15 Indian Films Showcased at Cannes Over the Years

A few weeks ago Shabana Azmi tweeted about the time when she attended the Cannes Film Festival in 1976 for her film ‘Nishant’ along with director Shyam Benegal and co-star Smita Patil. She seemed to be complaining about the fact that the focus is now more on the glamorous side of the festival and less on films – at least in India. The sad part is that whatever she said is true in the current scenario where no Indian films have competed in the main section for quite a long period of time and most of the Indian stars just go to parade at the red carpet smiling at the ever hungry for pictures paparazzi. Despite the not so encouraging situation of present times, Indian cinema has a rich history of being showcased and feted at the most prestigious film festival in the world, the  most notable in recent times being ‘The Lunchbox’ and ‘Udaan’. Here is a list of the top Indian films which were showcased at Cannes, in no particular order.

15. You are my Sunday (2016)

Ad filmmaker turned feature film director couldn’t believe his luck when his second directorial venture made its way to the queen of film festivals – Cannes. The film is very light hearted in its tone and tells the story of five friends who loves to play football but finds it very difficult to find open spaces in the overcrowded city of Mumbai. It stars indie powerhouse Shahana Goswami and popular TV star Barun Sobti in lead roles.


14. Devdas (2002)

It is the film that made Cannes Film Festival a household name in India. Film festivals were never a big thing in India which explains the lackluster condition of the few existing that are striving hard to carry on with their agenda year after year. When news broke out that Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s magnum opus was selected for a special screening the Indian went into frenzy broadcasting the news in its various capacities. Finally the D Day came when the team walked the red carpet of the much publicized event and the two leads – Shah Rukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai – arrived in a horse drawn carriage in full Indian style. The French media fell head over heels for the leading lady’s beauty so much so that they invited her as a main competition jury the next year. The film received a standing ovation post the screening. For better or for worse it was after this landmark event that the focus of the Indian media shifted entirely towards the clothes that celebrities wear at this glamorous film festival.


13. Guide (1965)

This Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman starrer enjoys cult status in India. Rosie and Raju (the guide) has been immortalized in people’s minds ever since the film hit the theatres in 1965. It was one of the first Indian films to be made in collaboration with an international team. A separate English version was produced by Tad Danielewski for the American audience with an aim to send the film to the Academy awards. Sadly the English version was a commercial failure. However poetic justice was delivered when after 42 years of its release, ‘Guide’ was invited for a screening at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival’s Classics section. The 85 year old Dev Anand was spirited enough to grace the event with his presence.


12. Titli (2014)

The director of ‘Titli’ Kanu Behl was tortured by the so called film censor board members to remove certain scenes and mute a few dialogues here and there. However after plenty of discussions and considerations from both the parties, the film finally released in India on October 30, 2015. Prior to its Indian release, ‘Titli’ had its world premiere in the ‘Un Certain Regard’ section of the 2014 Cannes Film Festival where it came close to winning the Caméra d’Or – an award for the best first feature film.


11. Kharij (1982)

This lesser known gem of a Bengali film by Mrinal Sen tells a heart wrenching human story about the ruthlessness of fate. The story involves the death of a child servant working in a middle-class family and the pain that the father of the deceased child goes through. It was nominated for a Golden Palm – the highest honour at the Cannes film Festival and was awarded the much deserving Jury prize.


10. Boot Polish (1955)

This Raj Kapoor produced film was an inspiring tale of the endurance of human spirit. It is widely considered to be one of the finest films of Bollywood’s golden era. It was not only successful in India but it was equally appreciated when it was screened at the French Riviera in the competition section. The child artist Baby Naaz who played the role of Belu was honoured with a Special mention when the winners of the 1955 Cannes Film Festival were announced.


9. Miss Lovely (2012)

It is perhaps the most interesting Indian film to ever make its way to the screening halls of Cannes. ‘Miss Lovely’ was a light shedding tribute to the little known world of Mumbai’s C-grade (horror and porn film) industry. When it competed in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes, critics from all over the world unanimously agreed that something like this had never been attempted in Indian cinema; a feat which made ‘Miss Lovely’ such a rare film to come out from the formula driven world of Hindi films. This one definitely deserves to be seen by any self proclaimed film lover.


8. Awaara (1951)

The song ‘Awaara Hoon’ from Raj Kapoor’s evergreen classic ‘Awaara’ became a sensation not only in India but also in parts of South Asia and Soviet Union back in the 1950s. It is a simple story love story between a poor guy and a rich girl and the challenges that life throws on them but Raj Kapoor’s Midas touch made the film so endearing and relatable to our lives that it is slowly turning into a regular in greatest films of all times list. It competed for the top prize at the 1953 Cannes Film Festival and was one of the shortlisted nominees for the much coveted honour of Palme d’Or.


7. Neecha Nagar (1946)

Chetan Anand’s ‘Neecha Nagar’ paved the way parallel cinema experimenting with the genre of social realism in Indian cinema. The film was loosely based on Maxim Gorky’s Lower Depths and a Hindi story written by Hayatullah Ansari. It marked the debut of legendary actress Kamini Kaushal. ‘Neecha Nagar’ is also an important film from a historical point of view. It became the first Indian film to gain recognition at the Cannes Film Festival when it became one of the winners to share the Grand Prix du Festival International du Film (Best Film) award in 1946.


6. Udaan (2010)

This Cannes breakout and a coming-of-age flick became a rage with the audiences of a particular age group. ‘Udaan’ scripted a Cannes success story like never before. It was officially selected for a screening in the Un Certain Regard category and was met with massive critical acclaim. The positive word of mouth spread like wild fire back home and when it released in India, it opened to encouraging feed back from both the public and hard to please critics. It wasn’t a big commercial success but all those who have seen the film will vouch for its slice of life appeal and its relatable story line. Rajat Barmecha who played the 17 year old young protagonist at the crossroads of his life gave an astounding performance which is also the highlight of the film.


5. Gangs of Wasseypur (2012)

To say that ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ made India proud at the international level would be a gross understatement. In today’s context we can call Anurag Kashyap’s two part magnum opus as India’s Game of Thrones. It is a bloody revenge saga where men are ruthless and women are sensuous. The offbeat director used every available commercial Bollywood tricks under the sun and turned them around their heads to give a unique perspective to his film. So you will find memorable dialogues (Beta, Tumse Na Ho Payega!) and quirky songs (I am a hunter, she want to see my gun) but also characters with flesh, blood and filthy mouths. The initial length of the film was over five hours so it was divided into two parts keeping in mind the business aspect of it.


4. The Lunchbox (2013)

Director Ritesh Batra’s debut feature film ‘The Lunchbox’ not only won hearts but souls as well. It is a wholehearted musing on life, food and love. When it was  showcased at the International Critics’ Week of the 2013 Cannes fest, the people loved it so much that they voted for it as the winner of the ‘Viewer’s Choice Award’. It’s Cannes exposure opened new doors for the film as it was selected for the Toronto film fest a few months later.


3. Salaam Bombay! (1988)

Mira Nair’s bleak tale of the street life of Bombay was the second Indian film to be nominated for a foreign language Oscar. However it got its first international recognition at Cannes where it won the Golden Camera and Audience awards. It is easily one of the most impactful Indian movies at Cannes ever. It single-handedly brought back the focus to Indian cinema with its harsh realism and scathing criticism.


2. Do Bigha Zameen (1953)

Bimal Roy was inspired to make ‘Do Bigha Zameen’ after watching the Italian classic ‘Bicycle Thieves’ (1948) and the film itself went on to set a new benchmark in the parallel cinema movement of India. Starring Balraj Sahni and Nirupa Roy in the lead roles, it was also noted for its socialist theme. The film won a hat-trick of important awards – The International Prize at Cannes, National Film award for best feature film and the Filmfare best film award.


1.Pather Panchali

What to say about a film which has already been so closely watched and researched by film scholars around the world. To simply put it the legend of Satyajit Ray began with this film. The first in the ‘Apu Trilogy’, it is noted for its humanist tale of poverty in a small Indian village. Winner of the best human document award at the 1956 Cannes film festival it marked the beginning of a glorious phase of Indian cinema and the birth of filmmaker who will show case the various colours of India to the world with his harsh but matter off act human dramas