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Bollywood adds spice to the fest

Cannes pays tribute to Hindi cinema

LONDON — Stand by for the soft rustle of ghaghra choli on the Palais steps as both New and Old Bollywood get the red-carpet treatment at Cannes this year.

With the out-of-competition global bow of megaproduction “Devdas” and a three-pic tribute to Bollywood legend Raj Kapoor, the Cannes Film Festival pays a well-deserved salute to commercial Hindi cinema.

Though Cannes is eating the dust of other fests in acknowledging Bollywood, artistic director Thierry Fremaux tells Variety he’d already discussed the idea with prez Gilles Jacob before “Lagaan’s” Locarno festival screening in August, and “Asoka” at the 2001 Venice and Toronto fests.

“I pointed out that here was a hugely productive industry that Cannes had not welcomed in a long, long time. (Last Bollywood production shown at Cannes was in 1964.) Then the whole ‘Lagaan’ thing happened, and a colleague went to India to research possible titles,” says Fremaux.

Pic selected is one of the most awaited Bollywood productions of the year: a lavish, star-laden remake of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhye’s novel “Devdas.” Book was previously filmed most famously by P.C. Barua in 1935 and by Bimal Roy in 1956 (in Hindi).

Helmer of the 2002 version is Sanjay Leela Bhansali, whose previous movie, the roller-coaster musical “Hum dil de chuke sanam” (1999), is already a New Bollywood classic.

Bhansali has a high-powered star cast for his third pic. Hunk du jour Shah Rukh Khan (“Asoka”) takes the title role of the rich kid led astray; one-time Miss World Aishwarya Rai plays his rural childhood love; and screen siren Madhuri Dixit is the big-city hooker who tempts the hero.

Cannes also pays homage to Bollywood showman Kapoor (1924-1988), senior member of the Kapoor acting dynasty and himself immensely popular in the 1950s as an actor-director-producer.

The fest will screen “Awaara” (1951), which originally competed at Cannes in 1953, as well as the first pic made for his own company, “Aag” (1948), and the romantic meller “Barsaat” (1949). All three will be shown in new prints.

“I had the idea for the Kapoor tribute some time ago,” says Fremaux, “and we watched about 10 of his movies on DVD to make a selection. In the end we decided on his black-and-white films rather than the later ones, as so much beautiful work was done during the precolor era in Bollywood.”