Though Bollywood has an impressive and lengthy history with the Cannes Film Festival, the industry has, in recent years, found it nearly impossible to convince the world’s most prestigious festival to accept one of their films into the competition section. Vikramaditya Motwane’s coming-of-age drama Udaan was part of 2010’s Un Certain Regard, but it’s been some years since a Bollywood title has competed for the coveted Palme d’Or.
The 2011 edition of the festival will see a Bollywood-produced film in the main lineup, however it will be screened out of competition alongside Jodi Foster’s The Beaver and Rob Marshall's Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. A documentary tribute to the industry itself, Bollywood, The Greatest Love Story Ever Told is an 81 minute montage that, according to a statement released by the festival, pays homage to the industry “that has contributed to establishing India’s identity in the eyes of the world and to making Mumbai one of the world capitals of film history.”
The film, produced by director Shekhar Kapoor, was born out of a conversation with festival director Thierry Fremaux at 2010’s Cannes Film Festival, where Kapoor was serving as a juror. Fremaux agreed that there was a fascination with Bollywood, but there were no films he felt were worthy of a place in the competition lineup. The idea was then suggested that a film be made that collects some of the best moments from Bollywood’s rich history, and that’s precisely what Kapoor did. Jointly directed by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra (Delhi-6) and Jeff Zimbalist (The Two Escobars), the film was made exclusively for this 64th edition of the festival.
As a statement written by Kapoor clearly indicates, the relationship with Bollywood, even from those within the industry, is one of conflict: “We love it. We hate it. We see it as regressive. We see it as modern. We need it to breathe it to feel alive, and yet complain about its polluted air. Some say its melodramatic. Others call it Mythic. Some say it is the only culture that holds India together. Others say it is the greatest corrupting influence on Indians and would banish it from our shores. Some say it gives identity and individuality to 25 million Indians that have left her shores and who’s third generations that are still addicted to it.”
Though the film probably won’t alter perceptions, it may very well succeed in showing how Bollywood, with its lush pageantry of song and dance numbers has mastered melodrama in its most literal sense – that being the combination of melody plus drama. At the very least it will serve as an ode to the rich cultural diversity that is the very essence of the Bollywood film industry.
The film includes contributions from a handful of Bollywood superstars, including Aishwarya Rai, Katrina Kaif, Dev Anand, and Amitabh Bachchan.