For me, the primary focus of a film festival remains the opportunity to watch the latest in world cinema: Shabana Azmi
For me, the primary focus of a film festival remains the opportunity to watch the latest in world cinema: Shabana Azmi – Times of India
Veteran actress Shabana Azmi along with Smita Patil and filmmaker Shyam Benegal represented India at the Cannes Film Festival as early as 1976. The trio was at the prestigious film festivals to showcase their film Nishant. The actress in a recent post on Instagram shared how they had no publicity material or funds to promote their film, but they still managed a full house! BT spoke to Azmi about her experience back then and how she views the festival now. Excerpts:
You had recently posted on your social media about attending the Cannes Film Festival in 1976. What do you remember about your first experience there? How was it meeting people on a global platform?
Back then, we were not glamour struck by anything. We were experiencing terror at not having any publicity material or any money whilst others were throwing lavish yacht parties with caviar and champagne. We were allowed the princely sum of eight US dollars in foreign exchange, so when I say we had no money, I mean it. Since breakfast was included in the room tariff, we used to fill our stomachs and survive on coffee and French fries during the day. Inevitably, we had dinner at many parties, where our intention was less to network and more to fill our stomachs! What was fascinating, however, was to have Shyam draw up a list of the films that we could watch, as we rushed from one screening to the next!
You spoke about the lack of funds. How did your team manage a full house? Shyam came up with the idea that Smita and I should dress up in our best saris and walk up and down the promenade to attract attention. We turned many heads because whilst there were many in bikinis and shorts, we looked like we were out of some oriental exotica! We would then rush to the curious people and say, ‘Please come and watch our film, which is in competition on so and so and this date!’ But the ruse worked, we managed a full house and even received a standing ovation.
After 1976, when did you go to the Cannes Film Festival next?
I was scheduled to go there for the screening of my film Genesis, an Indo-French-Belgian co-production directed by Mrinal Sen in 1986. A day before the trip, I decided to go on a hunger strike organised by the NGO Nivara Hakk with Anand Patwardhan and three slum dwellers for the rights of slum dwellers in Cuffe Parade, whose huts had been demolished. Five days into the hunger strike, Shashi Kapoor negotiated on our behalf with Chief Minister SB Chavan, and we managed to get the alternative land we were demanding. It was worth giving up going to Cannes and mercifully Mrinal da was very supportive. Later, I was invited to Cannes to give the award for the best documentary film in 1989. I was chuffed; I was now staying in a fancy suite of the very hotel we used to look longingly at; when we didn’t have money to even buy a cup of coffee at the Cannes Film Festival.
I remember some years ago it was said that any woman wearing flat sandals cannot appear on the red carpet. I was horrified and protested loudly. They received a lot of flak for it. Mercifully, they decided not to go ahead with that diktat. This business of the red carpet drawing so much attention is pure commerce. Many jewellers and fashion houses use it as an opportunity to advertise their wares. The celebrities are happy to look good without having to pay for it and so it’s a win-win for both. That’s the way the world functions today. But for me, the primary focus of a film festival remains the opportunity to watch the latest in world cinema. I am less interested in who wins the award and more interested in catching a distant film that otherwise I would be unable to.
If you were to go to Cannes now, how would you like to dress for the festival?
Without a doubt, in a sari. There is a timeless elegance to the sari, which is unmatchable.
Source:https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/entertainment/hindi/bollywood/news/for-me-the-primary-focus-of-a- film-festival-remains-the-opportunity-to- watch-the-latest-in-world-cinema-shabana-azmi/articleshow/91691014.cms