Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Ask me more By Nandita Das |

Ask me more

By Nandita Das | June 21, 2015

Every time I return from Cannes, all I am asked about is what I wore and why so few photos. I am expected to narcissistically photograph myself and send them to my non-existing PR agency to spread it to the media. No such thing happened, but questions didn't cease—"If fashion is a language, what would it say for you? Who was the most stylish idol? And why do you always wear the same old saris for the red carpet?"

I was tempted to respond—fashion is not a language I know or want to learn, as there are more interesting things that occupy my mind and time. I see no need to idolise, and even if one did, it would be substance and not style that would be the criteria. And for me they are not 'same old saris', as each one is unique in its weave. Maybe even more than the gowns that compete for attention. But instead I politely declined.

This kind of media obsession with fashion, when it comes to women, is facing a strong opposition, at least in Hollywood. Reese Witherspoon, ahead of Oscars, started a Twitter handle slamming sexist red carpet questions and to encourage the media to #AskHerMore. This garnered a lot of interest, while here there is hardly any protest.

Though herein lies the irony—the mainstream cinema with its celebrities and glamour fund the platform where small, independent and personal films are shown. But it is these 'art house' films that push the boundaries, giving legitimacy to the world of cinema as a serious art form. If the industry only churned out the likes of Iron Man and Dhoom, it would be hard to make that case.

LAST WORDIllustration: Bhaskaran

Women formed a significant part of this year's festival, for more reasons than one. The opening film was Standing Tall, a French film, directed by Emmanuelle Bercot. A woman director opened the festival after 28 long years. Isabella Rossellini, the Italian actress, said at a talk organised by the newly launched Women in Motion, "A lot of women cannot be directors because they have children and they have to take care of them." She said long Hollywood hours are "unbelievably difficult for family", and in the US "you can tax deduct lunch with your business partner but not a baby-sitter!"

Similar was the theme of Italian director Nanni Moretti's film that I saw. It was about a filmmaker, who juggles her difficult shoot and her responsibilities as both a mother and a daughter. I could see myself going through a similar pull and push when I shoot my next film.

I have to say, in my previous trips to Cannes as a juror, I was totally spoilt as all I did was watch films and deliberate on them with an eclectic bunch of film personalities. This time was different, but I did manage to see a couple of films and meet a range of filmmakers—from jury presidents to celebrated American directors Coen Brothers to Abderrahmane Sissako from Mauritania, a place I hadn't even heard of.

What was significantly different for me this year was the completely new terrain of scouting for producers and funders. It was not easy to explain why a story about Saadat Hasan Manto, a writer who is unknown to most beyond India and Pakistan, is so relevant to the world. Had Manto been an American or a European writer, by now his fascinating life and expanse of work would surely have been captured on screen. But I am sure the universality of his concern, courage and conviction will resonate with all, and that is why the desire to tell his story.

I am aware that the world of films is no saviour of humanity, but within that there is redemption in speaking truth to power and raising questions that need to be asked. Cinema may not change the world in obvious ways, but it subliminally impacts the way we think about ourselves and the world we live in.

There are many more stories, but only if you ask me for more!


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