Some film festivals make do with what they get. Others, the kind that are worth our time, offer a pleasing array, a factor of the careful selection of films. The 19th edition of the Mumbai Film Festival, which ended last week, is evidence that when curation is in top-gear, the choices are top-notch too. In my three days at the week-long festival, I managed to catch some films which I’m still thinking about.
Films that come riding on great acclaim can do one of two things: You can become part of the hosannahs that will be paid forward, or you can disagree, and put your problems with the film out to air and have great discussions, either way. There was a time when the internet wasn’t around, and the chances of your coming to a film without knowing anything about it were high. In these hyper-connected times, we’ve seen the film even without seeing it. A well-curated film festival is your chance to do a walk-in, and expect a minimum standard in terms of both form and content, and the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival with Star, is fast becoming my go-to place for it.
The international section was impressive, and expectedly, the hot tickets (On Body And Soul, the winner of the top prize at the Berlin Film Festival; mother!, Darren Aronofsky’s wildly dividing tale, which made much noise at Venice and Toronto; Loveless, a harrowing story of loss, which won a jury prize at Cannes, and is Russia’s official submission to the Oscars) led to long lines outside theatres.
Loveless signals a return to creative efflorescence in Russian cinema, even if its bleakness chills the soul. It is about a dying marriage, with both husband and wife having found new partners, and its crushing impact on their 12-year-old son. One day, he disappears, and as the parents, who can’t bear the sight of each other, come together to search for him, and cops and volunteers join in; we go from mild worry to full-blown dread.
How can a couple that starts, presumably, with some sort of connection go to a place where implacable hatred is the only emotion at play? Marriages do go rancid and unpleasant, but this complete lack of warmth and affection leads to death, both physical and metaphorical. Loveless will haunt me till the rest of my days. I lucked into a couple of excellent films in the Indian section too. Village Rockstars is the kind of film which has grown out of the land it is set in: you can literally smell and taste its flavours. A tiny village in Assam is home to a 10-year-old girl, who dreams of forming a rock band, and the film follows the rhythm of the place and its characters without imposing anything from the outside. Rima Das, who came to Mumbai to become an actress but found her true métier in direction, says that making it ‘unlocked something in her heart’. And it goes straight to ours.
The other one is Ralang Road, made by FTII trained Karma Takapa, full of unexpected little touches. It features a couple of boys up to something, their teacher, and a few others, all on the move, all in search of something. We walk along, at their unhurried pace, seeing what they see, hearing what they hear.
Films from the Northeast India have been steadily upping their game in the past few years, and both Village Rockstars and Ralang Road are fine examples. There were a bunch of others carrying good reports which I missed, and have marked for future viewing : Ask The Sexpert, featuring Dr Mahendra Vatsa, the most read columnist in a Mumbai paper, well known for his direct, droll ‘tips’ for those seeking an education; Kamal Swaroop’s atmospheric capture of the Pushkar mela, Pushkar Puran; and A Suitable Girl, by Sarita Khurana and Smriti Mundhra, on how the ‘institution’ of arranged marriage is still a thriving, troublesome thing in an India, which in some places is modern, and in others shockingly ancient.
The other notable was the opening film, Anurag Kashyap’s Mukkabaaz, which tells the story of a brawler-boxer based in Bareilly through the layers of casteism and corruption. It signals a return to form for Kashyap, and cements the festival’s growing confidence in being able to showcase an Indian film as an opener.
Apart from the films, the Q and As with the directors, and the conversations (one featured Rajkummar Rao and Dulquer Salmaan), there are, of course, the never-ending addas. Then there are those long queues. They are the best place to bump into other festival junkies like yourself: There’s always that face you’ve seen for years, and it doesn’t matter that you’ve never felt the need to exchange names; being at a film festival is friendship enough.
And you slip away without saying bye, because it will be hello next year again.