In this interview, Ambassador Lenain talks about the vision behind Bonjour India 2022, the festival’s major highlights which include photography and science exhibits that celebrate the India-French bond.

Bonjour India 2022 is an artistic, cultural, educational, and literary festival that celebrates the 75-year milestone of Indo-French diplomatic relations and India’s 75th year of Independence. An initiative by the Embassy of France and its cultural department Institut Français en Inde, along with the network of Alliances Françaises and the Consulates General of France, the festival is all set to delight the people of India with 120 curated and collaborative events across 19 cities this summer. This year, Bonjour India’s mascot is ‘The Little Prince,’ from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s book that embodies friendship. ‘The Little Prince’ is one of the first books that come to mind in India when people think of French literature. The world’s most translated non-religious book, it has also been translated into 13 Indian languages. Bonjour India 2022 was recently inaugurated nationally by the Ambassador of France to India, Emmanuel Lenain, at the Residence of France in New Delhi.

At the Lodhi Garden.

In this interview, Ambassador Lenain talks about the vision behind Bonjour India 2022, the festival’s major highlights which include photography and science exhibits that celebrate the Indo-French bond, the various international scholarships available to Indian students to study in France, and the continuing efforts to make French cinema more accessible to the Indian audiences. He also talks about his upcoming book of photographs about India on which he has collaborated with noted Indian photographer Raghu Rai and the agreement signed between India and France that aims to enhance co-produced projects, distribution, and training in the fields of cinema and various other related fields.
Excerpts
Q. Could you please share the vision behind Bonjour India 2022?
A. It is a very important cultural festival for us and we are delighted to bring 120 events in 19 cities across India. I believe no other festival ever organized by France abroad can boast of the same scale and diversity. India holds great importance for France and Bonjour India is a perfect way to celebrate 75 years of India’s Independence as well as the vibrant friendship between our countries as our diplomatic ties complete 75 years. We don’t just intend to entertain thousands but also want to restore a festive spirit and bring people together after two years of restrictions.
Q. What are the major highlights of the festival?
A. As far as the major highlights are concerned, we have an impressive show of photography. Titled ‘Convergence: A Panorama of Photography’s French Connections in India,’ the show depicts how the French artists, who traveled or lived in India from the mid-19th century to the 1970s, depicted India through the medium of photography. It’s really amazing because we are talking about 200 years of history of photography. And we are not talking about any clichéd or superficial work about India. These photographs actually provide a very good understanding of India and of course with great aesthetic value.
Then there is another exhibition titled ‘Science Beyond Borders,’ which depicts collaboration between France and India in the field of science. Many big projects and discoveries in India and France have been a result of Indo-French collaboration. Sometimes it’s a little thing, for example, JRD Tata’s taste in aviation had its origins in France. Sometimes it’s a story between two people, for example, India’s space ties with France began as early as 1963 when Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, the father of Indian Space programme, met Jacques Blamont, the first Scientist and Technical Director of the French Space Agency. ISRO and the sister institution in France, CNES have been partnering for 60 years and all the GSAT satellites that have been launched by ISRO have been launched with the French launcher Ariane. Also, when the Indian Railways adopted the 25 KV AC system of electrification as a standard in 1957, the French National Railways had provided the initial assistance and consultancy. So the science exhibition will explore all this and more.
Other than the photography and science exhibits we also have live performances, cinematic-gastronomic experiences, and modern circus acts, among other events as part of Bonjour India 2022.
Q. What are the different scholarships on offer for Indian students to pursue professional opportunities in France?
A. As far as scholarships are concerned, every year the French Embassy in India along with French companies award scholarships totaling up to 12 crore Indian rupees to more than 500 meritorious young Indian students who wish to pursue their higher education in France. The French government scholarship programme in India is called Charpak and is run by the Embassy of France in India. It offers funding opportunities for both full-time (Bachelor’s and Master’s studies) and short-term courses or training programmes in France. It’s a highly selective program and awardees are granted the status of French Government scholarship holder along with other benefits. The Eiffel Scholarship is offered by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MEAE) through Campus France Paris to the best international students. The scholarship programme is applicable only for Master’s and PhD studies. The awardees receive 1,181 Euros (master degree) and 1,400 Euros (PhD) per month, plus additional allowance for life expenditures. Make Our Planet Great Again (MOPGA) scholarship is offered by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MEAE) and the Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation (MESRI) to international students who wish to pursue a master degree program at a French institution in specific fields of study. The scholarship is offered at master’s, doctorate and post-doctorate level to Indian applicants.

Emmanuel Lenain, Ambassador of France to India.

Besides the scholarships offered by the French government, we also provide scholarships with companies via our Franco Indian Education Trust, and co-financed and joint scholarships with schools and foundation (like for example the Neemrana Music Foundation).
Q. Are there any scholarships on offer specifically for budding filmmakers?
A. The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and La Fémis have annually joined together to offer a summer program aimed at foreign film and television students, along with young film industry professionals, who wish to develop their practical and theoretical knowledge of documentary filmmaking in France. The summer university program runs for 9 weeks of intensive classes 5 days per week. It takes a maximum of 15 students from different countries: North Africa, Africa, Chili, Russia, India, Iran, Afghanistan, and Egypt.
The Embassy of France in India offers a scholarship for 2 months to an Indian student to attend this summer residency programme in France. The awardee is provided with a monthly stipend, return ticket to France, medical insurance coverage etc.
Finally, the Ecole nationale supérieure (ENS) Louis-Lumière – a French national film school known for its high-level training in sound – has introduced in 2021 a “Radio Documentary Summer Session” for international students. It’s a 5-week intensive training on the fundamentals of writing and recording a radio documentary, for which the Embassy provides scholarship to one Indian student.
Q. India and France both have a rich legacy of cinema. And yet not many French films release theatrically in India. Is there a roadmap to make French cinema more accessible to the Indian audiences?
A. Obviously it’s something that we need to work on. We are two great nations for the movie industry. India of course has a larger industry in terms of movies produced. As far as France is concerned, we are a pioneer country as far as the motion pictures are concerned. The Lumière Brothers had famously come to Mumbai at the turn of the previous century. So we feel that we should have more movies releasing theatrically from each other’s countries. Obviously there are some specificities like, for example, in order to fully enjoy Bollywood movies one needs to have seen a few of them. Similarly, French films have their own style which is quite distinct from both Bollywood as well as Hollywood movie. Of course, we have also had great co-production success stories like ‘Lunchbox’. Now, we use film festivals across India to bring our films to the Indian audiences. But, in the long run, we have a lot of work to do as we feel that movies are a good way to bring our two countries closer and so we need to work really hard in that direction.

Vikram Sarabhai and Jacques Blamont (right) in Thumba © CNES/ 1972

Q. Could you please also touch upon the highlights of the MOU signed between India and France about the co-production of films? What kind of support do you extend to Indian filmmakers if they want to shoot in France?
A. On the occasion of the visit of the French Minister of Culture in February 2020, France and India agreed on a plan aimed at enhancing film co-productions, students exchange in the field of cinema and a facilitated access to shootings in France. Since then, our two countries have been actively implementing this plan. We have tripled the number of professional training workshops, increased the number of annual co-productions and strengthened the Indian presence in festivals such as Cannes. Last but not least, we have created in France a dedicated body to provide as much help as possible. Through the French Film Committee for India films, we are bringing together French stakeholders of the cinema and tourism sectors in order to propose attractive offers for Indian movie-makers interested in shooting their films in France. We put everything together to provide unparalleled support. And so we are quite confident that in the near future we will see more and more Indian films getting shot in France
Q. When can we expect your book of photographs to be out? Also what can we expect from it?
A. Well, it’s already printed and we plan to release on the 26th of April and after that we have planned a month long exhibition. It’s in collaboration with noted Indian photographer Raghu Rai. It’s an idea that came during Covid. He liked some of the photography work that I have done here in India and so he suggested me to come up with a collaborative work featuring my photographs shot across India and his photographs from France which he has never published. So It basically brings together two different visions about each other’s country. It’s been very exciting work to do, with some great mutual learning. We have selected a total of 160 black & white photographs i.e. 80 each. The book has got two sides: ‘In India’ and ‘To France’.