Shabana Azmi: “Alas! We are obsessed with who what wore instead of the films!”

Cannes, Then  & Now 

Shabana, why aren’t we winning anything at Cannes?

Chetan Anand’s Neecha Nagar, Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali ,Mira Nair’s Salam Bombay ,Vikramaditya Motwane’s Udaan have all won at Cannes. But you are right they are too few and far in between. In fact very few get selected in the Competition section at all.BothShyam Benegal’s Nishant and Mrinal Sen’s Genesis were exceptions.

You featured in both Nishant and Genesis. And you went to Cannes?

That was  much later and I couldn’t go.The first time when I went to Cannes  in 1976 we were sanctioned only 8 USD as the official amount we could carry individually.We used to eat a hearty breakfast which was included in the hotel tarrif and survive on french fries the rest of the day like bhukkads.We were dismayed when for some reason the publicity material didn’t arrive and we had no money to host parties or make our presence felt. Shyam hit upon an idea. He asked Smita and me to wear our best Kanjeevarams and parade up and down the promenade! Heads did turn and we would walk up earnestly and say, ‘Please come for our screening’. We aroused enough curiosity and amusement but we had a packed house!

Shabana Azmi: “Alas! We are obsessed with who what wore instead of the films!” 2

Why didn’t you attend when Genesis and Nishant were shown?

In 1986 I was to leave for Cannes with Mrinal Sen for Genesis but I opted out the night I was to leave and sat on a hunger strike on behalf of our organization Nivara Hakk for five days along with AnandPatwardhan and three slum dwellers demanding alternative accommodation for a slum in Colaba that had been demolished to make way for a MLA hostel. Five days later Shashi Kapoor went to the then-CM SB Chavan and negotiated on behalf of Nivara Hakk. We won and the slumdwellers did get land. I will always remain grateful to Shashiji for that.

When did you finally attend Cannes in luxury?

Years later I was invited to present an award at Cannes and stayed at the majestic Carlton hotel which I used to pass by longingly when we went there for Nishant! Cannes is an important festival and the films that win are usually outstanding. It is also an important market. Alas! We are obsessed with who what wore instead of the films! Sure the media has succeeded in hyping up the clothes worn on the red carpet – fashion brands that have leading stars as brand ambassadors spend a fortune on showcasing them which is fine but at the end of the day, the best representation can only be when your film is selected in the official section and when your film succeeds in making some sales in which Indian films have started to make a mark

A film of yours is being screened in Cannes this year as well?

We had a screening of The Black Prince on Sunday and the leading man Satinder Sartaj was quite the belle of the ball because it was the first time a man in a turban was walking the red carpet!

I believe you also did your dose of protest  on the red carpet?

I was very annoyed when a few years ago it was published that the Festival authorities had ruled you couldn’t walk the red carpet in flats! Mercifully there was a huge hue and cry, I expressed my displeasure strongly too and the missive was hastily withdrawn!

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