The truth is that I can’t last more than a week in Cannes. The festival is so frenzied and the pace so furious, that by day six, I’m ragged and waiting to get on the flight home. I’m usually shooting interviews for television and digital, doing meetings for the Mumbai Film Festival and trying to see at least one film a day. I get depressed if I don’t manage that. The Cannes Film Festival is the only place I suffer from FOMO 24/7. No matter how much I get done, I know I’ve missed out on so much more.
So why do I love it so much? Because Cannes is such an exciting cocktail of cinema, glamour, networking and business. For those 10 days in May, it genuinely feels like the film capital of the world. From the greatest film artistes to sales agents to critics and journalists – we all become part of this carnival. It’s a celebration of cinema unlike any other. And it’s absolutely addictive.
I first went to Cannes in 1999 to cover the festival for India Today magazine. I had no idea how it worked. The festival was overwhelming and intimidating. There were barely any Indians there. I have a distinct memory of the NFDC stall at the market being uncomfortably close to an entire corridor devoted to porn films. There were starlets in skimpy clothes strutting up and down. It was impossible for NFDC to compete.
But it was a big year for India because director Murali Nair won the Caméra d’Or (given for a debut film) for Marana Simhasanam (Throne of Death). The film, shot over 15 days with non-professional actors, tells the story of a villager in Kerala who is wrongly convicted of murder but then dies a hero because he is the first man to be executed on an electric chair.
In 2008, I was invited to be part of the Un Certain Regard jury. The jury was led by Turkish-German director Fatih Akin (his last film, In the Fade, was in official competition last year). Being on the jury gave me another perspective on the festival – there were invites to fancy official engagements (I remember meeting Sean Penn at the opening night dinner), prime seats for the screenings and of course the famed Cannes red carpet experience. As we walked down, a minder discreetly hovering behind us told us where to look and when to turn to face the photographers on the other side. It was marvelously micro-managed.
To survive Cannes, you need to pace yourself, stay hydrated and eat enough. It’s like a long-distance marathon that requires endurance and stamina. You also need stylish but comfortable shoes – a combination that is hard to find
But by then, I had become a television journalist. So along with jury duty, I was also shooting every day. I was running from screening to interview and largely surviving on fruit salads. As a result of which, on the 5th or 6th day, after the red-carpet screening of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, I actually passed out. Paramedics had to be called in but I had one last link to do for the show. So I did it sitting on a wheelchair! It’s one of my favorite memories of the festival.
Since then, I’ve learned my lesson. To survive Cannes, you need to pace yourself, stay hydrated and eat enough. It’s like a long-distance marathon that requires endurance and stamina. You also need stylish but comfortable shoes – a combination that is hard to find.
The Cannes Film Festival is one of the few places where you can spot Helen Mirren in a hotel lobby; do an interview with Deepika Padukone; meet people from most of the world’s leading festivals and the world’s leading film institutions; woo sales agents; and most importantly, watch great cinema.
Which is why, despite all the moaning about prices bordering on extortion, rude French waiters, tiny hotel rooms, the insanely hectic pace, the crushingly long lines to get into screenings and the lack of affordable, good food, each year, I go back. The truth is, I can’t live without my annual Cannes fix.