Cannes Film Festival is one of the most glamorous and glittery film festivals, which has the creme-de-la-creme of celebrities gracing the red carpet. However, 2018’s edition – which marks the 71st year of the festival – is truly special and historical as Mahira Khan becomes the first Pakistani actor to debut at Cannes.

Mahira, who is also Pakistan’s first Ambassador for L’Oreal, Khan opted for a tube black dress with minimal makeup and red lips. She completed her look by accessorising it with a silver neckpiece and earrings.

Just before the Cannes debut, Mahira tweeted “On my way you guys… the dress didn’t turn up, but it’s raining and I’m nervous but maybe it’s a sign.”

A photograph of Sonam Kapoor warmly embracing Mahira and cheering her on has been doing the rounds on social media. Khan making a debut at Cannes is truly a remarkable achievement not just for herself, but also the Pakistani entertainment industry.

Cannes 2018: A Commemoration of Film or Fashion?

The film festival which has had legendary Bollywood names like Sharmila Tagore and Gitanjali Rao as part of the international jury has recently been a subject of scrutiny as a few celebrities feel that the fashion overpowers the films.

Recently, Shabana Azmi tweeted: “In Cannes1976 for Nishant in official section.The simplicity of it all. Film was important not the clothes!” 

If we look back in history, Cannes Film Festival (formerly known as ‘Festival du film de Cannes’) was quite a simple festival, with a more solid focus on cinema than clothing. Azmi also tweeted: “We had only 8 USD each survived on the per diem given by the Festival. Shyam had Smita and me walk down the promenade in saris 4 attention.”

The legendary actress further tweeted about how films were promoted during that time: “V had no money so Shyam made us walk down the d promenade in saris n ask ppl who turned in curiosity to watch our worked house was full.” So, how far does India’s association with Cannes trace back to? 

A History of South-Asia’s Association with Cannes

Seeing Bollywood stars like Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Deepika Padukone, Sonam Kapoor and Kangana Ranaut grace the red-carpet is certainly a matter of great pride for Indians and South-Asians across the globe. But India’s association with Cannes has been on-going for several years.

The collaboration began with Chetan Anand’s Neecha Nagar which won the Grand Prix (now acknowledged as the Palm d’Or) award along with David Lean’s Brief Encounters in 1946. The movie is widely regarded as the first such Indian film to attain global recognition.

Starring Kamini Kaushal and Zohra Sehgal, it was an expressionist take on class differences in the Indian society. Chetan Anand also went on to become the first jury member from India when he was selected to be a part of the international jury in 1950.

Amar Bhoopali, a period biopic about the Marathi poet Honaji Bala who inspired people to rise against the unjust foreign power, was directed by V. Shantaram and was also nominated for the Palm d’Or. However, its iconic music composition by Vasant Desai along with the Mangeshkar sisters’ rendition was what fetched it a Best Sound Recording award.

It is believed that the 50s were a triumphant period for India at the festival as numerous movies gained global attention. The following decades were a relatively low period with no awards being bagged by Indian artists and filmmakers. However, there was a steady screening of Indian movies, with directors like Ray and Shyam Benegal, Shahthayu and Bimal Roy making periodic appearances at the festival.

A few years later, Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay! was an entry at the festival and the movie won both the Camera d’Or and the Audience Prize in 1988. The following year, Piravi, a Malayalam film that dealt with police brutality, received a special mention in the Camera d’Or category.

The Un Certain Regard category is a parallel section of the Cannes Festival that has seen several Indian movies being screened. Primarily dealing with narratives that have non-traditional outlooks, the section had movies such Antrajali Yatra by Gautam Ghosh, Swaham by Shaji N. Karun, and Manipuri director Aribam Syam Sharma’s Ishanou showcased in the 1990s. A Malayalam film, Marana Simhasanam by Murali Nair, won the Camera d’Or in this section in 1999.

During the 2000s, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Bollywood magnum opus Devdas made its much-awaited grand debut with the screening of the film. Aishwarya Rai became the first Indian woman to be a part of the international jury at Cannes in 2003, ending a three-decade absence of Indians at the festival. A Very Very Silent Movie by Manish Jha, a short film, won the Jury Award in 2002.

Later during that decade, the 2006 Tamil movie Veyil became one of the first Tamil movies to be screened at Cannes. Aditya Motwane’s coming-of-age drama Udaan was screened under the Un Certain Regard category of the 2010 Cannes Festival.

In 2012, Miss Lovely, a movie set in the sleazy Mumbai underworld of the 1990s, premiered at Cannes while Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur was screened at the Director’s Fortnight. Peddlers, a movie that deals with destitute boys who are trapped in the narcotics trade and a young cop, was featured in the same year.

It is believed that 2013 was a breakout year as Amitabh Bachchan was chosen to open the festival after his cameo in Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby. Vidya Balan and Nandita Das were also selected to be a part of the international jury in the same year.

Bombay Talkies and Monsoon Shootout were screened out of competition while The Lunch Box was a part of the International Critics’ Week. The year 2014 was underwhelming in comparison with just Titli by Kunal Behl being screened under the Un Certain Regard category.

In 2015, Masaan, a movie that deals with the parallel lives of four people in Varanasi, was screened in the same category as Titli and received a standing ovation. The only other entry in 2015 was Chauti Koot that dealt with post-Operation Blue Star Punjab.

Cannes was quite busy two years ago as six Indian movies including Bahubali: The Beginning and Anurag Kashyap psychological thriller’s Raman Raghav 2.0 and Omung Kumar’s Sarbjit, were screened at the festival.

After a disappointing 2017, this year sees Nandita Das’s Manto as part of the official selection under the Un-Certain Regard category, Rohena Gera’s Sir will get its world premiere at the International Critics’ Week this year.

Tamil superstar Dhanush, who will be making his Hollywood debut with the Indo-French comedy-adventure The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir later this month, will also be present at the festival. Apart from this, three Marathi films were also showcased at the India Pavilion organised by the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting at the Cannes Film Market.