GANGS OF INDIA AT CANNES
Two years ago I was organising a retrospective of contemporary Indian cinema at Fribourg in Switzerland. During that time I took some movies representing Mumbai noir and came upon the work of Ram Gopal Varma. I saw his Sarkar, Ab Tak Chhappan by Shimit Amin, Ek Haseena Thi and Johnny Gaddar by Sriram Raghavan, and Black Friday by Anurag Kashyap. I was interested in this new Indian cinema. It was talking about a change in Indian society and it was trying to find a new way to tell detective stories. I was suddenly made aware of the cinema of new Mumbai directors. Then I became artistic director of the Director’s Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival in 2011. Coincidentally, I met Anurag at the Berlin Film Festival in February this year. He told me his new movie was completed, and he was carrying a DVD of it. I asked to see it.
The sound was not mixed, some pictures were not definitive. But I fell in love with the cinema. It was an epic about gangsters but really it was the story of love and death spanning 60 years. And it was classical, almost in the tradition of the masters of noir in the Hollywood of the ’ 40s. This cinema suggested a lot of things, didn’t quite spoonfeed the audience. I also found its changing tone wonderful. At one moment it was cruel, at another it was comic. What’s more, it was in two parts. I had to wait three hours to see the second part after I saw the first and I tell you I couldn’t wait. It’s 5 hours 20 minutes in all, with a 20minute break and for audiences at Cannes, we are providing a family tree of the three generations of three families portrayed in the movie.
There’s such a change in the air that I can feel. It’s evident in our other two selections from India at Cannes this time. There’s Peddlers, which is directed by Vasan Bala, which I’ve seen and is showing at the Critics’ Week and there’s Ashim Ahluwalia’s Miss Lovely in the Un Certain Regard section, which I have not seen but have heard a great buzz about. I can feel a little smell of Bollywood in Gangs of Wasseypur but used in a very different way. In Gangs, Anurag uses the traditional form of storytelling in very different ways. I will give you the example of a Bhojpuri rap song which has travelled to the movie all the way from the Caribbean. It goes like this: I’m a hunter/ She want to see my gun/ When I pull it out/ Why women start to run?
Why am I so impressed with this new cinema? Well, I think the humour is used in a very interesting way. Remember that’s usually the most difficult aspect to export. But here it’s remarkable because at the heart of it, it is also a story about idiotic gangsters who can kill people at random but will not be able to hold a girl’s hand. I can say with confidence that audiences at Cannes who watch this movie will be delighted by it. We are also managing a debate on May 23, a day after Gangs of Wasseypur premieres, on the new Indian cinema, with all the people we can find appropriate to the subject.
I haven’t met Ram Gopal Varma but I have met Anurag twice now, once at Berlin and then in Paris. He is a fantastic resource for a lot of emerging new voices in Indian cinema. It’s a great feeling to be on the verge of discovering new cinema. It is difficult to make people understand it at first but then when you slowly find converts, it makes the journey worthwhile. I remember when we showed these Indian movies at Fribourg, a journalist at one of the premier Swiss magazines, L’hebdo, wrote a story titled Coppola Masala and really when I watched Ram Gopal Varma’s Sarkar, that’s how I felt.
The last time I came to India was for the International Film Festival four years ago. I could sense the energy but didn’t watch enough cinema. Now I’m glad I did and I’m ready to show it to the world.
Why am I so impressed with this new cinema? Well, I think the humour is used in a very interesting way. Here it’s remarkable because at the heart of it, it is also a story about idiotic gangsters who can kill people at random but will not be able to hold a girl’s hand.
Edouard Waintrop is the artistic director of the Director’s Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival. India has four films at Cannes this year: Gangs of Wasseypur I and II, Vasan Bala’s Peddlers, and Ashim Ahluwalia’s Miss Lovely. He spoke to Kaveree Bamzai.