India’s growing stature in the world is underpinned by the fact that it is the world’s fastest growing large economy. But alongside economic power comes its emergence in other fields such as in sport – whether it is its improving medals tally at the Olympics or churning out chess grandmasters, and the arts and culture including cinema. Whilst Bollywood is well known globally especially for its size and superstars, the industry’s dwindling domestic fortunes of late alongside the inability of its fairly predictable mainstream fare to win any critical acclaim globally hasn’t particular pushed India’s case as a soft power at least when it comes to the movies. But there seems to be a turnaround of sorts, thanks to a clutch of Indian independent film makers as seen with their resounding success at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

There were a record seven Indian movies featured at Cannes this year with its first Grand Prix win in 30yrs for Payal Kapadia’s “All We Imagine as Light”. They were other accolades too – Anusuya Sengupta’s Best Actress award for “Shameless”. (Yet another demonstration of the rise of the Indian woman)

How big a moment is this and what does this mean for Indian cinema? Shubhra Gupta at The Indian Express takes a stab at answering this:

“The first thing to take note of is just how little was known of these Cannes winners, before last week. The fact that Kapadia is from the FTII is now all over the place, as is the fact that she was part of the 2015 protest against Gajendra Chauhan being appointed chairperson of the institute. For her pains, her scholarship was stopped and she and the other protestors were formally charged: court cases against them are pending.

There has always been an uneasy relationship between the state and the film institute, whose dimming excellence is now seeing a revival. The only way India, or for that matter any other film-making nation, will be taken note of at such film festivals as Cannes, is if it has a robust independent film-making culture. And that can only happen if the freedom to conceive, create and imagine is unfettered.

Kapadia’s talent was honed with her years at the institute (her short film, Afternoon Clouds was selected in the Cinefondation in 2017), so has that of the others who have been part of FTII, which includes this year’s winners Ali and Naik. Films chosen to compete at top-notch global festivals come from this kind of schooling-and-training of raw talent, and if India really wants to be known for its cutting-edge cinema, and not just for its stars walking the red carpet for their brands, then this path needs to be cleared.

The other equally crucial thing is the funding-and-distribution system to nourish these winners, most of whom have had to cobble together monies from foreign funds. I found the clearest articulation of this crying need of consistent support — making independent films is expensive, and accompanying them to such festivals as Cannes is formidably so — in Tanmay Dhanania’s words: Where do we get the money from? Dhanania, with a terrific if much-too-brief turn in The Shameless, is the kind of actor you want to see more of. But lucking into a solidly-backed film is a needle-in-a-haystack-game; there are not just enough of them to go around. And where do the films go once they are complete? For most, the wait to be shown in the country of their origin, despite the awards and the critical praise, is endless.

Kapadia’s win comes at a time when most mainstream movies, buoyed by big stars and production houses, are struggling at the box office. It is clear that viewers are sick of the same-old. The question is, will they who post you-go-girl messages after the win, come and pay multiplex rates for ‘festival movies’?”

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