is happy that Indian cinema is reaching out to a global audience. She said, “We should be proud of and even more vocal about the culture that we have and that we should be able to bring to the rest of the world. I think cinema and art transcend language, regions and nationalities. We should come together and while we are here, on a global stage representing our country, we should continue to not forget who we are so that we can remain organic in the content that we create because I think that’s exactly what resonates with the rest of the world,” adding, “Being Indian and proud of our Indianness but also being global citizens, not being afraid of doing more and having a louder voice and more self-presence in cinema and general, worldwide!”
Indian films at Cannes 2023
The resounding presence of Indian films like Agra, Kennedy, Ishanou and Nehemich at the festival has solidified India’s position in the global film industry. If Anurag Kashyap’s Kennedy, which has been selected for the Midnight Screenings’ Section of the Cannes Film Festival, is about a former police officer who is believed to be dead but is still seeking atonement, Kanu Behl’s Agra examines the sexual dynamics inside a family and the profound rifts that are emerging in contemporary India due to a shortage of physical space. Interestingly, Ishanou, a 1990 film by Aribam Syam Sharma, will be presented at the Cannes Film Festival in the Classic Section.
These films, with their rich storytelling, authentic performances, and meticulously crafted aesthetics, have not only managed to break into the festival’s screening list but have also been widely appreciated by a diverse international audience. The narratives, steeped in Indian culture and social dynamics, have added a unique perspective to the array of films screened at the festival, widening the spectrum of global cinema.
While Indian films have become a regular at Cannes in the recent past, the film festival’s first tryst with Indian cinema began in 1946 when Chetan Anand’s Neecha Nagar became the first Indian film to win the Palme d’Or (which was earlier called Grand Prix du Festival International du Film), the highest honour in cinema. The next big turn came in 1954 when Bimal Roy’s Do Bigha Zamin was honoured at the Prix Internationale at Cannes, followed by Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali in 1956. For decades, Indian films like Devdas, Salaam Bombay, Titli, and Udaan have satiated the palates of film aficionados across the globe.
The red-carpet enigma
Moreover, Indian celebrities have shown their influence, walking the red carpet with grace, confidence, and aplomb. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, a Cannes veteran, once again captivated the global audience with her stunning presence. She strutted down the red carpet in a silver and black mystical hooded gown as she arrived for the screening of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. Manushi Chillar, with her effortless elegance, and Sara Ali Khan, the young and vivacious actress making her Cannes debut, both exemplified the diversity of Indian cinema and its ability to transcend boundaries. The presence of these actresses at Cannes has elevated the profile of Indian cinema on the international stage.
Furthermore, their red-carpet appearances have been more than mere fashion statements. They have used this global platform to articulate their views on pertinent issues, thereby amplifying India’s voice in global discourses. Their charisma, combined with their eloquence, has made them effective ambassadors for Indian cinema and culture.
The domination of Indian films and celebrities at Cannes is a testament to the growing clout of India’s soft power. It signifies the increasing acceptance and appreciation of Indian stories and storytelling techniques, signifying a shift in the global perception of Indian cinema. No longer seen as an exotic offshoot of global cinema, Indian films are now considered a formidable force that contributes significantly to the international film repertoire. It’s an exciting time for Indian cinema, with its influence set to rise even further in the coming years.