Mumbai Film Festival: A Waiting Guide

It’s been nearly six months since the last edition of the Mumbai Film Festival (MFF) concluded and I am finding it difficult to wait out any longer for the next one. Especially with Cannes releasing its official poster for 2019 featuring a tribute to late French filmmaker Agnès Varda as well as folks on my Twitter already starting to build up on TIFF 2019. It was difficult enough to see critics reshare opinion pieces of their favorite and not-so-favorite movies they caught at Sundance this year. And then our own MAMI came out with a tweet that sent a tribute to the late legendary Indian filmmaker Mrinal Sen on 10 April, and I just couldn’t control. Yours truly is filled with misery these days.

Mumbai film festival 2019
Poster for the 21st edition of the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival with Star / © MAMI

But, thanks to cheap access to the Internet and theaters nearby, I have somehow managed to find a way to sustain the gap – which almost feels like an eternity – between the festival editions, October through October. The key, they say, is to stop thinking about it, but good luck doing that if you are an active social media user. And if you are someone who follows the film fraternity (for whatever reasons), you are bound to become miserable over the 12 months. More so if you are disturbed by the wave of low-quality movies that have come out of Bollywood in 2019 so far. Why Cheat India, Total Dhamaal, Mere Pyare Prime Minister, Junglee

If you think you are in a similar situation, don’t worry. I have found a few ways to keep myself occupied till the week-long festival comes back, scheduled between 17 October and 24 October this year. If you can manage to find a buddy then nothing like it. Schedule a day and a time, grab a few packets of instant popcorn, and fire up your home theater to end your hectic days with doses of filmy smack. Here’s how…

Waiting Out the Next Edition of the Mumbai Film Festival

Since the 2018 edition was my most successful in terms of catching the movies that I actually wanted to, it has become even more difficult to exist and function knowing that October is so far away. I often think about my days at the festival and how I managed to watch both the opening and closing films for the first time in three years. Talking to a few acquaintances that I made in 2017 and 2018 made me realize that I am not the only one.

Here are a few things that I have been doing over the past few weeks to make for the cinematic hunger that has suddenly dominated me.

Watch and Complete Previous Editions

In 2018, there was a guy who watched 27 films in six days. This is like an unachievable record for me. Because there’s a limit of four movies per day (that you can book online against your MAMI ID), and this guy booked three extra films by standing in queues. That’s five movies back to back between 10AM and 10PM, each at least 150 minutes long. I would be doing better if I had that kind of commitment for anything in my life.

But that’s not the point. The point is that if you are like me – whose record is a measly 13 per festival – then you have a lot of films to go back to. You’ll have even more if you skipped any of the recent editions of the festival because there are upwards of at least a 100 titles that are screened per year.

I am personally going to try and catch all the pending movies of the 2018 edition. I also created an ambitious list on IMDb so I have a headstart here. If you are looking for inspiration, here is a list of lists –

Lists to Catch Up Old MAMI MFF Movies

Other than these, IMDb itself has a separate section of films that were nominated/awarded in the festival. Have a look at the lists for as back as 2013 here.

Catch Up on MCU or GoT

Now I know that not everyone is a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe or TV shows like Game of Thrones, but if you are and if you have been putting them aside for long, now is the time to catch up.

The latest Avengers installment is scheduled to release in a week’s time. Which makes April the perfect time to complete the three phases of MCU that lead up to it. Same for GoT as its final season is currently running on HBO (Hotstar in India).

If none of these franchises interest you, there are numerous other shows and movies in various genres available for consumption. Obviously. So go to IMDb or Letterboxd and take a look.

MAMI Year Round Programme

This should have been on top of my list. Because it is MAMI’s own way of answering the hunger of cinephiles after they are done with the festival every year.

The Year Round Programme is a subset of the MFF where MAMI organizes screenings (often premieres) of new movies and web shows at their partner theater network (PVR) throughout the year in Mumbai and Delhi. Access is free; members only have to sign up separately for the programme (on their website), wait for email invitations of new screenings, register their interest (as soon as possible because of the limited number of seats), and then wait for the confirmation.

If you’re an early bird and/or first-timer, you have high chances of getting a seat. On the other hand, if you get a confirmed seat and don’t show up, it will be hard for you to show your loyalty to the sweet MAMI people again.

The Year Round Programme hosts a lot of cool movies and web shows as MAMI directly partners with the producers and distributors. For example, their last show in Mumbai was the Oscar-winning documentary Free Solo, in association with National Geographic. In the past, they have screened Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota, Sonchiriya, Made in Heaven (Amazon Prime Video), Green Book, and Stranger Things (Netflix) to name a few.

Made in Heaven at MAMI
A photo from the recent screening of Amazon’s Made in Heaven in Mumbai © MAMI

It’s a great initiative by MAMI because it gives a form of community to the participants. And more importantly, a way to stop missing the festival.

Embrace the Academy Awards

Or any international awards for that matter. I like to keep a track of the Oscars – winning films, nods, snubs, long shots, everything – and then predict which ones will win when the night comes. Unfortunately, I have never been able to watch all movies let alone predict correctly. But I still have at two lists prepared and ready:

These will be enough for at least 2-3 months from now, depending upon the number of titles you have seen already.

If Oscars are not your thing, you can pick any of the major international awards like the Golden Globes, BAFTAs, and Independent Spirit awards, or even Filmfare and Indian’s National Film awards. The idea is to continue watching films to keep the spirit high and constant. Heck, you may also consider the Razzies.

r/bollywood

This might come as a surprise but let me at least make a case. The amount of information that is exchanged in this small Reddit community of Bollywood lovers is just breathtaking. All types of news, trailers, and trivia are discussed there every day by users from around the world.

They even have polls of new Bollywood releases, and unlike popular opinion, have constructive discussions that you can take part in. The community is also actively moderated, which means no spam, no advertisements. Just plain Bollywood worship.

Go and have a look here: https://www.reddit.com/r/bollywood/

Young Critics Lab

This is not for me, but for people who are between the age of 18 and 25. If you are that young and still interested in cinema, the Young Critics Lab organized by MAMI every year will be a beautiful opportunity.

It is a short workshop for young students and professionals who want to get a little hands-on training about the basics of film criticism. The club’s favorite and National Award-winning critic Baradwaj Rangan conducts the workshop between July and October. He is sometimes supported by an international film critic. 2016 saw The Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw come to Mumbai for the class while in 2017 (when I attended), TIME magazine’s Stephanie Zacharek made an appearance.

I wrote a detailed article about YCL last year which I think will be enough to push you to sign up if they host it this year. Keep your eyes and ears open in May/June when they usually announce it.

Prep

Lastly, and this is not very relevant here, there’s Sujay Kulkarni’s fantastic take on how to prepare for the festival. Writing for VICE, he captures the very essence of the festival – from ticket booking to finding obscure films outside of your watchlist to getting from one venue to another – in so less words.

Take a look as you revisit your own time at the festival last year… or five years ago. Whichever suits you.

Stay Tight

There is no doubt that the MFF has transformed into a national phenomenon if not a global one. Last year the ticket price was INR 500 (approx. $7) which surely helped increase the footfall. And with so many new members looking forward to the 2019 edition, I’m sure it will be grander this time.

The MFF is now officially open for entries. If you are a creator, you need to sign up and submit as soon as possible. Check out the website for more details. If you are unsure if your film belongs to MFF, check out the rules and regulations here. And don’t forget to follow MAMI on Twitter becausethat’s where the action is.

Here’s to six more months of hope-filled anticipation. TN.

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The Chronology of Modern-Day Film Promotion

One of the main purposes of my active social media use is to be on top of news and promotions related to the Malayalam film industry. I follow most film folks on Facebook not because I like to comment “Sir oru like tharumo!” (Sir, can I get a like (on this comment) please?) but to keep track of new ventures, industry stories, and collaborations. And over the past few years, I have observed few things in online film promotion. Things that turn me off.

A Trend in Online Promotion of Films

There is a new trend of digital film promotion in Mollywood and other Indian film industries. Bollywood does it too, in fact, even more strongly than its contemporaries. Most top-lining films usually start off their online publicity with sending a press release, planting a news story, or having some of the crew share status updates about the new project on social media. At the same time, most production houses choose to create and launch standalone pages on various social media platforms, notably on Facebook.

Thamasha Malayalam movies Vinay Fortt
The “first-look” poster of Thamasha / © Happy Hours Entertainment

An example would be the recent announcement of an upcoming film titled Thamasha, produced by Happy Hours Entertainment, and starring Vinay Fortt in a role that looks like it is spun off from his comical character in the 2015 hit romantic comedy Premam. The announcement – which, as of 15 April, has engulfed a part of the Malayalam social media after it was shared and reshared by the people close with the cast and crew – came alongside a poster featuring Fortt. It’s a great announcement and one that achieves its intended goal: pique its audience’s interest. But the problem is that it may not be the first look poster even though the announcement says it is.

Unda malayalam movies 2019
The unofficial “first-look” poster of Unda / © Moviee Mill/Gemini Studios

Take the poster of another upcoming film, the Mammootty-starrer titled Unda (2019). This was released a few months ago when the filming was still underway. There were no major announcements and this poster somehow made an entrance into the social media, probably through its two Facebook pages (here: Unda The Movie and UNDATheFilm). The film’s IMDb page also sports this poster (because I added it and the film’s PR never bothered to take a gander). As someone who depends on the Internet to extract updates about new Malayalam films, I took this poster as the first look image. Because a first look (often abbreviated as FL by agencies who run the handles for these films for the sake of hashtagging convenience) does not have to reveal the first look of the main actors. It is not to be taken literally. Instead, a first-look publicity image should give out the unique vibe of that film, and this one by Unda actually did, again making me very interested in the project. Then, I don’t understand why there was a need for another first look (see further below).

All of this makes me wonder about the chronology of film promotion in this digital age. Here’s a list that I came up with recently, inspired by a comment by a Reddit user (u/nandusdas091) on r/Kerala, and exaggerated to stay true to the nature of this website.

Chronology of Digital Film Promotion

This focuses on the Malayalam film industry; a list of events that occur one after other in any modern-day promotional campaign for a film that has enough budget to produce and disseminate publicity materials.

  1. Rough first look or a media story planted in an unverifiable news site
  2. First look announcement (#firstlook #<title>loading #getready)
  3. First look (usually a hand of the lead star, a prop if it’s a sequel or a series instalment, or the title design)
  4. Motion poster announcement
  5. Motion poster
  6. Sneak peek
  7. Character posters #1 through #5 (of characters that have less than 5 minutes of screen time)
  8. Teaser announcement
  9. Promo teaser (also sometimes erroneously titled as prologue teaser), or
  10. Teaser (without any characters)
  11. First song (lyrical)
  12. Screenshot of the teaser video trending on YouTube
  13. Character posters #6 through #30 (the last one is usually of the lead actor or of a character that should have been kept secret)
  14. Promo poster featuring an inflated number of views that the teaser received in the last 24 hours
  15. Reshares of mentions in the media and by other actors not involved in the project
  16. Audio launch announcement/trailer
  17. Posters containing random birthday wishes for the cast/crew
  18. Teaser reaction videos (disseminated through unofficial, partner networks containing wannabe YouTubers)
  19. Audio launch at an Ernakulam 5-star banquet hall (usually owned by one of the crew members) with the highlight being a life-sized disc held by everyone excluding the music producer
  20. First video song
  21. Trailer announcement
  22. Teaser to the trailer
  23. Trailer launch at a Trivandrum 5-star banquet hall
  24. Trailer appended to major film releases of that weekend
  25. Trailer on social media by a popular actor not involved in the project (a day after it appears on the big screen)
  26. Screenshot of the trailer video trending on YouTube
  27. Trailer reaction videos
  28. Poster featuring an inflated number of views the trailer received in less than two hours
  29. Random stills posted by top cast and crew (with at least half a dozen hashtags)
  30. Poster containing greetings for an eligible festival or public holiday
  31. Cast and crew interview videos
  32. Poster featuring some unknown and useless record broken by the trailer
  33. Poster featuring a list of achievements by the teaser, the trailer, and the audio jukebox
  34. Final official poster with the ensemble cast appearing on it
  35. Film success trailer (two days after release)
  36. Film success celebration photos (at another Ernakulam hotel three days after release)
  37. Making-of videos to get some boost in the revenue of the production company’s YouTube channel
  38. Posters featuring inflated box office numbers
  39. Item dance video (optional)

Current State of Affairs

Here’s a peak example of what I’m talking about: a Facebook status update posted by the FB page of Unda, Khalid Rahman’s second directorial. It is true that I was triggered to write this article upon seeing this update on my feed. But I have been observing this digital film publicity chronology for some time now to validate the need for such an article.

Unda Malayalam movie 2019
A status update by the Facebook page of Unda

Every film – and not just Malayalam-language features – that is projected to at least foot its making cost is following this trend. And going by the volume of engagement on the above post from a page that has upwards of 5600 followers (at the time of publishing), it’s working.

But as a consumer of cinema who is at the receiving end of these brazen, tasteless promotions, it turns me off hugely. You may suggest that I start unfollowing these pages of films and film personalities and production houses, but then what about the downside? It’s a catch-22 situation all right and I can alternatively choose to change the settings on Facebook to receive only highlights. But if I did that, who exactly are they trying to attract and engage?

If everyone thought like me, the engagement would automatically go down, save for the pages of those films with actors who have fan associations so big and powerful the title of these associations are known in Kerala and neighbouring states by their acronyms (e.g.: Prithviraj Sukumaran’s POFFACTIO). It would not really work.

The Risk of Overpromotion

They say any publicity is good publicity, but that’s not true anymore. Look what happened to a recent upcoming biopic of a politician. It had all the right ingredients, and also received a mass of negative press because of its association with a political party, but it was still stalled for release because it would potentially violate the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) which is in motion till the end of 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Overpromotion – which is quickly influencing the Kerala film industry – does not always work. It can act as cannibalization after a certain point, turning off the discerning audience to the point where he stops caring. After a while, the promotions will stop having an effect on its target audience as people will shun the digital campaigns and consider movies based on star value, interest, and word of mouth. (The last one is still one of the biggest factors in global cinema, with examples from Bollywood like Stree (2018), Tumbbad (2018), and Andhadhun (2018) loud and clear.)

I do not agree with executing a 39-point marketing strategy on social media because it is dumb. It can act as a deterrent more than it can as a magnet. Of course, an active official profile on Facebook or Twitter would do good to educate the audience about an upcoming project, especially to act as a standalone profile for when someone searches for it to find more information if the film is not yet live on Wikipedia and IMDb, that is. But going overboard with it can sometimes be risky and cost-ineffective.

It may be a tactic used by social media management agencies (who usually work remotely) to bill their clients extra (for all the man hours), but we must look at the bigger picture and see where exactly this type of promotions is going. Is it some kind of a groundbreaking marketing strategy that demands a deeper study? No. Is it a novel approach? No, everyone does it and has been doing it for some time now. Is it effective? Maybe. In 2019 so far, films like Lucifer, Oru Adaar Love, and Madhura Raja succeeded in pulling it off and getting the seats filled, notwithstanding their consequent critical or box office successes. But there are others – like 9, Praana, and June – that deployed similar but largely ineffective campaigns.

Bringing It a Few Notches Down

Same goes for films that think out of the box, do something unusual, and still fail without even getting credit for trying. A case in point: When Rohith VS’s Iblis (2018) launched an online game as part of its promotions, it did not aid much in attracting any more audience than it would have without the game. Its Facebook page had over 20,000 followers and yet the game-related posts received measly engagement, and Asif Ali is still an actor with some fan following. It fared comparatively well with its series of posters, one of the best we saw in 2018.

The splash screen of the game titled World of Iblis / © nologomedia

Which is why it is important to also attribute the success of such granular marketing campaigns to a film’s star value. In fact, this star value has more to do than the stunts themselves. You don’t see such campaigns being run for films that feature an actor who doesn’t have an official fan association. Think of the marketing tactics by the PR team of a film starring Mohanlal and then compare it with another having lesser-known actors like Sreenath Bhasi, Shane Nigam, and Soubin Shahir. Even though the quality of a film eventually decides its success rate, such viral social media promotions help the producers mint more money during the deciding first weekend. And it is evident that it is working. Which is not the right way to do business.

Then there are films like Premam that make do with a few characterless posters and a song to market itself and break some actual records. TN.

Update: Updated information about the two different Facebook pages for Unda. (15 April 2019)

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Random Questions I Ask Myself

These are the questions that I shouldn’t be asking myself because I almost never get an answer. I figured I should start asking my friends but then I still want them to be friends with me. So, here goes to the Internet…

  • Why in my four years in the organization have I never bumped into that person (male) in the washroom who sits on the end of the left side of the forth aisle from the entrance?
  • Why do some people press the call button of an elevator even when it clearly has been pressed before by someone who then thought it’s better to take the stairs? (More related.)
  • Why are work meetings still a thing?
  • Why don’t Mumbai local train travellers buy an ATVM Smart Card instead of having to stand in long lines to get a ticket?
  • Why do some people get up as soon as the aircraft hits the tarmac?
  • Do air hostesses ever NOT get the lecherous stare while on duty?
  • Why do some people think that seats in Mumbai local trains can accommodate four adults?
  • Why do bus conductors/drivers and some general public in Mumbai address entry/exit points in buses/trains as ‘gates’?
  • Where do auto-rickshaw drivers gather the courage from to refuse a passenger a trip?
  • Why is it so difficult for some people to follow traffic rules? (More related.)
  • Why do people still get offended by expletives?
  • Why is charity not compulsory?
  • How many successful organizations were/are there in the world that do business ethically?
  • How to address a stranger on the street who is of almost the same age as you? (Excuse me? Excuse me?)
  • Where do you draw the line when it comes to separating the art from the artist in the era of #MeToo?
  • What to do when you accidentally offend a stranger?

I have many more questions to ask but those can be saved for later. TN.

Featured image courtesy: Unsplash/danielcgold

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Types of People Per the Number of Tissues They Use

There’s an interesting message placed on top of the tissue dispenser in the washroom at my workplace in Lower Parel. It but it goes something like this:

One tissue is enough to wipe your hands. Three tissues are enough to wipe your ego.

Urmi estate bathroom message
The message put up inside the washroom at my work place in Lower Parel, Mumbai.

I need to find the person in my agency’s HR/Admin department who was behind this message and congratulate them. While I gather the time and courage to do that, I thought I’ll point your focus to how this little placard and its holy message has been received by the people who use the washroom.

I don’t think I have seen anyone – at least when I’m in the washroom too – respect the underlying point of that message. It’s like almost invisible to them or they have reached a point where they have started to ignore it with the help of the workings of their ego. Whatever it is, all I know is that the number of hand tissue strips that one uses can help us identify the type of person they are.

(Note: This article counts a paper napkin of the size of approx. 18 x 22 cm as one tissue strip. The type that comes off a dispenser near the hand wash area which is now being slowly replaced by electric hand dryers. For the worse.)

So, here’s a list of types of people according to the number of tissue strips they use. It is possible that you might realize you are one of these people. Apology not delivered.

  • Zero Tissues – Does not mind that their folded handkerchief has created a slight protuberance over their pocket. Does not get annoyed when they accidentally step on a watery surface with socks on. Is okay with stuffing the wetter version of their handkerchief back to where it came from. Will die by age-related complications.
  • One Tissue – Knows that climate change is not a hoax. Takes part directly or as an armchair activist in discussions involving waste management, land fills, and environment conservation. Aspires to switch off the fans and lights in Mumbai local trains when they are not in use but forgets or has not yet been able to do so. Does not get offended when the server at a McDonald’s outlet does not automatically gives tissues along with the order.

I am between these two types of people.

  • Two Tissues – Uses a lot of water to wash their hands and face. Keeps a kerchief handy but does not use it because they don’t like the feeling of a wet cloth living in their pocket. Thinks their use of things made out of paper over those made out of plastic almost qualifies them for an “environment conservationist” prize. Would be categorized as the next type (on this list) if they had three hands.
  • Three Tissues – Has a rich first-generation family member. Does not have a tissue dispenser at home. Makes use of all the free stuff at work religiously. Is usually one of the first five people to arrive at a party. Did not follow the news when the Maharashtra government banned single-use plastic materials in mid-2018.
  • Four Tissues – Bad at statistics. Does not greet people before a meeting. Still uses a saucer to drink tea but does not use a coaster when the cup does not come with it. Suffers from some kind of ailment that limits their performance on bed.
  • Five Tissues – Can be seen shouting at an empty tissue or soap dispenser. Fought with their school management and failed to get all the washrooms equipped with mirrors when they were in 9th grade. Abhors opinion articles like this.
  • Six or More Tissues – Monster.

The best argument against this list will come from people who say the number is need-based. I tend to disagree with that unless they are dealing with a post-vomiting session.

Also check out these wonderful messages (Hinglish language in English script) I found on the tissue holder at the popular roadside snackbar Blossom in Khau Galli, Ghatkopar.

  • Comic strip #3 at Blossom in Khau Galli, Ghatkopar
  • Comic strip #2 at Blossom in Khau Galli, Ghatkopar
  • Comic strip #1 at Blossom in Khau Galli, Ghatkopar

In another part of the world, I wish someone created a version of this list involving the length of toilet paper one uses after answering any one or two of nature’s calls. TN.


Image courtesy: Pixabay/bluebudgie

Update: Added my identification + description of a tissue strip. Fixed typos. (22 March 2019)

Update #2: Added image of the message + a gallery of comics related to the cause of less tissue usage. (31 March 2019)

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Gazing at Hands in Mumbai Locals

I have recently increased the frequency of my commute to work through the local Mumbai Suburban Railway line. And during this transit and because of my higher-than-average height, I end up spending most of my time in the trains standing, looking at hands of hundreds of straphangers. Hands that tell stories. Hands that are descriptive enough to be videographed into a short film.

Strong hands, hairy hands, inked hands, frail hands, bony hands, sweaty hands, hands with two watches, dirty hands. So many different types I could add a new type every day. This has given me a lot of insights into what people do with their upper limbs while travelling and how they take care of them. Especially because I think they are a vital part of one’s ability to travel in Mumbai locals. I observe hands because there is nothing else to do while travelling in these trains, considered the crowdest in the world.

So, here are brief, broad takes on what I think about the hands of people who travel in Mumbai’s local trains. Especially in the Central and Harbour lines.

  • Most people still wear wristwatches. And they wear it on the left hand. Not that either of these is not obvious but I find it amusing how years ago some people had predicted that mobile phones would make wristwatches redundant. To their advantage, most – including me, sometimes – still look at their mobile phones to check time
  • Almost everyone is glued to their mobile phones, sometimes using both their hands, to either text on WhatsApp, play games like Ludo and Candy Crush, or read/watch fake news stories. I know this because ever since I have increased my frequency of local train travel, privacy has taken a backseat. Also the reason why I avoid using my phone. Another issue with this mobile usage in trains is that it prevents people from holding onto something, which increases the chance of an unfortunate accident
  • Hand tattoos are more common than I imagined; even more than the green-colored inking that some religious/superstitious mean wear on their arms
  • Very rarely do I see people standing hands-free and without holding onto something. These people also use the “crowd energy” to board and deboard the train where they slyly become a part of the whirlwind and flush in and out of the bogey with little effort, let alone the use of hands. I once tried this and immediately regretted it
  • People who lean out against the entrance doors evidently do not care a dot for their hands as I often see them flinging their limbs out, especially as a way to woo women while the train is slowing down at a station. I do wonder if this strategy has ever helped them find a partner

There may be a lot more such things that I have observed about commuters’ hands over the last few months but I do not remember them. To conclude, in all of this, what surprises me the most is how travellers have very little regard for their hands. It reminds me of that adage: You only realize the importance of something when you lose them. TN.

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  • about me

    Tejas Nair is a copywriter based in Mumbai, India. He writes about cinema, literature, current affairs, culture, and society. He manages search-based digital campaigns for Publicis. more »