Cannes 2018: Barred directors, banned film and Nandita Das’ ‘Manto’

Cannes: Sections of the Indian contingent at the 71st Cannes Film Festival are keenly awaiting the world premiere of the only title from the subcontinent in the official selection – Nandita Das’ “Manto”.

But you wouldn’t guess if you went by the activities unfolding in the India Pavilion in the festival’s Village International. The presence of the long-deceased Manto, an uncompromising writer who fought all his working life to protect his creative freedom, is being felt more in his absence.

A buzz could be expected on Sunday when the film, starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui in the eponymous role, surfaces in the competitive Un certain regard section.   Coincidentally, Manto will screen within an hour of Jafar Panahi’s main Cannes Competition title “Se Rokh” (3 Faces).

The feted Iranian director, under house arrest in Tehran for the ‘crime’ of making films inimical to the regime, will not be in attendance as official permission for him to travel to the French Riviera is unlikely to be granted. Fellow Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, whose Spanish-language psychological drama Everybody Knows, opened the Cannes Film Festival on Tuesday, rued Panahi’s anticipated absence.  He wound up his Wednesday morning press conference by saying: “I find it difficult to live with the fact that Panahi will not be in Cannes. It is wonderful that he continues to make films against all odds. I am hoping against hope that he will be permitted to travel with his film.”

Panahi isn’t the only Palme d’Or contender who will have to give Cannes a miss. Russian theatre person, film director and dissident Kirill Serebrinnikov, whose rock-heavy drama “Leto” (Summer), a story of music, love and frayed friendship set in Leningrad in pre-Perestroika 1981 when singer Viktor Tsoi rose to prominence and changed Russian rock forever, premiered on Wednesday night, has had his house arrest recently extended by a Moscow court.

Serebrinnikov’s critically acclaimed “Uchenik” (The Student) played in Un certain regard in 2016. But this year he will be unable to join his actors Irina Starshenbaum, Teo Yoo and Roman Bilyk either on the red carpet or in the media conference room although his film is in the running for the festival’s prizes.

Kenyan director Wanuri Kahiu is not so out of luck. While her LGBT love story “Rafiki” (Friend) is banned in her country, the first film ever from the African country to make the Cannes cut was premiered in the presence of the director and her two lead actresses, Samantha Mugatsia and Sheila Munyiva. In her brief but pointed introduction, the young director said: “Even though Rafiki cannot be shown in Kenya, we can show it to you. It is a great honour. We are here to celebrate love and hope. I am distressed with much that is happening in my country but I am proud to be Kenyan.” With three free-thinking filmmakers under varying degrees of duress in their respective countries and one legendary Urdu short story writer who during his tumultuous lifetime dared to speak the truth – in its programming mix, the 71st Cannes Film Festival is, as always, standing up for the licence of artists to go where they wish.

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