Cannes entry boosts India's indie scene

'Udaan' India's first Cannes competitor since 2003

NEW DELHI -- India's only official Cannes entry this year (in the Un Certain Regard category), “Udaan” ("Flight") seems to reflect a coming of age story for the burgeoning independent scene in the world's most prolific industry.

In addition to flying the flag for the country as the first official Indian nominee at Cannes after 2003, “Udaan” is an offbeat tale of a teenage boy who, after being abandoned for eight years in a boarding school, returns home and finds himself closeted with an authoritarian father and a younger half brother who he didn’t even know existed.

“Udaan," which screened at the festival Wednesday, also marks a return to Cannes for director Vikramaditya Motwane, who last visited the Croisette in 2002 as an assistant director to well-known Bollywood helmer Sanjay Leela Bhansali for the premiere of musical “Devdas."

“When I wrote 'Udaan' in 2003 and tried to pitch it to producers, the response was discouraging given the offbeat story and lack of major star power, let alone that I was a debutante director,” recalled Motwane.

When good friend and acclaimed writer/director Anurag Kashyap read the script, Kashyap had a premonition of sorts and said, “Nobody can produce this film except me!” Only, at the time Kashyap was himself struggling to establish a name given his lack of commercial success despite the critical and controversial heat generated by his films such as 2004's “Black Friday."

But Kashyap's 2009 breakthrough “DevD” which Motwane cowrote -- a cutting edge take on the classic romantic novel “Devdas," also the basis for Bhansali's Bollywood version –- gave Kashyap enough commercial credibility while cementing his relationship with “DevD” producer UTV Motion Pictures.

In true indie spirit, Kashyap got “Udaan” funded from a private investor, real estate businessman Sanjay Singh, who bankrolled the film's modest $660,000 budget. “We finished the final cut in January and sent it to Cannes. And then one day I woke up in the morning to see an email informing me that the film was selected,” said Motwane. “UTV picked up the film for distribution even before the Cannes nomination,” added Kashyap.

With a clear mandate to offer big budget Bollywood blockbusters and edgy, independent fare, UTV has developed a diversified slate which includes India's Oscar entry this year “Harischandrachi Factory” and the recent “Peepli Live," the first Indian competition nominee at Sundance.

“As the only Indian banner at Cannes this year with an official entry, UTV is reflecting the evolution of Indian cinema with our titles which have the potential to cross over to wider audiences,” says UTVMP CEO Siddharth Roy Kapur.


As to why there are few Indian films that make an international impact, Motwane said that as an industry “we are making projects, not films. Hollywood also makes lots of projects but they also make films. We really need to emphasize more the importance of the script rather than just chasing stars and formulaic plots.”

But the growing multiplex culture has been a major boon to showcase edgy fare Motwane said, adding, “I think it is safe to say that India is on the verge of a breakthrough in terms of a new kind of Indian cinema that can appeal to a larger audience. We are getting there in terms of competing with other countries like Korea or Argentina."
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