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From working in advertising agencies to acting in ‘Mantostaan’, a film that received standing ovation after its premiere at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival this year, Sonal Sehgal has enriched her career path with work that she loves doing. ‘Mantostaan’ is a film close to her heart since she loves the works of late Pakistani author/playwright/writer Saadat Hasan Manto. As a debutant at Cannes Sonal’s experience at the festival was overwhelming, that she shares excerpts of, with us…

You debuted on Canned Red Carpet. How was the experience?

It was amazing! You know Cannes has a certain criteria for invites– you need to have a certain IMDB (International Movie Database) rating. I’d called a friend to catch up with her since I was going to be there, but she couldn’t get access to any of the venues because she didn’t have an IMDB account! This shows that they respect cinema to another level! There is so much appreciation for good films. Everybody is gathered there to watch and critique films, for the love of it. An orchestra breaks into a symphony before every film screening. It’s grand and it makes you realize how seriously they take cinema. You can’t wear a cocktail dress because they have a strict code of conduct there. Even the photographers are in tuxedos! In India you often get cheesed off when you see people dressing down for screenings.

Go on…

Well, not a big issue but it’s nice to dress up for such events you know. It’s not about fashion, but the respect you give to the filmmaker, the cast and crew. I mean you work so hard on a film and then you see people coming in t-shirts and denims at your screening. It’s a special night for you, but the audience doesn’t share your enthusiasm. Cannes was a refreshing change in that sense. Fashion is of course a significant part, but it’s mainly about a grand celebration of films.

You got to watch Robert De Niro’s film ‘Hand Of Stone’… How was it?

Oh my god, I can’t begin to describe! You know, guests and audience walk the carpet and enter the premiere hall, before the cast and crew of the film. We could watch the red carpet scene live on screens. When Robert De Niro arrived on the red carpet, people inside the premiere hall stood up! He wasn’t even inside the room but people couldn’t care less about that. That’s the kind of respect he commands. When I see my life, I covet something like this – that at 70, I command this kind of respect – for people to stand up just with my presence around them (laughs).

How was it to showcase ‘Manstostaan’ at Cannes?

It was unbelievable! It’s not like I’m showcasing my film to my friends and family, right? These people are not obliged to tell me that the movie was good. There was a Venezuelan sitting right beside me and it was just amazing to see the kind of audience there and interact with them. After the film ended there was pin-drop silence. No one moved to exit or anything. After a few seconds there was thunderous applause echoing through the walls of the theatre. It was overwhelming; and then something really funny happened after the premiere!

What happened after the premiere?

Oh gosh! So, after screenings The Palais des Festivals et des Congrès (the main road) is shut for an hour and all the attendees go to other venues on foot. So, while I was walking to the other side, a group of paparazzi surrounded me, out of nowhere, and started clicking my pictures and I wondered if they even know who  I am (laughs). I was mobbed by the paparazzi in a foreign land for the first time. My co-cast members walked ahead but I lagged behind because the group of photographers was getting bigger by the second. One saw the other clicking and ran towards the crowd! Then a French Policeman came up to me and escorted me to the other side. It was so sweet of him to do that. But, the experience was hilarious!

Cannes has the best films from across the world. What do you think Hindi cinema lacks today that you see elsewhere?

See, I refuse to believe there is no talent in our country. I know of brilliant writers and directors. There are unconventional films being made today, like ‘Queen’. But, I think producers should have more faith in stories and good scripts. I think what generally Hindi movies lack today are good scripts and stories. Since money drives the business, producers gravitate towards candy floss films.

Since you are a voracious reader, it fits to ask this – 5 Bollywood/Hollywood actors whose autobiographies you’d love to read…

Oh, yes. I am a voracious reader. (Ponders) I think I’d like to read Kangana Ranaut’s book, Irrfan Khan’s autobiography, just to know how he managed to be so successful without ever adhering to the conventional rules of cinema. I’d love to read Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio’s books. I’d want to read about Meryl Streep’s life too. I’ve read biographies of personalities like Andre Agassi , Nadal and one thing I find common in them is their struggle and their rise. The ups and downs they see in life is something we can’t imagine. I mean what can I cry about? Not getting a film? When I read their struggles and how they overcame it, it truly inspires me!

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