Deepika Padukone is representing India as a jury member at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. She talks about how this has shaped her as an actor and producer, and what she will take back with her.
So Deepika, tell me what it’s been like to be on the jury.
It’s film school combined with magic; I can’t even begin to explain it. Ranveer and I usually do two holidays in a year – one during June-July and one at the end of the year. After this experience, I told him there is no reason for us to go anywhere else, we just need to come here for two weeks and watch all these movies. That’s our thing, we love watching movies. What more can you ask for as an actor than to have dedicated time, without guilt or thinking about the shoots or brand commitments the next day? Every day you wake up, watch movies and then get to be on this jury, with these incredible people, who are all older, have more experience and are screenplay writers and directors themselves. You engage with them and understand how they view the same film. You realise that as an actor, you watch and react to a film very differently than how a technician might. To hear these different perspectives at the end of the screening was more than what anyone could ask for.
In the jury press conference, you talked about ‘embracing the experience’ instead of being a judge. But, you do have to judge which films you like more than the others. You’re here as a student of cinema, a fine actor, a filmmaker and a producer: do you compartmentalise these parts while judging a film or does all of you show up for it?
I don’t want to think about what the end of those two weeks are going to be like, when those decisions are going to have to be made. I’ve never been in such a position before; I’ve most certainly been at the receiving end of it. So, I don’t know what that feeling is going to be. Right now, I’m just consuming everything. If I wasn’t on the jury and was watching these films as part of the audience, I have the right to like or dislike a movie, to feel disappointed or feel elated. Which is the point of cinema. But eventually, the minds of nine people are going to decide the fate of a whole bunch of people and I’ve never been in that position before. At this point, I don’t want to think about that. I don’t know what that process is going to be and I’m sure it is going to be equally hard for all of us because we’re actors, writer-directors, and actor-directors, like Rebecca Hall and Jasmine Trinca. In a creative field, it’s always very difficult to say one is better than the other. Everything comes from a different experience, a different place in your heart and every film means something to someone. And so, I think we’re all nervous about the latter half of the next week.
It’s a big year for India. It’s the first-ever ‘Country of Honour’ for the Cannes Market, Variety reported that there are 400 Indians attending, you’re on the jury and there are a lot of other people on the red carpet. But the truth is, we have only one film in official screening: Shaunak Sen’s brilliant documentary All That Breathes. Apart from that, we have two films playing in Cannes Classics and a student film. We haven’t had a film in the main competition since the 90s. How do we get more of our films to be screened and is that a worthy goal?
Had you asked me this question last year, I would have said, ‘Maybe it’s the kind of content we’re creating’. However, I’m convinced now that it has something to do with the selection process. I’ve watched movies and thought, ‘Why couldn’t this movie of ours make it?’ I’m not even talking about winning, that’s secondary. But I’m beginning to get convinced that it has to do with the selection process because a lot of our movies deserve to be here. I want our writers to know, I want our filmmakers to know, and I want our actors to know that we’re doing absolutely everything correct. We are. Do we make different kinds of films in India? Sure, we do. We make blockbusters and maybe those aren’t the kind of films that get selected here. Top Gun and Elvis are here but those are out of competition and are bigger films. But we’ve seen enough Indian movies to say that they deserved to be here.
When you chat with Noomi Rapace, Rebbeca Hall and Jasmine Trinca, do you feel that the experience of female artists around the world is very similar, in that you have to work, perhaps twice as hard, to make a space for yourself in the world?
I have to say that the way we react to certain things as women is sort of unanimous. But as to the ‘why’ behind it: I don’t know. Is it because we’re women? Is it because of our individual experiences? Is it because we had to work doubly hard to get to where we are? I don’t have the answers to that. But, I do know that the women are reacting unanimously to certain things.
Because this is one of the most scrutinised carpets in the world, you also have the burden of what you’re wearing. If you wear something Indian, it says something and if you wear something Western, it says something. How are you processing all of that?
The approach this time is to understand why I’m here. When you come with a fashion or beauty brand, what you represent is very different. Representing India as a part of the jury this time, I’m here in a very different capacity. We’re trying to balance the two. The approach is that I’m here as a jury member so let’s keep that in mind with everything else that we do, along with, of course, bringing India to the world, honouring my country and roots and embracing them.
How does this experience change your view as a producer? Will Ka Productions be doing anything differently post this?
I don’t think we have to do anything different. We just have to be authentic in everything we do and own it. One of the biggest mistakes we’re making is not owning what we do. Nobody coming here is apologetic about the movies that they make, the language they’re making it in, the budget that has been spent on making their movie. I don’t think we should be apologetic about who we are, where we come from and the cinema that we’re making. I truly believe that it’s a matter of time; sometimes we just have to keep doing what we do and a time will come when our work will get recognised.