Cannes jurist Vidya Balan sees golden age for Indian cinema

Bollywood's Vidya Balan sees Cannes as 'an opportunity to reach our cinema to a wider world'.

The actress Vidya Balan. AFP Photo
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As the Cannes Film Festival prepares to join in the celebrations for Indian cinema's 100th birthday, one of the biggest names in modern-day Bollywood says the industry is enjoying a new golden age.

Vidya Balan, the star of Bollywood hits such as The Dirty Picture, will be among the jurors deciding this year's feature film award at Cannes, as the traditional movie industry doffs its hat to its younger Indian cousins.

The 35-year-old Balan is herself a symbol of the changing face of Indian filmmaking, having won a reputation as a risk-taking heroine in an industry where leading roles have traditionally been the preserve of men.

"We are going through a wonderful time in Indian cinema," Balan said in an interview ahead of her departure for the French Riviera. "We are celebrating versatility in every way - content, treatment, presentation - and all of it is unapologetically Indian."

Balan is one of two Indian actresses who have been invited as a juror, with the actress and director Nandita Das returning to Cannes as a part of the Cinefondation jury after a debut stint in 1995.

The festival will feature a gala screening of Bombay Talkies, a four-part feature by four contemporary Indian directors - Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee, Karan Johar and Zoya Akhtar.

And there will also be screenings of Amit Kumar's Monsoon Shootout, Ritesh Batra's Lunch Box, Anurag Kashyap's Ugly and Manjeet Singh's Chenu.

Balan sees Cannes as "an opportunity to [take] our cinema to a wider world.

"Indian cinema has a big audience within the diaspora, but our cinema has a unique style and grammar," she said. "Our films tend to be longer, they have songs and dances, the dramatic quotient is higher and we follow a different rhythm of storytelling. This is our cinematic heritage and our uniqueness. It's why our movies are loved by our audiences around the world.

"We should celebrate this, and with the world becoming a smaller place, I am sure more and more people the world over will wake up to the magic of Indian cinema."

Balan has defied the "size zero" definition of Bollywood heroines, and fought back against constant criticism for her sartorial choices by embracing the Indian national dress - the sari.

She is more likely to be seen in a sari by the Indian fashion designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee than the showy evening gowns favoured by Hollywood's leading ladies.

Asked if she felt pressure to look immaculate given the media attention on red carpet couture, Balan said she would stick to the sari.

"If it was an Indian male actor on the Cannes jury, would he have been questioned about what he was going to wear and if he was stressed about it? Something to think about in these times of gender equality."


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