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Monday, June 11, 2012

(Published in, retrieved from

My sixth day in Cannes turns out to be the one with the most personal significance. It’s a day I will finish cribbing on Twitter to a journalist friend, who commiserated with an account of his own embarrassment on behalf of India on a foreign trip.
The day begins well enough, with Amour (Love), a Michael Haneke signature film whose protagonists are an octogenarian couple. That’s followed by a press conference with Emmanuelle Riva, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Isabella Huppert and Haneke himself.
And that’s where my day of misery begins. An Indian journalist whom I’d had the misfortune to meet a few days earlier taps my shoulder as I’m speaking to two other people, and declares to all of us that Amour must win every award there is, or he won’t come to Cannes again. Everyone is too surprised to react. Then, he looks at the ratings given to the films screened so far by sundry film critics, and proclaims that they are wrong, and don’t know anything about cinema. Someone at a seat nearby flinches, and I wonder whether he’s one of the critics newly deemed incompetent.
That’s followed by a press conference with the cast of Jagten, which premiered the previous evening, and will have a red carpet screening today.
Danish director Thomas Vinterberg, who’s often mistaken for an actor himself, tells us how the child actor and the dog in the film outperformed everyone else. The film stars Mads Mikkelsen, best known to the world-at-large as the bad guy from Casino Royale, Le Chiffre. One of the producers smokes an electronic cigarette and keeps his sunglasses on throughout the press conference, bringing in a bizarre note to a discussion that was as serious as it was funny.
Vinterberg begins on a somewhat modest note, when I ask about how he elicited such a mature performance from a child actor, and how much of the plot she knew. “Oh, Annika is just a natural talent,” he says, “It’s not that I’m a genius, but she’s so good. Of course, I am a genius” – and here he pauses with a cheeky filmstar grin – “but she’s a wonderful actor.”
Some journalists have skipped the press conference to watch The Sapphires, a group of Aborigine singers who sang to be heard in 1968 Australia, which considered the original inhabitants of the country unwelcome in its present day. The other big draws of the day are Dario Argento’s Dracula and the restored version of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Ring.
A silent film from 1927, The Ring is the story of a love triangle that plays out in the boxing ring. Made when Hitchcock was all of 28, it is the only film written by the director himself in entire career. Far removed from the crime genre he was so famous for, this film takes us into a world where boxers were gentlemen, and the game was so rich its sportsmen were sprinkled with champagne at the end of each round.
On the subject of sprinkling, it has started pouring outside. I take a walk along the Riviera, exulting in the feel of the rain on the beach, and the smells that waft up from the earth. Tens of umbrella sellers have descended on the Palais, hiking up prices as everyone stares up in terror at the rain – which reminds me of a Seinfeld joke about our fear of water.
The red carpet presents a hilarious sight, as photographers and escorts try to outdo each other in chasing after the actors with umbrellas. The cast of Jagten, Confession of a Child of the Century, and Amour barely get to wave before hordes of umbrellas descend on them. We get a good look at Cheryl Cole, who wears a pink-and-red dress that makes her look like a mermaid whose tailfin’s just been trapped in barbed wire.
Also prominent are a collective of bearded women. Apparently, they’re from the French feminist group, La Barbe, and I’m not sure what they’re protesting against. If it’s objectification of women on the red carpet, they’re not doing themselves any favours.
I saunter towards the queue for Kiarostami’s Like Somone in Love, when the Indian journalist pops up again. He’s made friends with a few European journalists now, and is telling all of us how he bargained an umbrella down from 15 euros to 8 euros.
“I lost my umbrella at the Indian pavilion. Someone stole it. The people there told me to steal another one, but I didn’t want to,” he explains.
Facepalm 1.
“Nandini, have you collected this badge?” he asks, showing me a card.
“I think it’s in my press box,” I reply.
“Please make use of it. You can get free lunch!” he says.
“Oh. Well, no, I don’t really use freebies.”
“What are you saying, yaar?” and he turns to the European journalists, “In India, we have a saying. Free press means the press runs for everything that is free, be it press kits or food or wine or hotel rooms. Give me a junket, I’m there.”
Facepalm 2.
“But seriously, yaar, you should make use of it.”
“No, I’m not really a foodie.”
“Really? No one will say that.”
“Excuse me?”
“You look like a foodie.”
“What does that even mean?! How can someone look like a foodie?”
“Arre, you’re always energetic.”
Not anymore dude. Facepalm 3.
“You’re getting wet in the rain,” a journalist from Switzerland says, “Come here, under this umbrella.”
“Oh, I actually do like the rain,” I say, making use of her offer anyway.
“She’s a Madrasi, it keeps raining there,” the journalist thus establishes himself as a longtime frand.
Facepalm 4.
“But it’s so cold here when it rains!” another journalist says.
“Today, you wore the wrong clothes,” Mr. India tells me, “See, she’s dressed for the red carpet!”
“No, I’m not. It’s just an ordinary skirt.”
“Baba, but it’s a short skirt. Your legs are getting wet.”
Facepalm 5. Thankfully, they’re letting us into the theatre, and I quickly lose him.
When I tell a friend about how often I cringed that day, he tells me of an arguably worse experience. He was part of an Indian contingent was dining at a Michelin-star restaurant abroad, when someone yelled, “WAITER!”


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