A 90s classic from Manipur, Anurag Kashyap’s latest neo-noir, the Titli director’s sophomore effort and an FTII student’s short film represent Indian cinema at Cannes 2023.
The 10-day cinema extravaganza that is France’s Cannes film festival kicked off on May 16 this year and is proving to be amusingly controversial. That’s what you get when you start with a Johnny Depp film and premiere The Weeknd’s hypersexual show The Idol.
When it comes to Indians at Cannes, lifestyle publications have gone gaga over what Esha Gupta is wearing or whatever it is that Aishwarya Rai evolved into on the Red Carpet. But beyond the glitz and glamour, it is worth putting the spotlight on the four Indian films that were chosen to be screened at this year’s edition.
Watching his idol Martin Scorsese’s latest and posing with Gaspar Noe were side quests for director Anurag Kashyap who is actually at Cannes to premiere his highly-anticipated noir thriller Kennedy which will be screened at the festival’s Midnight Screenings Section on May 24.
This means that Kennedy will not be competing for any top honours but will still receive enough coverage among genre enthusiasts. Inspired by festivals like Sundance, Cannes introduced its Midnight Screenings Section to premiere interesting genre films that might not qualify for the “high art” tropes of other competitors but still be artfully creative enough for niche audiences.
Hyperviolent action films and offbeat documentaries are some examples of the films that have been screened at the wee hours of Cannes. Kennedy itself promises to be a pulpy nail-biter with Kashyap yet again drawing on vintage Bollywood influences like Gangs of Wasseypur (that premiered at the 2012 Cannes Directors Fortnight Section) and his stylish yet failed big-budget effort Bombay Velvet.
The poster reinstates the pulp novel aesthetic and its ominous teaser introduces cast members Rahul Bhat (his collaborator from Ugly and Dobaara) and Sunny Leone.
Not much is known about Leone's character Charlie but she appears to be a femme fatale in the thriller. The pornstar-turned-actress’ casting is quite the talking point as Leone was often typecast in sexually-charged roles for erotic dramas or comedies. Leone’s partnership with an auteur like Kashyap seems intriguing and there are hopes that Kashyap will be able to showcase a more dramatic side of her.
The narrative of Kennedy revolved around the titular former cop who continues to battle a corrupt system in his own violent ways. The fact that he shows up half-masked throughout the blood-soaked teaser gives off the idea that he’s perhaps a vigilante. The fact that Rahul Bhat’s Kennedy is also an insomniac is reminiscent of Vicky Kaushal’s coke-snorting corrupt cop in Kashyap’s gritty 2016 noir Raman Raghav 2.0 (released as Psycho Raman in the West).
Kanu Behl earned his name among Indian cinephiles for his acclaimed debut Titli, a Delhi-based coming-of-age thriller that shot Shashank Arora and Shivani Raghuvanshi to indie stardom (both of them would also cross paths in Made in Heaven) and proved that Ranveer Shorey still had dramatic acting chops.
It has been nine years since Titli was screened at the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes and now, Behl returns to France with his sophomore feature Agra. This time, the writer-director brings yesteryear Aashiqui star Rahul Roy to lead his drama. While Roy has not been out of work since his breakout romantic hit in the 1990s, he hasn’t been able to replicate his success (barring a Bigg Boss win).
This is why Roy’s casting is definitely hype-worthy as the 55-year-old might showcase a persona beyond his 90s-era boyish image. Roy will be joined by cast members Priyanka Bose (The Wheel of Time), Vibha Chibber (Chak De! India) and many others.
Much like Titli, Agra finds Behl exploring gender relations in an Indian household. While not much has been revealed about the plot, the official synopsis for Cannes suggests that Agra will explore the sexual dynamics inside a family along with the problems caused by the shortage of physical space in modern India.
The film will be screened on May 24 at the Directors Fortnight Section out of competition.
FTII alumnus Yudhajit Basu helms the Marathi short film Nehemich that will also be premiering at this year’s Cannes. Like many post-pandemic shorts, Nehemich too is set in the backdrop of the Covid-19 outbreak with a focus on how society isolates menstruating women.
Unlike Kennedy and Agra, Nehemich is screening within a competitive category and has chances of bagging the Cannes’ top short film honour: the Short Film Palme d'Or.
The 23-minute-long film deals with a young woman banished from her village during her period. But when she plans to run away with a lover, her nomadic tribe’s belief in the dead is also thrown in the mix.
The Meiti-language drama Ishanou is an Indian classic from Manipur having first premiered at Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section back in 1991. This year, Aribam Syam Sharma’s directorial venture returns to Cannes with a slot in the Classics Section.
Winning a National Award for Best Feature Film in Manipuri, Ishanou aired on Doordarshan in India and was screened at multiple foreign festivals, a rare feat for a Manipuri film at that time.
Translating as “The Chosen One”, Ishanou dealt with the chaos that disrupts a family when a woman starts having wild fits of paranoia and hallucinatory visions. Matters get complicated when she gets convinced that a spiritual guru chose her to get initiated into a sect and she finds pleasure in the performing arts.
With a lot of philosophical and socio-political subtext oozing out of this amusing premise, the 91-minute-long film (which will now premiere in its restored version) provides a lot of food for thought.