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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

South Asian cinema shines in Cannes


Films from South Asia are scaling new heights in the world of cinema.

At the 76th edition of the Cannes film festival, new feature films and documentaries from India, Pakistan and Afghanistan are drawing the discerning international audiences to their screenings in both the official and parallel selections in the French Riviera town.

Oscar-winning American actor Jennifer Lawrence was on stage last evening to present the Afghan documentary film, ‘Bread and Roses’, about the struggle for justice and equality by women after Afghanistan fell to the Taliban in 2021. Directed by Sahra Mani, among the thousands who fled the country after the take over by the Taliban, ‘Bread and Roses’ is produced by Lawrence.

“In Afghanistan, girls can’t go to schools and universities and women can’t go to work. The condition of women in Afghanistan is very bad today. Please don’t forget Afghanistan women,” said Zahra Mohammadi, one of the Afghanistan protesters leading the fight for restoring their rights, present at the world premiere of the film at the Agnes Varda theatre of the festival.

‘Bread and Roses’ follows Mohammadi, who was a dentist in Kabul, and two other women protesters in real time as they organise meetings and demonstrations against the Taliban orders banning women from workplaces and educational institutions. ‘Bread and Roses’ is part of the Special Screenings section of the festival, which began on May 16.

Besides ‘Bread and Roses’, films from South Asia in Cannes this year include, ‘Kennedy’ by Anurag Kashyap in the official selection, independent filmmaker Kanu Behl’s ‘Agra’, and Pakistani feature film ‘In Flames’ in the Directors’ Fortnight parallel programme. The South Asian films stand out for their realistic and artistic portrayal of social and economic inequalities in the society.

Set in Karachi, ‘In Flames’ by Pakistani director Zarrar Kahn tells the story of a widow and her daughter fighting patriarchy to save their ancestral home from falling into the hands of their scheming uncle. “I am a mother myself and the film’s story resonated with me on many levels,” said Bakhtawar Mazhar, who plays the role of the widow in the film. “We have many stories which need to be told. Every single scene in the film is a real story in my country,” Mazhar added.

Kashyap’s ‘Kennedy’, which is part of the festival’s Midnight Screenings section, is about an insomniac former policeman, who is long thought to be dead, but still operating for a corrupt system. Shot in Mumbai for over a month, ‘Kennedy’ stars Rahul Bhat and Sunny Leone. Behl’s ‘Agra’, the director’s second feature film after the much-acclaimed ‘Titli’, which was part of the official selection in 2014, is a cinematic exploration of sexual dynamics within a modern Indian family.

‘Nehemich’ by former Film and Television Institute of India, Pune student Yudhajit Basu is among the 16 films in the festival’s programme for film school productions from around the world this year. Shot in rural Maharashtra, ‘Nehemich’ explores the superstitions surrounding menstruating women in the villages where they are isolated during their periods because of “impurity”.

“The credit for the success of South Asian cinema on the international stage goes to younger producers from the region,” said Kashyap at a panel discussion on ‘South Asian Films in the Global Film Market’ held at the Canadian pavilion in the Cannes film market yesterday evening. “It’s the young producers who are making the big difference by supporting emerging talent,” he added.

“We are going to see tremendous growth in South Asian cinema through cross-border collaboration,” said ‘In Flames’ director Kahn. “That is how we grow. We grow as a community,” he added.

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