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.
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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 that 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 interesting documentaries), smart sidebars, the second edition of the Movie Mela, a Comic Con-like event that 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 sidestep some of the bugbears 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.
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News filtering out on social media says 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.
- 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. 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 to each other 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 the Aam Aadmi Party. 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 artistes 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 valuable space which needs to be nurtured and encouraged. Because without cinema, you cannot see.