It helps to come to Cannes a day earlier. I am writing this on the morning of the 8th, and the Festival kicks off this evening, with the opening ceremony — which will be telecast live in theatres where journalists can watch it, without needing to squeeze into a tux (phew!) — and the world premiere of Asghar Farhadi’s Todos Lo Saben (Everybody Knows). But that’s still a while away, and with no hectic writing commitments for now, the morning can be spent, say, chatting with Rajshri “S*** Durga” Deshpande over a cup of coffee. Yes, many names shall be (shamelessly) dropped over the course of this fortnight.
Off camera chats are the best. The stars are relaxed. They’re having fun. I learn, for instance, about this Bollywood actress who calls photographers to click pictures of her as she exits gyms and spas. And when they land up, she poses with a hand in front of her face, in that “please give me some privacy” way. Maybe you already knew this is how things work. I had to come all the way to Cannes to get this bit of Bodhi-tree enlightenment. Alas, gym and spa pictures will never be the same again. A little later, Rajshri showed me, on her phone, a promo for the NGO she does work for, one that empowers villages. She has brought with her a bunch of bags made by women from her village, which is 10 hours from Mumbai. The bags are a burst of colour.
She’s here for Manto, where she plays Ismat Chughtai. We speak about working with Nawazuddin Siddiqui. She told tales of how organically he helps his co-stars with scenes: one quick look at the script pages, and then, bursts of improvisation. Rajshri also recalled the improvisation on the sets of Pan Nalin’s Angry Indian Goddesses. The director shut his actresses in a room, then asked them to come out, one by one, and “react” to whatever he’d set up. Then the chat shifted to Sacred Games. There, too, she’s paired with Nawazuddin. The Manto premiere is a much-awaited one, and it will be the first time Rajshri watches the biopic. She does have with her, though, DVDs of the film, which she’s brought from Mumbai. “I am entrusting you with my life,” director Nandita Das told her. Some responsibility, that.
Yesterday, I ran into (name-drop alert) Anupama Chopra while picking up my press badge. She was picking hers up too. And for the first time since I joined Film Companion, over a year ago, we hung out. Whenever I am in Mumbai, it’s always an office meeting. Here, we walked around, had some tea at an outdoor café, talked about work (back home) and more work (What to watch? Is the press screenings guide in the snazzy denim bag we just got?). One of the best things about film festivals is the bag. Some journalists I know have quite the collection. They can be seen shopping at the neighbourhood store with, say, a Zurich Film Festival bag. It’s the best way to go green and humblebrag (“I was there!”).
Anupama and I ran into a rather lost-looking (name-drop alert) Stephanie Zacharek, who is Time’s chief critic and with whom I conducted the Young Critics Lab at the Mumbai Film Festival last year. She’d dropped her phone in the toilet and now it wasn’t working. If that doesn’t border on disaster, I don’t know what does. I teased her that I was going to put this information out on Twitter, but she said she’d already done so. We were all huddled in a shady (as in shade-giving, before you begin to imagine a more exotic life than the one I lead) spot, and yet it was warm. The outdoors are crazy-hot. The Mediterranean sun sounds so dreamy when you read about it, but it’s quite the scorcher. The indoors, though, are chilly. I don’t remember it being this cold last year, but then, at Cannes, what’s really hot is cinema.