If you are an Indian, the very name Cannes evokes images of the legendary Satyajit Ray, his cinematic legacy and all that stuff. It is also true that this town has since 1946 been the centre of attraction of the cinematic world. Every year this charming and sophisticated part of the French Riviera comes alive with the annual Cannes Film Festival - literally converting the town with a veritable urbane, classy and chic destination.
So much so that the Croisette neighbourhood has phenomenally evolved as the most talked about promenade of the entire Riviera. Replete with swaying palm trees, signature palaces chic and luxurious boutiques that are resplendent with art deco edifices! What an outstanding experience it is to stroll leisurely along this famous promenade and beyond – Boulevard de Midi, Allées de la Liberté, the flea markets and the dramatically forested La Croix des Gardes.
Many legends have set foot on the historic nerve centre of Cannes Le Suquet – easily one of the oldest historic quarters in Cannes, offering jaw-dropping natural vistas to satiate the contemporary world’s obsession with things artistic and vintage.
This year, India is celebrating the birth centenary of the legendary Satyajit Ray and May 2nd, 2021 marked the centenary celebrations. Needless to say, Ray, the cinematic maestro happens to be the only Indian to have won the honorary Oscar way back in the year 1992.
At a time when India as a nation is celebrating Satyajit Ray’s centenary year, I recall those few hours before his passing away. I had accompanied my father to New Delhi, who was on a World Bank assignment and was scheduled for an important meeting at Krishi Bhawan. We were put up in Assam House at the upscale Chankyapuri neighbourhood of New Delhi and the news was that the legendary Satyajit Ray had just passed away. An MP from Assam was so moved by the proceedings of the Indian Parliament that day; and he shared those emotional moments at the Indian Parliament with us at the dinner table where there was an outpouring of tributes by all the MPs, cutting across all party lines, dogmas and political beliefs.
The Indian Parliament’s tribute to that great soul was:
Homage to the great son of India. Humanity was poorer after his demise. In his passing, at the age of seventy, the world has lost a renaissance man who left human civilization richer by producing over thirty-five films and countless other creative works.
Heart touching! Ain’t it?
If we revisit and take our clocks back to the era of 1950s and take a sneak peek into the Indian legend’s charismatic presence in Cannes’ cinematic landscape; well-nigh the global cinematic space, that created a huge impact at the altar of Cannes Film Festival, one has to go on a journey back in time to the year 1955.
That year, in the hallowed presence of stalwarts like Sir David Lean, Vittorio De Sica, Ingmar Bergman and other big names of the cinematic world, in came the legendary Ray - all of six feet two inches tall with his debut film - Pather Panchali (Song of the Road) - a full-length Bengali feature film. For whatever reasons, the film was screened at night and one distinguished film critic François Truffaut reportedly walked out of the hall in disgust.
However, the mandarins of the Cannes Film Festival observed the underlying intensity of the film and requested a second screening of Pather Panchali the next day afternoon. And, the rest as they say was history. The film not just received a standing ovation from the distinguished guests and jury, but went on to win the much-celebrated “Best Human Document Film Award”.
In today’s Bengal, Satyajit Ray isn’t just an icon. He is a legend in his own rights and his cinematic legacy is an integral part of contemporary Bengali folklore. Many compare Satyajit Ray’s brilliant cinematic mind with another irresistible Bengali icon – the great cyclonic monk Swami Vivekananda (1863–1902) who shook the global spiritual landscape with his awesome speech 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago.
If Swami Vivekananda was India’s spiritual ambassador, Ray was and will continue to be India’s cultural ambassador to the world. Who can forget that epoch-making month of May in the year 1982 - the Festival de Cannes was on and in the gracious presence of twelve of the world’s greatest filmmakers, the mandarins of the festival decided to host a one-of-a-kind tribute to the great cinematographer themed “Hommage à Satyajit Ray”.
Many in the Indian cinematic industry consider the year 1982 to be one of the most spectacular one, in terms of quality with Mrinal Sen in the jury, Goutam Ghose’s Dakhal finding space in the Director’s Fortnight section, Adoor Gopalkrishnan’s Elippathayam was screened in the “Un Certain Regard” section. The very best of Indian cinema was unleashed at the altar of Cannes Film.
Old-timers in Kolkata’s Tollywood still recall with pride and uncharacteristic Bengali swagger the manner in which Ray, who was all of six feet two, strode in his quintessential cavalier fashion at the lavish Hotel Martinez in Cannes, wearing his signature jacket and his trademark nonchalance.
He was not only conferred with the Directors’ Trophy – an award reserved specifically for the greatest directors in Cannes for the past 35 years. And Oh God! What a speech. “This is a very special day for me… the first international prize I ever won as a filmmaker was in Cannes for my first film… but there was no question of my being present here personally to receive the award… twenty-five years after that event, today, for the first time on my first trip to Cannes, I am here to receive this award in the presence of the most distinguished filmmakers which makes me very happy and very proud…”.
Long back Aristotle had quoted: “No great genius has ever existed without some touch of madness”; while Albert Einstein was once quoted as saying: “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex ... It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction”. Satyajit Ray wasn’t just a renowned filmmaker; he was a born genius. And “A Master of World Cinema”.
On hindsight, it is equally true that had Ray-The Maestro been alive today, he would have hugely appreciated the manner in which Indian Cinema has evolved over the past few decades, particularly the amazing richness and diversity of “Regional Cinema”. Renowned film producer Ekta Kapoor sums up the upbeat mood of India Inc. thus "We have a lot of inbuilt local flavour in storytelling. Collaboration is the way forward. I feel we have still not fully explored the power of Indian content. We will amaze people with our content”.
A lot has changed in Cannes since those days of Satyajit Ray’s rendezvous with world cinema. The Festival is by far the largest in terms of both the number of filmmakers invited and delegates. Today, at the International Village, a dedicated team of experts looks after the marketing side - the Marché du Film, that caters to the exacting needs of the 40,000 plus people who converge upon this part of the French Riviera during the ten-day festival.
During Ray’s time, the festival was more laidback, while now, starch white pavilions have been built along the beachside to accommodate the international guests. The Village is within close proximity to the Palais des Festivals, which means, today it is a lot convenient to hold press conferences, organise gala parties, PR launches and what have you. Launched in the year 2000, the International Village today has the capacity to cater to discerning guests from more than 60 countries.
The Cannes Film Festival’s beautiful metamorphosis into the ultimate cinematic capital of the world is unmatched by any other Film Festival. The best part of the Festival is that the emphasis is on “purposeful celebration” and contribute significantly towards the overall development of world cinema per sé.
No other city in the world admires cinema as the city of Cannes does. The informal nature of the city is very palpable, which is further complimented by the warm and friendly attitude of the locals. All you need to do is hop into one of Cannes’ signature tourist train and drink in the sight of immaculate museums, wall paintings and the quaint city squares. The “Train of the Cinema” in particular is a big hit with visitors. And, if you have time on hand, embarking on a train trip to Suquet could be very rewarding.
Cannes never ceases to amaze you – be it the novel initiative like the Allée des Étoiles du Cinéma, wherein celebrity actors and film directors leave hand imprint along with their signatures as a mark of posterity to the sheer exclusivity of the Ephemeral Museum that showcases the very best of 7th Art. Truly! Cannes is classy.
Traveller’s fact file
There are two airports - Nice-Côte d'Azur International Airport and Cannes-Mandelieu.
Cannes is never short of high-quality luxury hotels. Most high-end luxury hotels are located in close proximity to the Croisette, the balmy beaches and the Palais des Festivals. Some of Cannes’ renowned hotels are: Hôtel Martinez, Hôtel Barrière Le Majestic Cannes, JW Marriott, The Carlton, Tiara Yaktsa.
With close to 400 restaurants, the eating out scene in Cannes is explosive – ranging from Provencal to Mediterranean and Nouvelle Cuisine. The bay area is the most preferred dining spot.