New and improved

Mohini Chaudhuri | Updated on January 22, 2018 Published on November 13, 2015

Opening special This year, Hansal Mehta’s Aligarh has been receiving rave reviews Photo: Special Arrangement   -  special arrangement

Command centre The reins of the festival are now in the able hands of film critic Anupama Chopra (right) and filmmaker Kiran Rao Photo: PTI   -  PTI

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After last year’s Mumbai Film Festival (MAMI), which was a hurried affair, this year the organisers, attendees and film fraternity were better prepared

Around this time last year, the future of the Mumbai Film Festival (MAMI) appeared bleak. With no sponsors in sight, it nearly fell through. The bigwigs of the industry saved the day by loosening their purse strings just in time. This time around, the organisers got their act together well in advance. The buzz around the 17th edition of the festival began early. We saw advertisements starring Karan Johar, Ranbir Kapoor, Alia Bhatt and Rajkumar Hirani, imploring young filmmakers to send in their entries a good four to five months ago. The reins of the festival were passed on to the able hands of film critic Anupama Chopra (festival director) and Kiran Rao (chairperson of the board). The event even found solid sponsors.

The attendees too seemed better prepared. Over the course of the weeklong festival, I met several out-of-towners who had flown down just to devour the fantastic line-up of world cinema. Many locals confessed they had filed leave applications as soon as the festival dates were announced. MAMI veterans who still regret missing some films last year — because of their ‘bad planning’ — had colour-coded print-outs of the schedule to stay on track this time around. Some overzealous delegates even had the run-time of films memorised.

With fervour running this high, organisational glitches were easier to overlook. The first blow came barely a few hours into day one with Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’s science fiction dark comedy The Lobster — one of the most anticipated films of the festival — being cancelled. This was followed by further disruptions in the schedule. “There were hiccups like delayed screenings and cancellations, but we will be back better,” reassured Rao, at the closing ceremony.

There was a fair amount of outrage expressed by participating filmmakers as well. Gurvinder Singh, who was screening his Punjabi film Chauthi Koot, bitterly complained about the subpar sound and picture quality of the theatre. “The most disheartening experience for a filmmaker is to see his work literally washed away. Wish we had protested in the middle and halted the screening. Angry and dejected,” he wrote on his Facebook page. Singh’s film, set in 1980s Punjab, captures the tension in the wake of Operation Blue Star. It went on to win the India Gold section, which may have helped lift the director’s spirits.

The line-up of world cinema included films that had already generated curiosity at other festivals, including Jafar Panahi’s Taxi, Tangerine from the US, which had been entirely shot on an iPhone, and Chinese indie The Assassin, to name a few.

But this year’s festival focused on promoting home-grown talent and stories. The 13 films in the India Gold section represented filmmakers from across the country and 14 Indian languages, including Wancho, Bodo, Haryanvi and Chattisgarhi. Besides India Gold, a new section was added, called India Story, which culled out lesser-known yet interesting work across mainstream, regional and experimental genres. Also, for only the second time in MAMI’s 17-year history, the festival opened with an Indian film — Hansal Mehta’s Aligarh starring Manoj Bajpai and Rajkummar Rao, which has been receiving rave reviews.

A few of the filmmakers in the competition had already won plaudits for their fresh and original storytelling at other prestigious festivals. First-time filmmaker Ruchika Oberoi, who recently won the Fedora prize for the best young director at the Venice Film Festival, premiered her film Island City, which is a series of three stories that capture the loneliness of life in Mumbai using dark comedy. Perhaps the most brave and chilling film in this category was Tamil filmmaker Vetrimaaran’s thriller Visaranai. Partly based on a real-life incident, the film tells the story of three Tamil migrant workers in Andhra Pradesh who are falsely jailed for a crime they didn’t do. Produced by superstar Dhanush, it was the first Tamil film to make it to the competition section of the Venice Film Festival earlier this year. India-born French director Prashant Nair’s Umrika, starring Suraj Sharma and Adil Hussain, was another festival favourite that premiered at MAMI.

No film event in Mumbai is complete without some Bollywood magic, although MAMI may be the one time when Bollywood fanatics are grossly outnumbered by world cinema aficionados. However, Movie Mela helped keep the balance by hosting entertaining sessions with the cast of Mr India and youngsters like Varun Dhawan, Arjun Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor and Alia Bhatt.

All things considered, this festival was a vast improvement over last year’s hurried mess. For the 7,000 passionate delegates who stood patiently in queues, sometimes five times a day, one hopes that the festival only gets better with each passing year. As for those waiting to fill out their next leave applications, the organisers have already done them a favour by announcing that they’ll be back on October 20 next year.

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Published on November 13, 2015
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