How do you watch five films a day? Ask me. Or anyone like me who has had long practice in spending entire days in dark theatres, waiting for the next highly anticipated film to come on, finishing it, and rushing into the next. And the next.
Twelve hours, give or take a few minutes here or there, with minor breaks to grab a hurried bite or to straighten a kink in the back, at the movies? Yes, yes, yes. I have returned from the latest edition of the Mumbai Film Festival all filmed out, but raring to get back again.
My time at the 18th Jio MAMI with Star, to give it its mouthful of a moniker, has been well spent, despite my missing, all over again, the presence of a central hub where filmmakers and delegates and attendees can hang out. It’s something that Kiran Rao and her colleagues Anupama Chopra and Smriti Kiran ( the trio which runs the festival) are aware of, but they are also pleased that this year MAMI ‘increased its footprint’, and spread out its wares for more Mumbaikars, from Kurla and Mulund to the city centre. The unending schlep from one location to another has been made up by solid programming ( international and Indian, and the inclusion of some really interesting documentaries), smart side-bars, the second edition of the Movie Mela, a Comic con-like event which caters to Bollywood fans ( this year’s highlight was the getting together of the cast and crew of ‘Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander’, even if the venue was not ideal), and endless discussions with other film crazy denizens.
As an invited guest, I could side-step some of the bug-bears that infested the festival, like the online booking procedure which showed full houses when there were, in fact, empty seats. This is a problem I’ve seen the world over, and there hasn’t been an analytic that has cracked it yet. But what I really liked was the ease with which you could walk-in, if there was space inside.
News filtering out on social media tells me that Vikramaditya Motwane’s ‘Trapped’, featuring Rajkummar Rao trapped in a high-rise without `khana’, `bijli’ and `paani’, received a rousing cheer from those who managed to snag a seat. I’m kicking myself for having returned at the half-way mark and missing this one, and some of the others which looked promising. But c’est la vie and all that, because this is how it goes : you see some, you miss the others.
Here are the highlights amongst the ones that I watched. Who would have thought that Saudi Arabia could come up with such a delightful comedy like ‘ Barakah Meets Barakah’ in which an unlikely romance flowers between an unlikely couple? This one I club under the ‘unexpected delights category’ which make up those films you walk into knowing nothing, and coming away surprised, in a good way.
Cristian Mungiu has been wowing us with his films for a while now ( his ‘4 Months, 3 weeks and 2 Days’ is a modern classic). ‘Graduation’ gives us a bunch of characters grappling with small things which become big and life itself : there are few filmmakers who can do this with such dexterity and Mungiu is high on that list.
I missed fest favourite Ken Loach’s ‘I, Daniel Blake’, which won the Palm D’Or at Cannes this year, but I’m told it will have a theatrical release in early 2017. Good for all of us. I made up by catching Mendonca Filho’s ‘Aquarius’, a gentle rumination on the past and present through the eyes of a 65-year-old woman, and Thomas Vinterberg’s wry look at humans and how they relate in ‘The Commune’.
Among the Indian films, apart from the opening, Konkona Sen Sharma’s atmospheric ‘Death In The Gunj’, I saw the documentary ‘An Insignificant Man’, which tracks the creation of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Despite its obvious datedness ( it was shot during the last Lok Sabha and Delhi state election campaigns), the film is an important document on how a brash new entrant challenged and threw aside entrenched power structures.
I could go on about what I saw and didn’t, but more than anything else, this film festival is vital because of where it is situated and what it says about freedom of expression, despite the shameful forced dropping of a vintage Pakistani film.
Mumbai is the hub of Bollywood, whose creative splashes shine a light on how much of India is entertained. Whether it is good, bad, or ugly, you can choose what you want to watch. What matters is that artists are allowed to do what they do best. In this charged atmosphere where filmmakers are being forced into untenable positions of contrition, a film festival like MAMI becomes a most valuable space which needs to be nurtured and encouraged.
Because without cinema, you cannot see.