Anurag Kashyap found himself inside Mumbai like all others when the first lockdown came three years ago. The independent filmmaker known for such critically-acclaimed movies as Gangs of Wasseypur and Dev.D, sat down to write a new script centred on an insomniac former police officer, who is long thought to be dead, but still operating for a corrupt system. Two years later, actor Rahul Bhat, who has previously worked with Kashyap in two of his films—Ugly (2013) and Dobaaraa (2022)—was shooting for the film, titled Kennedy, along with Sunny Leone, on the streets of Mumbai.
Now its production completed, Kennedy is ready for world premiere at the Cannes film festival on May 24. The film, part of the Midnight Screenings section of the famous festival that kicked off on May 16, marks the first time Kashyap is participating in the event with a feature film directed by him. Kennedy shares the festival’s Midnight Screenings programme with French-Algerian director-producer Elias Belkeddar’s The King of Algiers about a gangster on the run from authorities and South Korean writer-director Taegon Kim’s Project Silence about a group of people trapped in an airport bridge on the verge of collapse. The only time Kashyap was in Cannes official selection was in 2013, as the director of the short film, Murabba, which was part of Bombay Talkies, an anthology of four short films directed by Kashyap, Karan Johar, Zoya Akhtar and Dibakar Banerjee. It was also the year the Cannes festival celebrated the centenary of Indian cinema by choosing India as the official guest country.
Also read: Kathal movie review: Sanya Malhotra’s social comedy conveys the message without being too preachy
Kashyap, however, has had a remarkable run in Cannes in the last decade with such films as Gangs of Wasseypur (2012), Ugly (2014), Raman Raghav 2.0 (2016), all part of the Directors’ Fortnight selection. Three films produced or co-produced by the filmmaker have been in the official selection of the Cannes festival before, including Vikramaditya Motwane’s Udaan (2010) and Neeraj Ghaywan’s Masaan (2015). Another, called Monsoon Shootout directed by Amit Kumar, was part of the Midnight Screenings in Cannes in 2013. Shot in Mumbai mostly during nights over a month, Kennedy, produced by Zee Studios and Kashyap’s own production house Good Bad Films, also stars Dam 999 and Oru Modhal Oru Kadhal actor Mega Burman and award-winning theatre director and film editor Mohit Takalkar. Bhat plays the titular character in the film.
“I have lived with the character (Kennedy) for a very long time since I was writing for (filmmaker) Sudhir Mishra and he used to tell me stories of this mad policeman,” says Kashyap. “Then years later during the lockdown a headline incident happened in Mumbai that triggered an idea and I took the cop from Sudhir Mishra’s stories and put him around that incident and Kennedy was born,” he adds. “It is one of the films that suddenly comes to you and you write relentlessly till it’s fully formed. Then I was lucky to find people who believed in it as much as I did.”
Besides Kennedy, Indian films in Cannes official selection this year are Nehemich by Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune alumnus Yudhajit Basu in La Cinef (previously Cinéfondation) programme for film school productions and restored Manipuri film, Ishanou (The Chosen One) directed by Abiram Syam Sharma, in the Cannes Classics category. Shot in Pune and Satara district of Maharashtra, Nehemich explores superstitions surrounding menstruating women still practised in rural India. The film in Marathi language follows previous FTII, Pune selections like Payal Kapadia’s Afternoon Clouds in 2017 and Ashmita Guha Neogi’s CatDog in 2020 to La Cinef. “A woman is always isolated, except for food, in dingy inhumane conditions during her period in our rural areas. I wanted to find out what happened to these women during the lockdown,” says the Kolkata-born Basu. Selected from over 2,000 entries from film schools across the world, Nehemich will be competing with productions from some of the world’s finest film schools for La Cinef’s top prize. Oscar-nominated Hungarian director-screenwriter Ildikó Enyedi heads the La Cinef jury, which will also decide the winners of the short film competition at the festival. Nehemich will premiere on May 24.
Ishanou, veteran Manipuri director Aribam Syam Sharma’s sixth feature film, which premiered in Cannes in 1991, returned to the festival this year in a restored version to be part of the Cannes Classics section along with the works of such celebrated directors as Japanese filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu, French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard and American filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock. The film was screened on May 19 in the presence of its director, now 87. “My wife Teesha (Cherian) and I watched the film with Aribam Syam Sharma in Imphal in 2021 and we were moved and disturbed by the poor quality of the 35mm print. We decided to restore the film to its former glory,” says Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, the founder of Film Heritage Foundation that promotes India’s cinematic heritage. Dungarpur went on to work on restoring the film, which won the National Award for the Best Manipuri Film in 1991, in the next two years. It was the second successive year that a restored Indian film was part of Cannes Classics. Malayalam director G Aravindan’s Thampu, also restored by Film Heritage Foundation, was screened in the same section last year.
“Films like Thampu, Kummatty (also by Aravindan) and Ishanou (all restored by the Film Heritage Foundation in the last three years) are part of the new wave in Indian cinema. The restoration of Ishanou and its selection in Cannes is a big moment for the northeast and Indian cinema,” says Dungarpur. “The restoration work took about a year. It was very challenging as the material available to us was very poor. We worked closely with the director for the restoration,” he adds. The restoration was done by Italy’s famous film restoration laboratory, L’Immagine Ritrovata in Bologna, and Chennai’s Prasad Corporation. “Ishanou came to us for digital restoration,” says Prasad Corporation’s chief business officer Natraj Thangavelu. “The condition of the print was not good at all,” he adds.
Another independent filmmaker Kanu Behl’s new film, Agra, is the sole Indian entry in the Directors’ Fortnight parallel selection in Cannes this year. Goa-based filmmaker Ridham Janve’s new film project, The Sacrifice, is part of ten projects from around the world in the Cannes film market’s La Fabrique Cinéma programme for emerging filmmakers. Part of the Film Bazaar Recommends section in Goa last year, Agra, written by Behl and Atika Chohan, is a cinematic exploration of sexual dynamics within a modern Indian family. Produced by Saregama India, UFO Production and O28 Films, the film project was also at the PJLF Three Rivers residency programme in Italy for development and received support of the Cinemas du Monde film fund. “Agra has been a deeply personal and difficult exploration for me, a deep dive into the inner entrails of desire and male sexual repression, and an attempt to understand the hoodoo,” says Behl, who is making a return to Cannes after premiering his debut film, Titli, set in the badlands of Delhi’s underbelly, in Un Certain Regard section of the festival in 2014. “I’m overjoyed that the film is beginning its journey at Director’s Fortnight and I hope it opens a conversation around sexuality and the ‘homes’ we choose to live in, as it reaches a wider audience,” he adds. Agra will have its world premiere on May 24.
Also read: Sajid Nadiadwala’s NGE is back with Satyaprem Ki Katha; Know everything about Kartik Aaryan-Kiara Advani film
The Ajmer-born Ridham Janve, who debuted as a feature film director with The Gold-Laden Sheep and the Sacred Mountain shot in Himachal Pradesh at the Mumbai Film Festival in 2018, is the only Indian selected this year by the La Fabrique Cinema mentorship programme. Janve’s film project, The Sacrifice, set in ancient India is about a slave-turned-stable boy participating in an ancient conquest ritual led by a powerful king. Produced by Kartikeya Singh, who also produced Gurvinder Singh’s Chauthi Koot, which was part of Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes festival in 2015, The Sacrifice is looking for production backing from international and Indian producers in Cannes. “It is a story from India looking at our rich heritage. It will be an international film with an Indian root,” says Janve, an alumnus of the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad.
Faizal Khan is a freelancer