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Cannes jurist Balan sees golden age for Indian cinema

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

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 "The Dirty Picture", will be among the jurors deciding this year's feature film award in 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 film-making, having garnered 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 told AFP in an exclusive interview ahead of her departure to 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 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 reach our cinema to a wider world" and showcase its coming of age in the last decade, evidenced by selection at film festivals and growing audiences beyond the diaspora.

And Balan believes Indian cinema has the potential to make further inroads with international audiences.

"Indian cinema has a big audience within the diaspora, but our cinema has a unique style and grammar and that too differs between the many different Indian language films," 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 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 told AFP 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," she said.

With a string of hits such as "Paa", "No One Killed Jessica" and "Kahaani" to her name, Balan has both broken stereotypes of the kind of roles actresses can play and proved that a woman can deliver at the box office.

"I feel humbled to be thought of as an actor who can shoulder a movie on her own. I have always responded to the story, role, director and producer, in that order," she said.

"The intention has never been to make a statement with the roles I have played or to make any larger point, but just to play an interesting role in a great story directed by a talented filmmaker and hopefully backed by a strong studio.

"In the course of this, if the roles I have played have helped make a positive change in the way the commercial viability of female actors is perceived, I am thrilled about that."

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130511/cannes-jurist-balan-sees-golden-age-indian-cinema