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Monday, June 11, 2012

Cannes is a carnival, and the air of celebration hits me as the bus ferrying members of the press to the Palais des Festival takes the turn from Nice to Cannes. Enormous images of Marilyn Monroe seductively blowing out the candle on a birthday cake line the roads and top the buildings.
On the eve of the festival, groups of journalists – you can make us out anywhere, we all look like hobos – stand around waiting to get their accreditations done, while hopeful students – you can make them out anywhere, they all wear makeup and pretty clothes – stand around holding up placards begging for invitations and tickets, sil vous plait.
A man handing out cheap-looking flyers notices me frowning at the papers, and hands me one. It’s intriguing. It reads, “Grant voyant médium international, Résultats en 3 jours.” The contents of the pamphlet pique my interest further. The man seems to promise help for things to do with “Derrière”, “impuissance sexuelle” and “difficultés financiers”. I make up my mind to either Google this, or ask for a translation. Over the next three days, I will fail to remember this every time I have access to either Google or a translator, but never mind.
Encouraged by my attention to the “Grant voyant médium international”, another man, dressed as an ER doctor, walks up to me and hands me the synopsis card of a movie that seems to believe that blood transfusions are a conspiracy to kill all of us.
“Hallo!” a cabbie manning one of the taxis reserved for the festival calls out to me, as I walk out of the media centre with my press badge. It’s a Merc, and I’m pathetically thrilled at the prospect of a ride in a Merc in France.
“You are coming from Italy?” he asks.
“India,” I reply.
“Oh, India, very far away. But yes, many beautiful actresses from India come to Cannes every year,” he replies, “one lady, she win some title, like Miss Universe or Miss World.”
“Aishwarya Rai?”
“Her name’s Aishwarya Rai.”
“I don’t know the name. I just see them on TV, and listen to the news. You work in film?”
“No, I’m a journalist.”
“Oh, presse. We are stuck in a traffic jam,” the cabbie says, shaking his head as we join the rear end of a line of cars crawling their way uphill, “Every year it happens, from Day 1. 120,000 people come here for 15 days. Then, from here they go to Monte Carlo for the car racing, how do you say Grand Prix, the Formula Series...”
“Formula One.”
“You like Formula One?”
“Not since they changed the rules.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, I’m not aware. I follow Moto GP.”
We exchange irrelevant biographical information in the twenty minutes it takes to cover the three kilometres to my hotel.
“Au revoir, mademoiselle!” the cabbie says, “Have a good festival!”
Once I’ve slept off the effects of the in-flight wine I’d had for breakfast, breakfast and lunch as we skipped over time zones, I head back to gawk at the Palais, where the red carpets are being laid out for the opening ceremony the next day.
The media facilities are wonderfully organised. Each of us is allotted a locker, with an opening mechanism that involves swiping a bar code, and makes us feel important. We have a supply of coffee and water, which I find out we’ll be asked to dispose of before entering the screening halls. So much do we love our edible freebies that we hold up the queues gulping them down so we won’t have to throw them away.
I stumble upon my first glimpse of the Riviera from a viewing spot that smells of smoke. National flags are arranged in rows by the side of large white tent-like booths. Those are the country pavilions, and I decide to check on the Indian film screenings.
The smug expressions of the journalists sitting at the Indian Pavilion and pretending to be busy mirror mine – we all act like we’ve conquered the world, without facing much resistance. But one tends to feel that way when one is waved through with a “Bon soir, mademoiselle” upon flashing one’s press card, while eager cinephiles are hanging on to the barricades to ask if anyone has an extra ticket.
Thus begins my first trip to Cannes.


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