The 16th Mumbai Film Festival was a triumph for all for a film festival that nearly did not happen, the 16th edition of the Mumbai Film Festival surpassed expectations: I saw at least a handful of good films, and a couple that were outstanding; I encountered only one that was a complete clunker. By all accounts, it was a good week at the movies.
The little flicker of anxiety on the part of the organisers was visible only to a few eyes. That the festival was pulled together in barely six weeks (the chief sponsor pulled out at the last minute, leaving the organisers to scramble for funds and wealthy well-wishers) was largely not evident: not in the selection of films, (178, from 62 countries), which was, as usual, good, or in the way festival was conducted. Barring a couple of glitches, everything went as planned, and at the end of the week, you could feel the sense of exhilaration in those who put it together.
For those of us who fetch up annually in Mumbai for the festival, it was a feast, nonetheless. Except for the opening film, which was a turkey, I did not run into anything else that was rank. Serena had glamour (Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence), and an award-winning director, Susanne Bier, and nothing else. But everything else I caught, in my four-five -films-a-day week, ranged from the average to good to excellent, and made up by miles for the dodgy start.
My list of the really good ’uns began with Refugiado (Argentina), which was about a woman trying to shake off an abusive husband, with a child in the explosive mix. Watching the worn face of the mother, you realise that it didn’t matter which language the film is in: relationships are the same all over the world, and when the going gets tough, the weak either crumble, or stand up and fight.
Gett, The Trial Of Viviane Amsalem, a France-Germany-Israel co-production takes a broken marriage and doesn’t try to fix it. Viviane wants a divorce; her husband refuses to let her go. The story telling is sparse, yet effective, showing how deep-seated patriarchy and misogyny is in some sections of Israeli society.
But the film that blew me away was Klauni (Clownwise), a co-production between Slovakia-Luxembourg-Czech Republic-Finland, which tracks the journey of three former clowns who re-unite after 40 years. The men are older, greyer, but not necessarily wiser: each frame is a surprise, and it doesn’t get any better for an old festival hand. Of the new Indian voices, the one that rose to the top was Chaitanya Tamhane’s Court (Marathi), which is one of the best debuts I have seen in a while (the last one being Anand Gandhi’s The Ship of Theseus). At its beating heart is an unlikely hero — a poet and a rebel — who becomes a victim of a defunct judicial system which has been hollowed from within and without. Court is scary, and a powerful indictment of the country we live in.
Another fine debut was Avinash Arun’s Killa, also in Marathi, beautifully shot and eloquently told, about a young boy and his mother finding their feet in a tiny Konkan village. I also liked Bikas Mishra’s Chauranga, which broadly treads the same territory as last year’s Fandry. How caste is still a determinant of how we live, and die, is at the core of Chauranga: it is a story that will bear repeating.
I missed some big-ticket ones, as one does. Xavier Dolan’s Mommy showed to raves, and will now have to be seen on DVD. But then, that’s part and parcel of a film festival, where the choices you make, sometimes blindly, become your festival. But you also see films you never would otherwise. Who could have predicted that the critic-turned-filmmaker who invented the “jump cut” in Breathless, his first film, would showcase his wares in 3D, more than half a century later? Godard’s Goodbye To Language is an exercise, mostly in restraint, but you see it because it is Godard, after all. Because he has so much to say, and so much to show.
Will MFF have a 17th edition? Fingers, and toes, crossed.