Like the Oscar Awards, the other International Award that is looked upon with esteem in the world is the Cannes Film Festival, an annual congregation of world cinema held at Cannes in France. The highest award is called – The Palme d’Or (French) or Golden Palm in English.
Interestingly, though Indian cinema has never won an Oscar award for Best Film but at Cannes Film Festival, India has the honor of winning a single award in the Best Film Category. The First and the last Indian Film to win Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival was Neecha Nagar (1946). The film was directed by Bollywood film genius Chetan Anand better known for his hit films like Taxi Driver (1954), Funtoosh (1956), Haqeeqat (1964), Heer Raanjha (1970), Hanste Zakhm (1973), Kudrat (1981).
After Neecha Nagar, no Indian film won the Palme d’Or Award to date. What is most admirable about Neecha Nagar is that the film had tough competition with many remarkable films that year like Roberto Rossellini’s Rome, Open City (Italy), David Lean’s Brief Encounter (UK), and Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend (USA). It is thus commendable that Chetan Anand‘s Neecha Nagar won India a place of pride in world cinema.
It may be noted Chetan Anand was a member of the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) in Bombay which was an organization of people associated with the progressive movement. Here he befriended famous writer K.A. Abbas and in association with Abbas, Chetan Anand made his debut film Neecha Nagar. The film was written by Abbas and focused upon the gulf between the rich and the poor.
Readers would be surprised to know that Neecha Nagar was far ahead of its time as it presented the story of how the builder’s lobby diverts a sewage drain into the slums of the poor to kick them out and build buildings!!! Aren’t the same things being done in the metropolitans’ cities of India today??
Probably the topic being too innovative and hard-hitting, the film was a box-office failure but a winner at International award festivals. The major highlight of the film was it was India’s first ‘Realistic Cinema’ that was filmed on actual locations and depicted the harsh realities of India. After Neecha Nagar, the art cinema came into existence with Satyajit Ray‘s Pather Panchali (1955) and Shyam Benegal‘s Ankur (1974) giving a boost to art cinema.
It is ironic that while Satyajit Ray and Shyam Benegal became famous globally as brilliant filmmakers regrettably Chetan Anand the filmmaker who introduced art cinema in Indian cinema died unsung on July 6, 1997.