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India Returns to Cannes Film Festival Competition, Offers Incentives

India Returns to Cannes Film Festival Competition, Offers Incentives

India is ending its decades-long absence from the Palme d’Or this year with Payal Kapadia’s All We Imagine As Light lining up against the likes of Yorgos Lanthimos’ Kinds of Kindness and Francis Ford Coppola’s Megalopolis for the major prize of the Cannes Film Festival.

Kapadia’s feature – which follows two nurses on a road trip to the beach as they try to chase their dreams and escape their domestic dilemmas – is the first film selected from the country since 1994 to be in the running for the Palme d’Or. News that All We Imagine as Light landed in the competition lineup made waves in India, where its ascension was seen as confirmation of the increased international reach of Indian cinema a year after the global hit RRR won the Oscar for best original song and helped redefine the conversation about how far the country’s cultural exports could travel.

But for Indian industry insiders who have waited 30 years since Shaji N. Karun’s Swaham (My Own) for a chance at Palme d’Or glory, awards recognition and persuading global audiences to see Indian-produced films are just a couple of pieces of the equation. Making the case to foreign filmmakers about the benefits of shooting in India also is top of mind.

At Cannes this year, India is pitching itself as a location for international productions hoping to take advantage of the country’s exotic locales, more affordable labor costs, and its workforce that has plenty of experience making movies. Among its selling points is a revised Film in India incentive plan that now offers as much as a 40 percent rebate for spending that tops out at $3.6 million.

“India has all the right resources for the international producers to consider basing their next production, be it a live shoot or animation project or just for production services like visual effects and animation,” says Sanjay Jaju, secretary to the Government of India, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. 

The Film in India plan launched at Cannes two years ago with a cap of $3 million, with increased incentives introduced in December. Jaju says this jump already “has attracted many productions” to the country.

Among them is All We Imagine as Light, which joins two other Indian co-productions screening in competition at Cannes this year: the Sandhya Suri-directed drama Santosh (Un Certain Regard) and Karan Kandhari’s dark comedy Sister Midnight (Directors’ Fortnight). Meanwhile, students from the Film and Television Institute of India are behind Sunflowers Were the First Ones to Know, which will screen in the student-centric La Cinef section of Cannes.

Santosh is set in the northern Indian countryside around the city of Lucknow. It stars Shahana Goswami as a widowed woman who is offered her dead husband’s job as a cop. Initially, the British-based filmmakers were not sure how they could pull off such a film.

‘Santosh’

Cannes Film Festival

Santosh was always destined to be a challenge because it is a predominantly U.K. production from a U.K. director and U.K. producers,” says producer Mike Goodridge of Good Chaos, one of the companies behind the movie. “So how was that team going to make a film effectively in India in Hindi with an Indian cast and crew?” 

The answer, Goodridge says, was its partnership with the Mumbai-based Suitable Pictures, which boarded the feature to help the team navigate shooting in the country. 

“Our hurdles were swiftly overcome and we were able to enter production with relative speed and efficiency,” says Goodridge, who also worked with BBC Film and Razor Film on the project.

Sister Midnight, meanwhile, is set in Mumbai and is described as a “punk comedy, a feminist revenge film, and a revamped vampire movie rolled into one.” It follows the travails of a young woman (Radhika Apte) trapped in an arranged marriage. Along the way, she discovers that life in a Bombay slum is not what she wants and finds that she has a thirst for revenge.

“Filming in India, in the world’s most active film industry, was both an exciting and daunting prospect,” said Anna Griffin, the project’s U.K.-based executive producer who is representing Wellington Films on the movie. “We worked very closely with our production partners, and it was clear from the very beginning that the team they were building around the project had a passion for independent filmmaking and sensibilities in production that aligned with ours.” Its backers include the U.K.’s Film4 and BFI, while its producers include Radhika, Suitable Pictures, and Alan McAlex.

These projects were made thanks to a co-production agreement India has with France. In addition, India has co-production agreements with 15 other countries: Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, Israel, Italy, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, South Korea, Russia, Spain and the U.K. 

In recent years, notable features shot in the country have included the Chris Hemsworth starrer Extraction 2 (2023), which is part of arguably Netflix’s most important action franchise, and the Oscar-nominated feature The White Tiger (2020), which also streamed on Netflix.

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Officials are hoping to up the number of big films such as these, but also smaller projects.

In the two years since Film in India was announced, it has been revised a dozen times in the hope of bringing in more interest. In addition to the financial incentives, a key selling point is what government officials call a “single window” permission system that allows producers to bypass complicated bureaucracies to film at locales such as ancient desert forts, colorful festivals, and cinematic beaches.

“We have taken steps to ease the process of application for filming permits and provide a single-window system for the whole country through an enhanced web portal for the Film Facilitation Office,” says Prithul Kumar, who serves as joint secretary (films), Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and managing director of the National Film Develop Council of India.

The Indian film industry produces as many as 2,000 features a year, something foreign producers say speaks to the amount of qualified crew available for work on productions. “Filmmaking is in the DNA of India, so we were tapping into a continentwide tradition,” notes Santosh producer Goodridge.

Kumar is particularly pleased that a few of the films recently shot in India are getting recognition this year at Cannes. “It is heartening to have more Indian projects in the Cannes official selection this year,” says Kumar, noting that two of them “have been beneficiaries of the support of the government in terms of incentives and as official co-productions.” 

‘Sister Midnight’

Wellington Films/Cannes Film Festival

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