May 18, 2005 - Indian connection in Cannes selection

Saibal Chatterjee
Cannes, May 18, 2005

The whole world and its extended family is now aware that not a single Indian film has been in the Cannes Film Festival’s official selection for two years running, if one discounts the special screening of Mehboob Khan’s Mother India in 2004 and Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali this time around.


So, it is inevitable for a lover of cinema from India to clutch at straws. But wonder of wonders, there indeed are a brace of such fortuitous straws blowing in the balmy Riviera wind this year – two films in the official Cannes line-up do have links with India.

One is the out-of-competition biopic of Mata Amritanandamayi made by Dutch-born French director Jan Kounen, 41. The other is a Sri Lankan film helmed by a 27-year-old trained in the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune.

Kounen’s film, Darshan, with a running time of 100-odd minutes, is a tribute to the Hindu spiritual leader simply known as Amma to her disciples. She does have a following around the globe, but the Paris-based filmmaker discovered her quite by chance.

Coming off two films – the mystical western Blueberry (2003) and the documentary feature Other Worlds (2004) – that sprang from his encounter with the Shipibo-Conibo Indians of the Peruvian Amazon, Kounen was “curious to see other cultures originating from ancient traditions”.

The producer of Darshan, Manuel de la Roche, had spent a decade in Asia, two of those years in the garb of a Buddhist monk. Kounen approached him with a proposal for a documentary on a Tibetan monastery. But Roche had other ideas. He had met Amma when she was on a short visit to Paris in 2002 and suggested the making a film on her life. She acquiesced.

When Roche called Kounen the next day and formally proposed this documentary, he learnt to his surprise that the latter, too, had stood in the queue for a ‘darshan’ of Amma. The film was on without a hitch – as if it was destined to be made.

Says Kounen: “I went to her with an open mind and the choice of bringing back whatever I experienced, positive or negative.”

Darshan  traces the evolution of my perception of Amma: first through the eyes of the westerner before the unknown, then gradually sliding in to witness overflowing love and the living image of beauty,” he goes on to add. “Amma helped me see another dimension of existence.”

Darshan  eschews the standard documentary practice of conveying ideas and facts through a voiceover. Instead, it lets Amma, her acolytes and those close to her reveal her inner world bit by bit. Explains Kounen|: “The film simply draws the viewer close to her so as to allow one to perceive and experience what one feels in her company or just to watch her never-ending sessions of embrace, a true form of communion.”

If Darshan is about hope, love and salvation, Vimukthi Jayasundara’s The Forsaken Land is bleak and disturbing record of the aftermath of war. “I wanted to examine emotional isolation in a world where war, peace and God have become abstract notions,” explains the FTII graduate who put in a brief stint in an ad agency in Mumbai before turning to full-time filmmaking...




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