Author: Tejas Nair

Tejas Nair is a freelance writer. He lives and works in Mumbai, India. This website originated from his love for writing and is a product of years of experience in that field. He began blogging in 2008. He is a Master of Arts in English Literature and currently works full-time as a performance content manager.

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Arguments Against Gifting Flower Bouquets at Weddings

pink flower bouquet paper wrapped

This wedding season, I have already been to three different dos associated with marriages. And I made an observation in all three that has bothered me for years now. It is the general, settled tendency of gifting flower bouquets as presentation.

In India specifically, dressed up men and women enter large decorated halls or lawns with a bouquet in hand. They then queue up to meet and greet the bride and groom. When they reach the stage, they hand the bouquet over to the couple, awkwardly get themselves snapped, and walk towards the food section. All nice and easy. The problem? It feels entirely random and illogical to me.

Gifting a decorated bunch of flowers that none of the members of the family of the bride or the groom are ever going to look at and appreciate feels like a useless gesture even if the giver is credited for the thought of gifting rather than choosing to just go handsfree. It may have been considered auspicious – to gift flowers to someone you love and respect – but it lags behind, right at the bottom of the list of things that you can gift two people about to start a life together.

So, here are my arguments against the idea and why I think we need to stop doing it. If you are interested, I also have some alternative marriage gifting ideas at the end. But before that, here’s some history.

History of Gifting Flowers

As with every origin stories, tracing the history of flowers as a gift is difficult.

The usage of flowers as a show of love and/or respect dates back to the Victorian era. While the Greeks associated them with the gods, aristocratic Victorians used it as a legible form of expression (known as floriography) when verbal communication was restricted (early eighteenth century). According to Romie Scott, through Atlas Obscura, in the 19th century, people even had flower dictionaries to decode what a specific set of flowers from a person meant. For example, gifting a basil bouquet would mean expressing hate.

But history of flowers as something that you can give to someone alive or dead dates back to at least 70,000 years ago. Owen Edwards, writing for the Smithsonian Magazine, quotes an anthropologist and says that flowers were seen in burial grounds of the Neanderthals (i.e. in the last Ice Age). Therefore, it wouldn’t be wrong to state that flowers were associated more with death than joy or harmony or, in this context, matrimony. There’s no explanation why that was the case then same as how no one can explain currently why people choose to gift a bouquet of white lilies (associated with funerals) or pink roses or daffodils instead of an envelope filled with cash. Or a home decor item. Or a painting.

flowers for sale at a roadside store
Flowers for sale at a roadside store. This is common sight in metropolitan cities like Mumbai and Delhi / Michal Balog via Unsplash

Is it because it is the easy way out? Rajeev’s engagement? Is it tonight? We’ll get a posy on the way. Maybe. But then how difficult it is to buy a pack of assorted chocolates?

What Effect Do Flowers Have On Us?

The only sensible reason for gifting a bouquet, according to Penn State University’s Master Gardener Carolyn Black, is the therapeutic effect that flowers have on us.[1](The Joy of Giving Flowers – Carolyn Black, PennState Extension, 11 July 2012 – archived link) They have been proven to make us feel good both with their sight and smell, as was found through a series of studies made through 2005 by Professor of Psychology Jeannette Haviland-Jones and her husband Terry McGuire, Professor of Genetics, of the School of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers University. In one of those studies, Haviland-Jones gave participants one of three things as a thank-you gift for participating. They were a floral bouquet, a decorative candle, and a fruit basket. She found that the participants who received the bouquet responded with the ‘Duchenne smile’, known as the true smile (or ‘smizing’) because it involves the mouth, the cheeks, and the eyes. The other two options gave rise to duller responses; whereas those who received the floral bouquet claimed to be feeling happier than their counterparts even three days after the program. The analysis elicits something deeper about our relationship with flowers.[2]Researchers Jeannette Haviland-Jones and husband Terry McGuire explain why flowers may be potent mood elevators. (Flower Power – Rutgers Magazine, Leslie Garisto Pfaff, 2010)

McGuire, through his analysis in microbiology, concluded that humans and flowers are into coevolution. It means that both humans and flowers evolve in response to changes in each other. We help flowers multiply through gardening and they give back pleasure, one of the key things necessary for human survival. They also help reduce stress. There is also some evidence showing that we humans just feel good about flowers because some of them are precursor of fruit (as argued by conservationist Edward O Wilson), their odour and colour, and their symmetrical shapes and patterns.[3]Researchers Jeannette Haviland-Jones and husband Terry McGuire explain why flowers may be potent mood elevators. (Flower Power – Rutgers Magazine, Leslie Garisto Pfaff, 2010) It is also worth noting that the flower code of the Victorian era may have also contributed to our friendly relationship with the flowers as well as the superstitious symbolism that some of us still follow including country-specific notations. Did I mention lilies are linked to funerals[4]White lilies represent purity and can be construed as return to innocence in death. (How Flower-Obsessed Victorians Encoded Messages in Bouquets – Romie Scott, Atlas Obscura, 15 August 2016) and yellow flowers given to women signal a desire for a divorce?

This series of studies on mood, further advanced through iterations and analyses by the duo, gives substantial evidence to explain that flowers may act as powerful mood elevators. As a corollary of the study that I would like to add here, it also showed that a basket of fruits (perfect as a gift for pregnant people) and a decorative candle have lesser appeal than flowers. So, at least flower givers are placed higher on the list of thoughtful gifters and a bouquet, after all, is not as useless I stress it to be. But there’s another problem.

Why Is Floral Bouquet a Bad Gift Idea?

No one has the time to look at a bouquet of flowers during the slightly chaotic proceedings of a typical Indian wedding. There is so much at stake for everyone attending these events that bouquets are not on anyone’s area of focus. And, as we just found out, you have to look at the flowers (or at least acknowledge their presence) to receive stress-busting, feelgood, gratification.

Unfortunately, I have never observed floral bouquets being carried and taken along with other gifts after the ceremony. They usually are stashed at the backside of the dais until the housekeeping staff come in to clean up the mess for the next wedding. There are exceptions, I know, but when there is less space in the boot of the family cars, bouquets are the first item to be thrown to the bin. Then comes wall clocks and photo frames with ‘FAMILY’ written on them.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not opposed to the idea of gifting a red rose to a person you love to show your affection or as an apology. Even though it does sound habitual to me, it is a fine gesture and one that I’m told fares well if you are on a date (but make sure you follow it up with an avocado toast though). In case of it as a wedding gift, I’m only testing it as something that would give utility to the receiver. Which it doesn’t.

But what to do when you do receive them? The wise and the only thing to do when you receive a flower bouquet is to take it home, remove the flowers from the sponge base, put them in a vase, and use them as home decor for a few days. However, most of us are terrible with fresh flowers and that is another reason why bouquet gifting is a bad idea.

But if you are wild, there’s another thing you can do that I was told is a welcome idea amongst women. If you ever find yourself at the receiving end of a bouquet of red roses, this is what you can do. Take it home, pull out the flowers, remove the petals, put them in a bucket with lukewarm running water, and take a bath. Don’t ask me who’ll clean the bathroom afterwards but at least those flowers died for your and your skin’s happiness.

The slight difficulty in discarding also prevents people from fully taking in and enjoying the therapeutic power of a bouquet. It takes up space, and after a few days, you have to discard it. Otherwise, the odour emanating from them can end up having a negative effect on you.

Why Is It Still Popular?

As mentioned above, it is perhaps the most convenient gifting idea for any occasion. Stop the car at a florist en route to a function, grab a readymade bouquet, and you are sorted. It is also why busy people almost always choose to gift a bouquet rather than make an effort to buy something more personal.

L K Advani gifting a bouquet at a wedding
Invite politicians to your wedding and you are doomed. This is BJP strongman L K Advani and his aide at actress Esha Deol’s wedding reception (c. 2012) carrying what looks like either a bouquet he received at the entrance or that he is going to hand over to the couple / Wikimedia Commons via Bollywood Hungama

It shows that you care to not arrive handsfree but still thoughtful enough to have brought something along. No one complains unless someone starts writing a critical article about their habit which they have only learned from their elders and culture.

Another reason is the idea that people like to gift what they would like to receive themselves. They don’t much think about the person who will receive it and their interests. I would love to receive a bouquet of chrysanthemums so why won’t Manoj and Rakhee? This is all the more true for weddings because in most cases you only know either the bride or the groom. And even if you know one of them, how much do you know about their desires? (I often gift books to people without realizing that they are not interested in reading.)

It is also the safest gift to give. No harm done. You are neither silently accused of coming emptyhanded nor are judged for your taste in gifts. There’s nothing that can go wrong unless you decide to gift a chocolate bouquet, in which case I am going to report you to the police. There is nothing more ghastly than a chocolate bouquet even if it contains Ferrero Rocher globes. It’s absolutely unaesthetic. A preserved flower bouquet makes more sense to me then but it still has problems associated with fresh flowers.[5](31 Gifts For Every Type of Host – The Strategist, The New York Magazine, 15 November 2019)

More Arguments

I agree that it is better to gift a bouquet rather than going emptyhanded, especially if the invitation card mentions ‘no gifts please’. It’s slightly awkward to go in without anything even though you are supposed to be the most important people in any function as you are invited to congratulate the hosts. In case of a wedding, you as a guest are invited to congratulate and greet them. There’s actually nothing to feel awkward about but you still feel so.

Although more and more people are embracing the idea of giftless functions and unenthusiastically exploring wedding gift registries (led by millennials)[6](Why wedding gift registries are gaining popularity among millennials – Geetika Mantri, The News Minute, 27 September 2019) it is still a topic that puts invitees into anxiety. I was at a wedding reception at Powai in Mumbai recently where the hosts had specifically asked us not to bring any presentation. Since we went in groups of families, we automatically destroyed the awkwardness. At the function, I still found a lot many people carrying bouquets. At the end, I still found them stashed behind the stage.

guests queuing at wedding reception to meet bride groom mumbai india
A common sight at Indian weddings. Some of them are carrying bouquets, I can guarantee it

Moreover, even if the person you are gifting the flowers is good with handling and utilizing them, the happiness stays only for a few days. Unlike a more solid physical gift, flowers are not permanent. I would even go ahead and say that they are less memorable than a pack of chocolates.

But to reiterate the most important point, a floral bouquet as a gift does not give prolonged joy to a person. It’s effect is short-lived, however powerful. The possibility of alternatives makes it less thoughtful and more of a waste of money if you consider the high cost of flowers these days. For instance, compare it with a wall clock, one of the most common wedding gift items in India. A couple will use a clock at some point in their life even if it does not match their home’s palette or decor. This usually is followed by a quick discussion about who gifted it. This was gifted by Vikas for our fifth wedding anniversary. I think it was thoughtful of him because we had just moved to a new house. Or they’ll choose to regift it. With flower bouquets, neither is possible.

The point I’m trying to make is that it is high time we stop following the tradition of gifting floral bouquets and instead focus on more useful alternatives like those listed below. I like to think of it like this: it only satisfies the roadside florist that you decided to get the bouquet from. It neither projects you as a kind giver nor does it help the receiver bust their stress because of the dynamics found in such a crowded setting. It is time to accept that all the bouquets presented at a wedding reception end up in the nearest garbage bin. If nothing else, it is poor action on them by their evolution partners, us.

If you are still so mopey about bouquets, here’s an exception: they go well for housewarming dos. Hosts will enjoy a pack of flowers which will elevate the mood of the new house at least for a few days. But when you think about its alternatives, it still comes last on the list of modern wedding gift ideas.

Alternative Wedding Gift Ideas

As someone who has refrained from gifting bouquets for all my adult life, here are a few suggestions. These are not suitable for Secret Santa, another event that gives people anxiety, or so they say.

Cash in an Envelope

Another of the oldest gifting ideas, giving hard cash has maintained its status as the most useful gift for middle- and upper-middle class functions. Wedding costs money, and giving cash just shows that you have chipped in a little to help the couple start a new life.

Invest on elegant envelopes to add to the glamour. Enclose a note to make it more memorable and personal.

Chocolates

A case of Ferrero Rocher chocolates (also because they sell at discounted prices at DMart) has been my trademark gift of choice for soirees, engagement dos, and other small functions. I pack it nicely using a wrapping paper and pass it on without the traditional wish tag. I instead slide a note under the wrapping which often includes an NSFW message for the couple. If the host is health-conscious, there are nutritious chocolates and candies available too.

Whatever type of chocolate you chose, make sure you wrap it. No one likes to receive a bar of Cadbury Dairy Milk Silk with its bare brand covering.

Wedding Registry Items

If it’s a close friend, you can suggest them the idea of gift registries which are slowly becoming popular among Indians as well. You tie up with an online service provider like Wedding Wishlist, Zibonga, or Wishtry and create a list of items that you would like across a specific range. Send the list to your potential guests. They either buy and mark it on the list or buy it through the provider. This ensures you get only those stuff that you really want. No wall clocks, photo frames, or kitchen utensils.

The logistics involved in these providers are a bit complex. I would therefore recommend creating an Amazon wishlist and sharing it with friends. Thankfully, Wedding Wishlist already has Amazon India as a partner.

But then another hurdle here is the question of how you will share the link as well as the idea of ‘asking’ for gifts.[7](Why wedding gift registries are gaining popularity among millennials – Geetika Mantri, The News Minute, 27 September 2019) What about those baby boomers who don’t use smartphones? It’s tricky but a cool idea if it’s a small event with friends and family only.

Charity

This is not a personal favourite because it is like forcing someone to pay for a social cause. But having the option to do so for a cause that the married couple care about is a good idea. You can be sure that it will make them feel good.

Movie Gift Cards

Both BookMyShow (both electronic and physical cards; up to INR 10,000) and INOX (only electronic; up to INR 2,000) have gift cards that you can purchase. These cards usually have a validity of 12 months which is enough for a couple to move out of their post-wedding bliss period and start watching midnight shows together followed by dessert at Naturals, the only place to enjoy ice creams today. PVR gift cards (both electronic and physical cards; up to INR 1,000) are also recommended.

I have also seen people gifting Zomato Gold subscriptions but I wouldn’t recommend it due to my personal issues with the brand.

Resort Bookings

For your upper class friends, an all-paid stay at premium places in and around their city will be a great idea. This follows the ‘gift an experience’ fad. The Machan in Lonavala or Anchaviyo and Silent Hills resorts in Palghar are personal favourites and good recommendations.

If you are high on gifting experiences, a city darshan or an intercity trip are also good ideas. But again, the logistics involved will make it tricky. And, the timelines should also match.

Stuff Related to Matrimony

I recently read and liked Dr. Mahinder Watsa’s nonfiction sex-ed book It’s Normal. Since then I have gifted it to a close friend who is about to get married and promised it to another married friend. It is a good resource for Indian couples starting a new life as it debunks a lot of misconceptions about sex. Since no one likes to talk about it in open, a book that they can read in their privacy will help.

If your friends are not into reading, suggestions like sex toys (although illegal in India, are available) and other routine products, naughty board games, and wardrobe collections are always useful.

Gift a Part of the Wedding

If you are close to the couple, you can suggest contributing for the wedding. This is opposed to the idea of gifting cash.

If your friend has been sharing wedding planning details with you, why not suggest helping them out with one of the items? Hey Mahesh, I’ll take care of the music at your wedding reception. I know a Gujarati lady who’s a very good disco jockey. It’s on me as your wedding gift. It will never go unthanked.


I know that none of these ideas are novel but all I know is that they are all better than the age-old habit of gifting a flower bouquet. TN.

footnotes   [ + ]

1. (The Joy of Giving Flowers – Carolyn Black, PennState Extension, 11 July 2012 – archived link)
2, 3. Researchers Jeannette Haviland-Jones and husband Terry McGuire explain why flowers may be potent mood elevators. (Flower Power – Rutgers Magazine, Leslie Garisto Pfaff, 2010)
4. White lilies represent purity and can be construed as return to innocence in death. (How Flower-Obsessed Victorians Encoded Messages in Bouquets – Romie Scott, Atlas Obscura, 15 August 2016)
5. (31 Gifts For Every Type of Host – The Strategist, The New York Magazine, 15 November 2019)
6, 7. (Why wedding gift registries are gaining popularity among millennials – Geetika Mantri, The News Minute, 27 September 2019)

Best Films I Watched at MAMI 2019

mami mff 2019 audience opening film

2019 was the best year for me in terms of the MAMI Mumbai Film Festival. I watched a total of 19 films over the six days of the festival which has now given me another treat: I have come down with a bad cold. And I think the culprit is Robert Eggers’s The Lighthouse, the last film I watched, on the day when there was a light drizzle in Mumbai. Slightly soaked hair plus the air-conditioned auditorium of Regal Cinemas in Colaba. What more do you need to catch a cold?

Anyway, without digressing more, here’s five of the best movies I watched at MAMI 2019. In no specific order.

Ali the Goat & Ibrahim

A sweet little tale about love and death garnished with original humour. I was lucky to catch the rare screening of this 2016 Egyptian comedy drama that brought a broad a smile to my face even as I ran out of the hall to catch the next screening, a common occurrence when you talk about MAMI MFF.

lounging at PVR ICON
Waiting for the screening of Ali the Goat & Ibrahim at PVR ICON, Andheri

Deerskin

This was the comic powerhouse of the 21st edition of MAMI MFF where Jean Dujardin, in a role that was made only for him, plays a man obsessed with a jacket made of 100% deerskin. This French comedy drama cracked me up bad, especially because of its excellent writing and screenplay. Bravo!

Aamis

Straight out of the meat-loving land of Assam, Aamis (Ravening) is more about the interpretation and subversion of platonic love than gluttony. In it, the lead characters fall in love and execute an outlandish activity to keep their love igniting. It took me by surprise and I am still thinking about it as I write this stub.

Panghrun

A groundbreaking film in the most basic sense of that word, Mahesh Manjrekar’s Panghrun (Cloaking) is a profound period drama that explores woman’s sexuality and her part in a traditional matrimony setup. It is a critique of the traditions. Intensity is high throughout the film and there’s not one element that I disliked about it. 10 stars.

Moothon

Geethu Mohandas’s crime drama set in Mumbai’s Kamathipura is a wild and true depiction. And it samples so many themes at once I thought I was watching at least three films. Nivin Pauly, Shadhank Arora, and Sobhita Dhulipala are vibrant and unmissable in this gritty yet poignant Malayalam film (translates as The Elder One in English) that numbed me for a few minutes after the final shot.

moothon q&a session mami mff
The post-screening Q&A session of Moothon cast and crew at MAMI 2019

Choosing five out of 19 is usually difficult but not this time. These five blew me away and I am going to sing their praises for some time now. If I had to expand this list, I would include Wet Season, Aadhaar, You Will Die at 20, Gamak Ghar, and I Lost My Body.

A Dog and His Old Man, Ghost Town Anthology, and Cargo, on the other hand, if I were to create a ‘worst films’ list. I walked out of two films this year: Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir (boring) and Rob Garver’s What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael (had to rush for another screening).

This is a great improvement for me since the 2018 edition and I think most of the credit goes to the some planning I did this time. Here’s another year of waiting till MAMI MFF comes back in November 2020. TN.

The Definitive Guide to the MAMI Mumbai Film Festival

MAMI festival guide for first timers

Everyone talks about the MAMI Mumbai Film Festival (MFF) but no one talks about how to do it right. There’s a lot of information out there, most of which is pushed out by MAMI itself but it’s all scattered around on social media and other boring places that no one visits anymore like Facebook.

So, as a festival regular since 2015, allow me to provide you with everything that you need to know about inarguably the biggest cinema extravaganza of India. I will cover almost everything:

  • Why you need to visit
  • Registration through BookMyShow (i.e. getting the festival season pass)
  • Booking seats through BookMyShow (most critical)
    • The art of queuing up if you fail to pre-book
    • The art of queuing up to get the best seats in the hall
  • Selecting what films to watch
  • Strategy and planning
    • Finances, travel (how to shuttle between venues), and accommodation (where to stay)
  • Film festival etiquette (i.e. what is expected of you)
  • How to stay hydrated and nourished between the screenings (critical)

This is a no-nonsense and comprehensive guide. It is going to be long but I also promise you it will be worth it and will make your MAMI experience a lot better because things do tend to get chaotic. Both first-timers and fellow haunters, take note.

Let me start with an important question.

Why Should You Attend the MAMI Mumbai Film Festival?

I was a having a conversation with a friend recently who looked a little perplexed when I told her that you cannot even murmur during a screening in a film festival setting for the fear of admonishment from fellow viewers. It stunned her that talking to a person, or worse, on the phone, while a film is playing is frowned upon. It simply did because she is accustomed to the mainstream movie-watching experience, that barbaric way of watching a movie, while also eating food, browsing Twitter, and commentating the proceedings of the film playing on the screen. It’s not her fault and the MAMI film festival is just not for them. Or maybe it is, as a new way to engage with cinema.

Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota crew
(L-R) Gulshan Devaiah, Abhimanyu Dassani, Vasan Bala, and Ronnie Screwvala during the introduction of their film Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota at the 2018 edition.

The festival is for anyone who has ever been enchanted by a piece of cinema. Whether it is a short film they saw on YouTube or an obscure film they watched when on a holiday in Germany or a Bollywood masala film. The MAMI MFF has everything for everybody.

It is not just a festival that screens films from around the world. It’s about the community that comes together and celebrates for a whole week while disregarding everything else, even family. Folks like me apply for leaves at work and spend entire days at the festival. And they keep coming back every year because once you experience it self-control becomes an imaginary ability.

Finding an obscure film that was never on your watchlist and enjoying it, bumping into that small-time actor you saw in an indie film and loved but can’t recognize but you still go ahead and say hi, standing in a long queue and kicking up a conversation with a fellow cinephile, experiencing the cinema the way it should be (without censorship and disclaimers), watching the cast and crew speak about their film with more passion than they usually speak in interviews, finding your new favourite director or writer or music producer, watching actors and directors talk about their art and sharing tips, getting busy with film screenings with no time to even post about it on film Twitter, devouring a burger in less than two minutes because you are already late for the screening, and going back home at the end of the day thinking and dreaming about the visual magic you just saw earlier in the day – the MAMI Mumbai Film Festival is everything that you have never experienced about cinema.

A Brief Introduction to MAMI

So you have finally managed to take some time off and decided to experience it. Or is it your cinephile friend who has been raving about it for the whole year and has now cajoled you to participate? Or are you a (film) student who’s just found out about it and can’t wait to see what a festival feels like? The MAMI Mumbai Film Festival (MFF) is no doubt worth every resource you spend on it. Whether it’s some time off work to enjoy the festival in all its glory by attending all seven days and catching all the buzz-worthy films. Or the finances that you need for the registration, transportation, and in some cases, accommodation. Or the emotional energy that you will need to expend if you are to become a faithful festival participant who’s out there to enjoy cinema the way it should be. It’s an experience that will enrapture you and make you come back every year. MAMI promises you that and I can confirm it.

Whatever may be your motivation to attend the MAMI fest and whatever you may have heard from past delegates, I confirm that every part of it is true. Experiencing the festival is a feeling that gives you instant pleasure and the film screening may not even have begun.

Here are a few things about the MAMI MFF if you are a first-timer:

It’s a national-level film festival that aims to celebrate cinema. It is the biggest film event in India and features tens and tens of films – from arthouse dramas to international buzz-worthy titles to Indian genre-benders. If films are the highlight, the sessions and celebrity interviews add the glamour and technicality to it. The madness that you observe at the venues feeds your desire to belong. You will find everyone from filmmakers to film students to journalists to technicians who have all gathered to do just one thing: enjoy cinema.

india gold 2019 mami mff
India Gold is one of the top categories of MFF / credit MAMI

The films at the fest are classified based on their origin and type. Some of these are competitive, meaning awards will be given out for the best film as adjudged by the jury. Here are all the categories of films at MAMI MFF (these are colour-coded in the schedule):

  • Opening Film
  • India Gold – contemporary Indian fiction and documentary features
  • International Competition – films by debut international filmmakers
  • Dimensions Mumbai – films by emerging Indian filmmakers
  • Discovering India – films with Indian cast or about India
  • Half Ticket – children’s cinema
  • After Dark – films in the horror and thriller genres and subgenres
  • World Cinema – films from around the world
  • Special Presentations – gives a tribute to a country or a type of films
  • India Story – films with India as the backdrop
  • Spotlight – mainstream Indian cinema (premieres)
  • Marathi Talkies – Marathi-language films
  • Restored Classics – classic films from India and around the world
  • Movie Mela – talks by celebrities from India and the world

A few more defining features of the festival:

  • Films are not censored and do not have idiotic disclaimers that are otherwise mandatory for theatrical release
  • All non-English films have subtitles
  • National anthem is often not played
  • Everyone is equal when they are attending a screening
  • You can participate in Q&A sessions and ask anything to the cast and crew of a film (look for this info in the schedule)
    • But avoid criticizing the film if you participate in the Q&A
  • Most delegates are people who are extremely serious about the fest, so you can expect to find people that are very much like you.

Now that you are hopefully hyped up, here’s everything you need to do the MAMI MFF the right way. The definitive guide with strategies, tips, and tricks from yours truly who has been a fervent follower of the event as well as the film festivals sphere of India since 2015.

Let’s start with the registration.

How to Register for MAMI MFF

Once you have made the decision to attend the fest, the next step is to register on BookMyShow (BMS). There’s no last date for registration so there’s no need to hurry, especially those who want to see the lineup and the schedule before they make up their mind. All these details are out just a week before the festival.

Therefore, the right time to register is a week or two before the festival start date. But make sure you plan the seven days out at least a month ago if you are a working professional or student or coming from outside the city. Applying for leaves and managing accommodation beforehand can always be helpful and cost-effective.

(For the 2019 edition, the entire lineup of 190 feature films (out of 220 total titles) and the catalogue were out by October first week, followed by the schedule on 10 October. The festival officially begins with the Movie Mela on 13 October, followed by a gala on 17 October. Movie screenings start from 18 October.)

MAMI uses BMS for its registration and ticketing needs. This means all your fest registration, seat bookings, venue selection, and technical issues (if any) will be handled by those folks. They also have ground support staff who, together with PVR and MAMI officials (PR team too), manage the entire festival.

There are two ways to register: through BookMyShow (recommended) and on-ground registration (opens only a week before the festival start). The latter is for last-minute-planners, someone like my father. (He won’t read this.)

Registering through BookMyShow

Instructions have been simplified, keeping in mind the confusion that usually originates during the registration. Please excuse the verbosity. (Check the abridged FAQs section below before registering.)

  • Go to bookmy.show/mami
  • Log in if you already have a BMS account (optional)
  • Click on the button ‘Register’
  • A dialog of four categories will appear on the same window. Select one
    • ‘Delegate’ is the most common and recommended type and provides access to all screenings and sessions. The ‘Student’ pass is free but has venue and screening limitations so I won’t recommend it (since the 2019 fee is just INR 500 ($7)[1]The registration fee for MAMI MFF has been INR 500 ($7) since the 2017 edition in an attempt to bring in the masses. Before that, it was INR 1,500 ($21) per pass.). ‘Press Accreditation’ is free and only for journalist and writers with press ID numbers and takes at least three weeks for verification. Obviously, don’t go for it if you are not a journalist or a media person. ‘Half Ticket’ is for kids in the age group of 5-17 who will only be eligible to watch Half Ticket movie screenings; their registration is dependent on an adult person’s registration (e.g.: you and your child))
  • Press the button ‘Delegate Pass’ (other categories have similar steps; just follow the dialog prompts)
  • After selecting the category, another dialog will load. Enter your personal details, upload a photograph with a clear face, and select a preferred location for badge pick-up. Recheck details and then click on the button ‘Proceed’
    • Choose the venue wisely and near to where you live or work so that you can pick it up easily. Check the venue map below
  • Click on ‘Proceed to Pay’ on the next window
  • Choose your preferred mode of payment and greenlight the transaction
  • Upon successful confirmation you will receive an email as well as a text message mentioning your MAMI festival ID (16-digit alphanumeric which starts with MASEGN). Save it on your phone’s notepad and keep it handy.

Note – Here’s a 2018 guide by BMS that lists the same process. It’s a bit more detailed.

Once you have registered, the only thing you need is the email or SMS that mentions the festival ID and a government-issued identity card (driving licence, aadhaar card, passbook).

(For the 2019 edition, the Movie Mela bookings have already begun. Visit the MAMI page on BMS and book a seat right away. Instead of ‘Register’ click on ‘Login’ (on the above link) and input your festival ID to access the booking interface. Choose the session you want to book and click on the time (e.g.: 12:00 PM). A new pop-up will ask you to confirm booking; click on it and your seat will be confirmed. See below.)

mami bms booking
A screenshot of the booking interface / credit BMS

Essential FAQs (Or Things to Know)

No need to read the entire sections of FAQs and T&Cs over at BMS. These are the things you need to know during registration and seat booking:

  • You can book only four screenings per day online. For Movie Mela, the limit is two
    • More seats can be booked through on-ground booking (this is how some people average five to six movies a day). For example, if you have booked all four films and think you can squeeze one more, you can register for it at the box office counter of the theatre
  • Your badge ID is like a key during the fest; it will be scanned at the entrance of each screening to verify your seat. In case you lose it, you will lose all your bookings and will have to reregister
  • The free student pass has limitations in the form of venues and screenings. If you are a student and want to enjoy the fest in its entirety, go with a paid Student pass.

How Do I Get a Gold Pass

Some people get gold passes for the MAMI fest. It is exclusively for the cast and crew of films that will be screened, MAMI officials and their friends, organizers, foreign delegates, and the who’s who of the Indian film industry. It allows direct entry to the auditoriums without having to stand in queues. Plus, the last four to six rows are reserved for them for all film screenings. It is also rumored that gold pass delegates do not have to book seats. They can just enter.

There is no way to get a gold pass.[2]In 2019, there was a way. At the Movie Mela, festival director Anupama Chopra announced that MAMI will be giving out one gold pass for a lucky delegate who shows extraordinary creativity and love for the festival by tweeting during that event. I’m not sure what the judging criteria was or if that promise was honoured. And if you somehow did, you don’t much need this guide.

Collecting the Delegate Badge and Festival Kit

Keep following MAMI on Facebook or Twitter and wait for the announcement for badge pickup. It usually happens a week before the start date. Also a good idea to keep tabs on the hashtag #JioMAMIwithStar2019.

Go to your selected venue and show the festival ID and an identity card at the MAMI counter (usually near or inside the theatre’s ticket counter). Unfortunately, you have to go there by yourself to pick them up; no substitutes. You should receive the following:

  • Delegate badge (festival ID card)
  • Festival catalogue
  • Festival bag (tote bag)
  • Schedule pamphlet
MAMI fest bag
The 2018 MAMI bag
MAMI Mumbai film festival 2017
My bag and other stuff from the 2017 edition

It is possible that the bag may go out of stock in your selected venue; don’t worry, you can pick it up from any other venue but make sure you go on the first few days of the announcement. If you don’t get it, keep the BMS coupon (a plastic token) handy which you will need to furnish later for the bag.

(For the 2019 edition, the badge announcement was made on 10 October. Bag and catalogue will be available by 14 October.)

How to Book MAMI Movie Tickets

This is perhaps the most critical aspect. Any misstep or lapse from you side will cost you from taking in the complete MAMI experience.

Ticket booking for the film screenings start a day prior to the day of the screenings. This means you have to book tickets on the 17th for the shows playing on the 18th. It starts at 8 AM sharp on BookMyShow so you need to be ready at least five minutes before with the list of four films that you want to book seats for. All sessions, interviews, and talks are considered ‘films’.

Booking a seat for a screening at MAMI is like booking a tatkal ticket on IRCTC.[3]Thanks to Sujay Kulkarni for the analogy. You can never be too sure that you will get a confirmed seat as tickets for the popular films sell out in less than a minute. The same is the case for opening film. So many people logging in and browsing the site at the same time also lead it to load slowly, or worse, crash. And by the time you refresh and the site recovers from it, the show is sold out. Panic!

The Right Way

Although the seat booking is problematic and akin to a non-destructive warzone, it is not totally impossible to get what you want as I found out in 2018 when I managed to book a seat for the opening film. It was a dream come true. I was keeping a tab on that hashtag throughout to see what the situation was as a lot of people resort to tweeting their upsets.

And if you are like me, you don’t want to skip the opening film, the first screening of which usually comes with an introduction by the cast and crew as well as a questions-and-answers session that just makes up for all the trouble you go to to get a ticket.

There are two things if you want to increase your chances of getting a seat:

  1. A high-speed internet connection
  2. A solid, well-thought-out watchlist

It doesn’t matter whether you use a desktop or the BMS mobile app to access and login to the MAMI portal. But in my experience if you access it through a browser on a desktop you can easily search the films you want to book. But then BMS will take a bit longer to load on the website. Use what works best for you.

Log in to the portal at least by 7.55 AM and keep browsing. The key is to be active enough so that you can be ready at the strike of eight to look for the films and hit ‘confirm’. Pre-selecting the categories will help as the portal will then load only those categories that your films fall in.

bookmyshow mami booking
These are the categories on BMS desktop / credit BMS

When the time comes, quickly select the date, search for the films, and start booking. All of this should happen within a span of 30 seconds so you need to be ready with alternatives too. For example, if you can’t book the first screening of the opening film, try booking the next one. Having a good idea about the venues, alternative screenings, and worst-case options will definitely help.

You can book all the four screenings at one go. Even if the website/app crashes, log in again and search for the shows until they show up as ‘sold out’. If the shows that you want are sold out, look for alternative films. But I would not suggest booking alternatives just for the heck of it because that will limit the opportunity for other people who might be honestly interested in those films.

Alternative Ways to Book Tickets

In essence, there are a total of three ways to book screenings at MAMI:

  1. Through BookMyShow at 8 AM the previous day of the screening
  2. Through on-ground support the previous day of the screening (as early in the day as possible)
  3. Through the walk-in line (hours before the show)

Say you want to book a ticket for a 5 PM show on 20 October at Audi 2 of PVR ECX. The first and most recommended way to do that is to log on to BMS on 19 October at 8 AM and book a seat online (see above section for steps). Assuming the show gets sold out, your next bet is to physically go to the venue (i.e. PVR ECX) on the same day (19 October) as soon as possible and book a ticket for that show through the offline counter (theatre’s box office). You can also book for other shows at the same venue through this method at one go but only for the next day (20 October). This is mostly difficult if you stay far away from the venue.

Your next and final chance is to get in the walk-in/rush line on the day of the screening. Since some people who have prebooked tend to skip the screenings (or they are just running late), there are extra seats available. For the 5 PM show, depending on the film’s popularity, go and stand in the walk-in queue outside Audi 2 as soon as you can. It can be from 4 PM or 2 PM or even 12 PM. Do not be surprised if when you go at 2 PM and you see the queue is already strong with 50-odd people just like you who were without luck the previous morning. This usually means you have to skip the film before that show i.e. for the 5 PM show if you have to stand in line from 2 PM, you won’t be able to catch any show in that time slot. (Think if that show will be really worth it.)

Unfortunately, you will have to repeat this for each show that you want. If the shows are at the same venue, you can book for all of them at one go. But if even the on-ground tickets are sold out, you will have to queue up for all three separately, which could mean standing outside different auditoriums. It’s not recommended. What is recommended instead is to take chance and go for some other lesser-known film. I remember not getting a seat for a film called Jonaki in 2018 even though I stood in the walk-in line for 30+ minutes. So, I went for an animation film called Ruben Brandt, Collector in the same venue and was fairly delighted. I was lucky because Jonaki was a snoozefest as my friend described it later.

Remember that a certain percentage of seats are always reserved for on-ground registration and walk-in line. For example, if an auditorium has 100 seats, 50 are open for online booking, 30 for on-ground and walk-in, and 20 for gold class delegates and/or cast/crew (numbers and percentages are assumptive but close).

If you fail to book tickets through BMS for day one, persevere and try harder for day two. The rush typically dies down as the days pass.

Important Note for Couples or Groups of Friends

There is no way to ensure that two or more of you will be able to book the same screening. In most cases, one will be able to and by the time others log in, that show will be sold out.

Hence, I would strongly recommend to attend the festival as a solo delegate. In other words, if you are a group or a couple, have differing watchlist strategies. After all, everyone has different taste in cinema.

Having a partner or friend is definitely exciting as you can share opinions and eat and drink together but MAMI is brutal in that way. Plus, the idea of meeting strangers who share the same vocation as you will be fun. It is.

This does not mean you cannot give it a try. Luck plays an important role is all I will say.

In the unfortunate event where you are not able to book for your desired movie, I would request you to go with an alternative title (online) or try your luck (on-ground). The point about serendipity by Sujay Kulkarni writing for Vice.com is true; “chancing upon a random film that you didn’t even consider while strategising your watchlist and being blown away by it is such a satisfying feeling that in the moment you might even start believing in fate.”

But, hey, let’s not go into the festival with a pessimistic attitude. That’s what strategy is for. Here are some tips.

How to Plan the MAMI MFF – Watchlist Strategy

There are two ways to enjoy the MAMI MFF: one where you have a good idea about what films you need to watch and the other where you go in and try your luck. It is obvious in the second way that you won’t need prior seat reservation. So, let’s call it ‘the leisure way’. The former requires thorough planning and that’s what this section is about.

The easiest thing to do is to create a short list of must-watch movies. Either scribble the names on your phone’s notepad or a piece of paper or head over to Letterboxd or IMDb that will also help you track and log. IMDb list helps because you also get the Metacritic rating which is, objectively, the only way to judge a movie’s critical claim these days. Maybe even Rotten Tomatoes.

Pro Tip – An average festivalgoer can catch about 21 to 28 films (three to four per day for seven days). Creating a list of a dozen or so must-watch films and secondary options, a total of which counts to about 30 to 35, will be ideal. Having options for when you cannot catch a movie you wanted to always helps. And I can assure you catching all the films in your list is not going to be easy. You will know.

The list should also depend on your schedule. Are you going to attend the entire festival? Or only a select few days. Does your doctor needs you to have food at a specific time? Keep that in mind while planning. Average about three to four films per day and then choose accordingly. As noted above, you can book maximum four screenings online and more can be booked through on-ground registration only.

How to Choose Films

You can either depend on ‘must-watch films’ lists that circulate in online media days before the festival or do your own research. Here’s how I do it.

I first go through the entire list of films (for the 2019 edition, check it out on the catalogue here). If there are films that I have heard before (a critic raving about it or an Oscar hopeful) I immediately add it to a list that I maintain on IMDb (the 2019 one is here). Then I look for Indian films specifically because some of these titles usually don’t have theatrical releases. Such festivals then are the only way to watch them.

I usually skip popular Indian and international titles because they are anyway going to be released theatrically or online. I look for obscure and rare ones instead. In some cases, if a film looks like it should be watched on the big screen, I add that too. Restored classics, Indian regional-language films, and world cinema titles get more love from me.

I also check out what titles are available on VOD or for streaming online and then skip them (something I did in 2018). The idea is to watch as many rare films that won’t be easily available in future.

Once you have the rough list ready the next step is to take a look at the schedule and plan when and where you will be watching the movies. All movies are screened at PVR theatres and other single-screen theatres across Mumbai and most venues have multiple auditoriums. Therefore, it makes sense to choose one or two venues that are closer to each other than shuttle between all of them.

Notes About Screening Venues

In 2019, the MAMI Mumbai Film Festival has eight screening venues. Instead of a list I created this handy Google Maps snippet. You can save it on your Maps if you’d like.

There are five PVR theatres and three single-screen venues namely Le Reve, Matterden (Deepak Talkies, Carnival Cinemas), and Regal. Following are more details about number of auditoriums and seating capacity.

  • PVR ICON – four auditoriums – Audi 1 (236), Audi 2 (220), Audis 3 and 4 (312)
  • PVR ECX – five auditoriums – all with 216 seats each
  • PVR Juhu – two auditoriums – Audi 1 (276), Audi 2 (300)
  • PVR Kurla – one auditorium – Audi 8 (207)
  • PVR ICON LP – one auditorium – Audi 5 (252)
  • Le Reve Bandra – one hall with 259 seats
  • Matterden – one hall with 373 seats (stall + balcony)
  • Regal – one hall with 1,166 seats (stall + balcony)

As you can see it is sensible to plan your movies at the three theatres in Andheri and Juhu. This is also the prime spot for festival regulars and celebrities, the opening film with introduction, and other sassy sessions and events. So, naturally that makes PVR ICON, PVR ECX, and PVR Juhu the most sought-after venues. This has been the case since MAMI tied up with PVR earlier this decade. (A little bit about MAMI’s history here.)

But there’s a catch in selecting those three venues. Everyone thinks alike and when that happens your chances of getting a seat at these venues drop drastically, also because the seating capacity is not that impressive. This is one of the things you will find out when you sit down to book tickets at eight in the morning: shows at these three venues get sold out faster.

And that’s why I suggest choosing other less popular venues like Regal Cinemas in Colaba, SPI Cinemas (Le Reve) in Bandra, or PVR Kurla. I would recommend choosing Regal because it has the highest seating capacity (about 1,166) compared to the few hundreds in PVR halls (207 to 312). (In 2019, Martin Scorcese’s The Irishaman will screen twice at Regal. MAMI chose that venue for the same reason above.) In 2018, I was able to book the closing film (Steve McQueen’s Widows) because I chose Regal as the venue.

Matterden has limited screenings and usually hosts Half Ticket films and other non-popular events. The one at Kurla and Lower Parel are also not big enough as they only have one screen each for the festival.

But if you like the glamour and craze that comes as part of the festival and want to experience it first-hand, aim higher and go for one of those coveted venues. PVR ICON and PVR ECX in Andheri are a stone’s throw apart so you can alternate between them on foot. The celebrities and film folks usually hang out at these two SoBo venues.

How to Create the Viewing List – Steps

  • Refine the list; for every must-watch film, have an alternative
  • Compare daily schedule (download the digital copy from the MAMI website) with your films and create a rough plan
    • Scan the schedule for a day and then earmark the screenings that you want to catch
    • Noting them down on another piece of paper will help so that you can detect if there are any overlaps
  • Create time slots and assign one film per slot
    • 10 AM to 12 PM, 12 PM to 2 PM, 2 PM to 5 PM, 5 PM to 8 PM, and 8 PM to midnight
    • Although these are five slots, in most cases, you will only be able to assign four films across them
  • Take note of the travel time if you choose different venues. Google Maps will help but make sure you adjust an extra 15 to 30 minutes every time you are moving between towns (Andheri to Lower Parel, for instance). (Use the timings (arrive by/depart at) feature for a rough idea)
  • Once you have a film per slot for that day, look for alternatives. For example, if you cannot catch the opening film at 7.30 PM, which one can you go for so that you can be present at the same venue for the 9 PM show? Think like this and you will automatically prepare a solid plan. If required, look for a third alternative as well because things can get real messy if the first two options are both well-known films
  • Repeat for all the days that you will attend
  • Go over each day and make changes because sometimes you can avoid overlaps if you shift screenings. For example, a film that screens at 8 PM on day one might be screening at 10 AM some other day. MAMI has multiple screenings for most films so see which ones work best for you
    • Keep an eye on social media as MAMI also tends to change the schedule abruptly. In 2017, Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s S Durga was added later whereas in 2018, an extra screening of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters was added due to popular demand
  • Keep updating as you complete screenings. If you couldn’t catch a film on day one, try to squeeze it or replace it with another in the following days.

Keep this watchlist with you at all times so that you can edit it while on the go. Take a final look every night so that you can be sure what movies you want to book the next morning.

Note – The opening film is supposed to be invite-only but it usually is available for general delegates as well. Also, as the title would suggest it is not the first film to be screened at the fest; instead it serves as a formal, inaugural event where the organizers talk a little about the MFF, introduce it and speak on why it was chosen as the opening film, and the cast and crew engage with the audience. Essentially, it sets the mood for the whole fest.

Here’s my rough plan for the 2018 edition. Daywise and timewise scheduling based on my watchlist and festival screening timings.

Mumbai film festival personal plan
A bird’s eye view of my 2018 plan. Comments on the handwriting are not expected. (Click to open on another tab)

Choosing one venue (if you do, consider PVR ECX with five auditoriums) and sticking to the films being screened there will make your life these seven days easier. Traveling in Mumbai is easy if you have prior experience but it still can get tedious and overwhelming when you are handling four to five films with very little time in between. Who has time for public transport then?

Tips on Travelling

But you are still going to need to plan your travel, at least to get to the first venue from your place of stay (house or hotel).

Most screenings start at or after 10 AM so there’s enough time to plan the morning commute. If you live near to any of the venues I would suggest choosing that one as your main hangout area. But if you want to be adventurous, be my guest and consider these tips:

  • Uber and Ola and other cab aggregators will mostly have surge pricing in and around the venues due to the high demand. Therefore, go with auto rickshaws or black-and-yellow taxicabs. Make sure you ask for the ride fare before getting in to avoid getting fleeced (or ensure the electronic meters are up and running)
  • PVR ICON and PVR ECX in Andheri are the venues that are nearest to each other. Walking distance is about 300 metres between them
  • For long-distance travel, always prefer either the local suburban train and Metro or BEST buses
    • Both local trains and BEST buses will be crowded during peak timings (8 AM to 11 AM and evening 5 PM to 8 PM). So plan your travels accordingly, especially if you do not have any experience. The crowds can get uncontrollable
    • Metros are crowded too but the air condition helps and the frequency is higher
  • None of the venues are close to the railway stations so your best bet is to get down at the nearest railway station and take a cab/rickshaw
  • If you are shuttling between Andheri and Juhu, prefer cabs
  • Having your own vehicle will help but Mumbai traffic will still play spoilsport with your plans if you are going to drive by yourself. This is why trains and Metro are recommended
  • Before going in for the final screening for the day, check the last train/Metro timings to ensure you will have public transit help to get back where you stay
    • In worst cases, take an Uber/Ola and avoid pool rides. If you are a woman, sit right behind the driver so that they cannot ogle at you from the front mirror.

If you are new to the city, consider downloading the following mobile apps:

  • m-indicator (Android, iOS) – for local train, Metro, and BEST bus timings; fare calculations; BEST bus routes; and live chat (free)
  • Ridlr (Android, iOS) – for BEST bus and Metro tickets (free)
  • UTS (Android, iOS) – for local train tickets (free official Indian Railways app)

More info and discussion about these apps at r/Mumbai on Reddit. Thanks to u/anjan18.

Suffice to say that shuttling between the venues is not recommended. Go with one or two nearby venues and have a peaceful festival experience. The commute time can instead be used to grab a bite at a nearby bistro.

Tips On Accommodation

If you are from outside the city, consider these options:

  • Find a place in Andheri, Versova, or Juhu so that your travel is sorted
    • The Urbanpod is a cool lodging option
    • MAMI has a tie-up with Oyo Rooms so make sure you look for that information in the festival catalogue. Or call up Oyo and just ask for a discount
  • If Andheri is not where your venue is, go with a hotel that is near to your preferred venue/s
  • Book at least a week before to avoid rush and inflated prices
  • Do not prebook meals because you won’t be having them there if you plan to make most of the festival. (In fact, you won’t be having much food at all during the fest. More on why later.)

If you live just outside Mumbai (like Navi Mumbai or Kalyan or Virar), you may also consider getting the above-mentioned accommodation for the duration of the fest.

I live in Navi Mumbai and I usually use local trains and my feet to get to the venues. When you sometimes forget to remove the badge and people stare at you as you cross a sidewalk, it gives you a bit of joy. But don’t spend too time much in that joy because you need to get to the venue before the queue line breaks the wall.

For Outstation Folks

If you are coming from another city in India or another country, here are a few tips on air, rail, and bus travel:

  • Nearest and the only airport is Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (CSIA) i.e. the Mumbai airport (BOM) which is in Andheri itself
    • If you land here, consider lodging at a hotel that’s both closer to the airport and your chosen venue/s
  • If you are coming by passenger long-distance train, get down at any of these termini. Once you alight, take a rickshaw or a cab to your hotel. You can also choose to take the local train if you need to travel longer (say, from Bandra to Andheri or Churchgate)
    • Bandra (BA/BDTS) – Western line
    • Dadar (D/DR/DDR) – Western/Central line
    • Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj (CSMT) – Central/Harbour line
    • Lokmanya Tilak (LTT) – Harbour line
Mumbai suburban railway network / credit someone on the internet (Qopo)
  • If you are coming by bus, get down at Vile Parle in Andheri (Hanuman bus stop). Then take a rickshaw or a cab to your hotel.

Nearest Railway or Metro Station Station from the Venues

  • PVR ICON and PVR ECX – D N Nagar metro station, Jogeshwari railway station (Western line)
  • PVR Juhu – D N Nagar metro station, Andheri railway station (Western line)
  • PVR Kurla – Vidyavihar railway station (Central line), Ghatkopar and Jagruti Nagar metro stations
  • PVR ICON, LP – Lower Parel (Western line) and Currey Road (Central line) railway stations
  • Le Reve – Bandra railway station (Western line)
  • Matterden – Prabhadevi (Western line) and Parel (Central line) railway stations. Prabhadevi is also known as Elphinstone Road
  • Regal – Churchgate (Western line) and CSMT (Central/Harbour lines) railway stations

Note – If you face any issues while travelling, let me know in the comment section below and I will suggest you the best way out.

Tips on Finances

Keep your purse/wallet stuffed with some cash and one or two cards. Although digital payments are in vogue, you never know when you might need some cash so that you can pay the pav bhaji wala you found on the corner of a street. If you have two cards, keep one on your person and the other one in your wallet/purse or tote bag.

Apart from the registration fee, you will need money for the traveling and accommodation. Depending upon the mode of travel, it can be anywhere between INR 100 ($1.5) and INR 3,000 ($43). Expect to shell out at least INR 3,000 ($43) per day for accommodation in decent hotels.

MAMI Etiquette

As a delegate, you are expected to exhibit basic film festival formalities. If this is your first time at one, here’s some useful tips specially tailored for the MAMI Mumbai Film Festival. Or go directly to this article and avoid doing everything that it lists.

  • Arrive 20 to 30 minutes before time and queue up outside the auditorium
    • If you need the best seats in the hall, measure the popularity of the film and then go and stand outside the auditorium a few hours earlier. Higher the popularity, earlier the queue begins to form
  • Do not talk to those sitting beside you or on the phone while a film is playing. You may be admonished severely or asked to leave. The ground staff may intervene and it can get embarrassing
  • Do not argue with the ground support staff; they are just doing their job. The reality is that as long as there are VIPs there will be seats reserved for them
    • Instead be polite with the staff
  • Do not make noises while drinking/eating if you choose to do it during a screening
  • If you think you might have to walk out of a film due to some reason, take an aisle seat. This ensures you don’t disturb those sitting around you
  • Avoid using your mobile phone during a screening.

What to Do While at the Venue

You are supposed to reach the venue (the auditorium) at least 15 minutes before the start of the screening. I would recommend making that 30 minutes. There are enough reasons why.

There will be two queues outside the auditoritum – one is for those who have prebooked a screening and the other one is the rush/walk-in line for those who could not or did not prebook. Make sure the queue you have joined is the right one.

The first queue enters the hall at least 10 minutes before the start of the show. Once everyone has entered that line CLOSES and those standing in the walk-in line get the opportunity.

What happens if you arrive AFTER the main line has closed? You forfeit your booking and you have to join the walk-in line. If it’s a popular film, there is no point because you won’t be getting a seat. I would suggest you to not get into a tiff with the ground staff because they can’t do anything. All seats at MAMI screenings are on first-come-first-serve basis. That is why you will see people queuing up from 4 PM for a show that’s supposed to start at 7.30 PM. True story!

What happens if you arrive just 15 minutes before? You will get to join the main queue but it will already be a long one and you will have to sit in the front-row seats. The higher the popularity of the film and the more late you are for it you will get a seat that is closer to the screen.

Note – Unlike EUFF India, MAMI is not that punctual when it comes to screenings. So, expect delays and consider that while planning your days.

A few more things that you can do while at the venue or in the auditorium:

  • Make use of the cafeteria
    • Be aware that cafeteria food can be expensive (e.g.: INR 400 ($6) for a bucket of popcorn and INR 120 ($2) for a mug of soft drink)
  • Go through the catalogue or update your watchlist while standing in a queue
  • Kick up conversation with random persons
  • Look for actors and wonder which film you saw them in; and maybe go and say hi. Don’t stare or unabashedly ask for a selfie if the opportunity is not right
  • Give some rest to your behind by taking a stroll inside or outside the gate. Or give some rest to your feet by sitting down
  • Update your family about your whereabouts.

Once a screening is completed, you can either wait for the end credits to roll up (it’s courtesy) or rush for the next screening. One problem that you will see here is that you can only get out through the main exit. This means even if your next screening is in the same venue or in the same auditorium you will still have to go through the main exit, walk down the stairs, enter again through the entrance (the mall entrance in case of PVR), get frisked, and stand in a fresh queue outside the auditorium where your next screening will be played.

After the third screening you really begin to wonder and ask yourself: why the hell do I not exercise daily? I concur.

Tips for Film Critics

If you are a film critic or intend to write reviews of the films you will be watching, I recommend lowering your phone’s brightness to the minimum and then jotting down points in a notepad app if you hope to do it during the screening. The better alternative is to take a pen and notepad but I understand if that’s not convenient.

After the screening, you can sit down and expand on the notes. If you have to publish it ASAP do it while standing on the queue for the next screening.

Come what may, do not fire up your laptop or increase your phone’s brightness in the middle of a screening. That’s just bad manners.

Taking Care of Yourself

Attending the MAMI Mumbai Film Festival will be an exhausting experience. There is not going to be any time for food, water, or even much sleep. As you can guess, survival is key if you want to successfully complete the MAMI experience.

The back-to-back films and all the walking and climbing the stairs between the screenings and the standing in the queues and the ‘Bombay travel’ can make you weak. You will dehydrate faster and the lack of food will make you drowsy. First-timers should be extremely aware of this scenario and follow these tips to stay hydrated and nourished throughout the day:

  • Carry a water bottle in your bag (the festival tote bag that you get is also for this purpose) and fill it up regularly. Make sure you take a swig frequently. Avoid plastic mineral water bottles as they will most likely be confiscated by the theatre security[4]There are free water coolers/dispensers in all PVR venues (and assumedly in other theatres as well) so no need to spend money on water.
  • If you plan to attend more than four screenings, carry at least half a dozen energy bars. Snickers do a good job of keeping you healthy. Other alternatives: Apples, oranges, Safari, or any granola snack bar will also do[5]Although outside food is not allowed inside the auditoriums in any of the theatres, I’m sure you have a few tricks up your sleeve on how to do that slyly and bypass the frisking. I’m not saying it is the right thing to do, though, but we all get hungry and theatre food costs a fortune.
    • Stock up on any of these for the whole week beforehand
    • Having your meals at a stipulated time will be difficult. If you are particular about it or suffer from any ailment like diabetes, take that into consideration while planning your strategy (see above)
  • Make sure you have at least two proper meals. For the duration of the festival, let’s assume a cheese burger as a proper meal. All I’m saying is have something heavy in the afternoon and at around 9 PM if that’s possible
  • Carry a jacket although the Mumbai weather is humid enough that you’ll regret it while you are travelling. But listen to me: the auditoriums are all air-conditioned and you are going to need that jacket or a shawl or at least a scarf for your neck.

Things to Carry

I recommend travelling light, so here are the bare essentials:

  • The MAMI festival ID
  • A filled water bottle and your choice of energy food (see above)
  • A comfort layer of cloth i.e. a jacket, shawl, scarf, overshirt
  • Chargers for your phone and laptop
  • A charged-up power bank
  • Earphones
  • Your medication (if any) + the usual Indian basic first-aid like paracetamols, Vicks inhaler and rub, antacid tablets
  • Books or other reading material for you when you are standing in queues and want your rush of literature. Want to borrow any from my library?

If you are high on eating when compared with move-watching, here’s a list of offers provided by eateries around the venues for the 2019 edition. Borrowed from the catalogue.

mami mff 2019 eating offers
A list of offers/discounts provided by eateries around the venues for the 2019 edition / credit MAMI

Other than these, keep an eye on the daily schedule (grab it from the front counter outside the venue) to see more such offers provided by eateries in and around the venues.

Whatever you do, make sure you stay hydrated, eat something, and use the restroom when the time allows. It will ensure a smooth flying through the fest.

I hope this has helped a lot. If you read the whole guide I want to congratulate you. You will be having one hell of an experience at the MAMI film festival. An experience that will stay with you for a very long time. All the best! TN.


MAMI 2019 edition poster
Jio MAMI MFF with Star 2019 poster / credit MAMI

The 21st edition of the Jio MAMI MFF with Star begins 17 October 2019 and will conclude on 24 October 2019. Film screenings (190 films from 53 countries) will start from the 18th which is also when the opening film (Moothon) will be shown. For registration, click here. For more official details, check out the MAMI website.

Featured image courtesy: MAMI

Update: copyedited; added some additional data and one new section ‘Things to Carry’. (14 October 2019)


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footnotes   [ + ]

1. The registration fee for MAMI MFF has been INR 500 ($7) since the 2017 edition in an attempt to bring in the masses. Before that, it was INR 1,500 ($21) per pass.
2. In 2019, there was a way. At the Movie Mela, festival director Anupama Chopra announced that MAMI will be giving out one gold pass for a lucky delegate who shows extraordinary creativity and love for the festival by tweeting during that event. I’m not sure what the judging criteria was or if that promise was honoured.
3. Thanks to Sujay Kulkarni for the analogy.
4. There are free water coolers/dispensers in all PVR venues (and assumedly in other theatres as well) so no need to spend money on water.
5. Although outside food is not allowed inside the auditoriums in any of the theatres, I’m sure you have a few tricks up your sleeve on how to do that slyly and bypass the frisking. I’m not saying it is the right thing to do, though, but we all get hungry and theatre food costs a fortune.

3 Days at the 2019 European Union Film Festival of India

eu film festival 2019 india

Reddit is one of the sites that I frequently visit these days, even more than Letterboxd and Twitter. And it was through the r/Mumbai community there that I came to know about the India edition of the European Union Film Festival (EUFF), a platform that showcases the best European cinema has to offer to the Indian populace and which is organized in several cities across the country every year as part of the ‘Europe in Your City’ programme through a partnership between the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (Directorate of Film Festivals), the Delegation of the European Union, and the consulates of respective European member states in India. It was in its 24th edition in 2019 and hosted 23 films from 23 European countries across eight cities between 24 June and 26 September. I managed to catch some of the films in Mumbai at the prestigious Films Division of India. This is an overview of my experience at and a recommendation of the festival for those who are interested in watching both little-known and popular European movies in a festival setting.

The European Union Film Festival of India

Abbreviated as EUFF India, it is one of the few annual film festivals celebrated in India. Although it is difficult to trace the history of the fest online (its website is new), it is safe to assume that it was started as a way to showcase European art of cinema to the cine enthusiasts of India and thereby bridge the gap between the artists from the two states. There’s no denying that it might even be a diplomatic activity aimed at strengthening the relations between India and the EU.

Films Division for euff 2019
A poster of EUFF India 2019 at the Films Division building

The 2019 edition was the 24th year the EUFF was celebrated across eight Indian cities: Chennai, New Delhi, Goa, Pune, Puducherry, Kolkata, Hyderabad, and Mumbai.[1]Interestingly, Mumbai was not in the list for the 2018 edition and it ran in eleven other cities. It was not there in 2017 either. The period of about three months is also reminiscent of how seriously the organizers take the event, using the resources offered by the Government of India for the screenings.

That is why the the entry to the festival is free of cost. Delegates are only supposed to be present at the screenings (the Mumbai screening details is mentioned in the last section here) and enjoy European cinema the best way the artform should be enjoyed in, without censorship and the poor behaviour that is rampant in mainstream theatres.

Special mention to Wishbox Studio for the beautiful EU Film Festival website design and merchandise. As you all know, I am a stationery fanatic and I am not ashamed to admit that I managed to take two cool-looking coasters home.

According to the EUFF website, the annual event is meant to celebrate the vitality and diversity of European cinema and culture. The films are a heady cocktail of romantic comedy, period drama, mockumentary, satire, and socio-political thriller.

My Experience at EUFF India 2019

I, for one, can attest to that fact about the cocktail as I managed to catch 11 of the 23 films that were screened. I attended 3 days of the festival and spent over 9 hours of courageous cinema marathon with 5 back-to-back films on the first day. It was the first time that I did that, an event that I’m told is common for film critics. In a way, I broke my own record of 3 films at the 2018 MAMI MFF, a feat that involved films Widows (2018), Climax (2018), and Leave No Trace (2018). It was exhausting to say the least but when I went to bed that night, it somehow felt good.

euff 2019 india screening
Before the start of the second screening on 21 September

I could not attend the entire festival because of work and some personal commitments. But, it was still fun. I liked the way the screenings were organized, very punctual, and a better crowd that the ones you find at MFF. It was not without its fair share of spectacles either. After the screening of the Austrian film Styx (2018) on 22 September 2019, a squabble broke out between a few viewers which quickly turned into a heated spat in Marathi. A group of elder enthusiasts began accusing a group of youngsters for being a nuisance. The former group got angry when the young men denied any wrongdoing. And it ended with the interference of the officials, even as the audience began preparing for the next screening.

Unlike at MAMI – the only other film festival I have attended so far – there was little time between the screenings. Although most of the titles were between 90 and 100 minutes of running time, it became really difficult to grab a bite between the shows. That is why you always carry some energy bars and a water bottle for a film festival. (Looks like it’s time I devise my own guide as I wait for the 2019 edition of the MFF.) But if you want it right now here’s a nice little guide by Berlin-based travel blogger Adam doling out some great tips to follow while at a film festival.

If finding time for lunch or evening snack is difficult, convincing your body to maintain its posture and not fidget for streaks of 90+ minutes with small intervals between them is where you’ll need a bit of practice and the ability to deviate from your lifestyle (diet and rest preferences). Active film festival attendees around the world (who visit the Big Three or other big ones like Sundance and TIFF) can do this without much effort. I have read stories.

european film festival schedule
The 2019 Mumbai schedule put up at the Films Division building

If you are a disciplined person who eats on time and sleeps on time, then I’m afraid attending film festivals is going to be tough. It is usually very difficult to cajole the fest organizers to push a 2 PM show by an hour because it overlaps with your lunchtime. If you are friends with the organizers and somehow manage to do it, let me know in the comments. I’ll execute your bragging rights.

It should be noted that due to a lack of popularity, none of the screenings I attended were houseful. But that was a relief because in most cases I could enjoy the films in silence with no disturbance from fellow viewers. Most of the audience were discerning and did not engage in activities that are barred from my own imaginary theatre if it is ever built.

Films Watched

I caught the following eleven films at the 2019 EUFF India (in the order of the viewing):

  1. Bubblegum (2017, Bulgaria, dir. Stanislav Todorov)
  2. Tulipani (2017, Netherlands, dir. Mike Van Diem)
  3. The Troupe (2018, Hungary, dir. Pal Sandor)
  4. Diamantino (2018, Portugal, dir. Gabriel Abrantes, Daniel Schmidt)
  5. The Charmer (2018, Denmark, dir. Milad Alami)
  6. Drifters (2015, Sweden, dir. Peter Gronlund)
  7. Styx (2018, Austria, dir. Woflgang Fischer)
  8. Ashes in the Snow (2018, Lithuania, Marius Markevicius)
  9. #Female Pleasure (2018, Switzerland, dir. Barbara Miller)
  10. Me and Kaminski (Germany, 2015, dir. Wolfgang Becker)
  11. Maria (And Everybody Else) (2016, Spain, dir. Nely Reguera)

As you can see, the festival also focuses on old films that are supposed to be essential viewing from those specific countries. Some of these European states are not prolific producers like India or the USA, which is another point that the original 23-film list conveys. You can see the entire list for the 2019 edition here on IMDb. The sole documentary on atrocities on women in the 21st century was also a good watch. It should be essential viewing for today’s youth.

euff 2019 films brochure
Two of the films I could not catch

My favourite film out of the lot is Diamantino, which is a satire on government propaganda and cloning experiments as seen from the perspective of an innocent, disgraced footballer whose life has an uncanny resemblance to that of Cristiano Ronaldo who is a Portugal national…

I also liked Me and Kaminski, Maria (And Everybody Else), and The Charmer. All great stories with a touch of uniqueness. (And I also kept wondering why there was no film from the UK. The Brexit deal is still not in motion so technically the UK is still a part of the EU. Right?)

Overall, EUFF India was a fun experience for me. I watched more films than I had originally intended to and was able to do it without any hiccups. I also got to explore tony Pedder Road, Cumbala Hills, and Mahalaxmi areas of Mumbai, which I have not been exposed to much. If I could, I would have attended the fest in its entirety, but that is something that I intend to do for MAMI MFF 2019 as well as for the upcoming 10th Jagran Film Festival (starts 26 September 2019) in Mumbai and the 50th International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa (starts 20 November 2019).

Guide for Future Delegates

The entry to the European Union Film Festival is free. Only people above 18 years of age are allowed as the films are not censored. Most of the titles I watched in 2019 had some sort of nudity and sexual content in them with one film (The Charmer) going a bit over the top. It also did not have disclaimers, which is another quality I love about festivals.

All films are with English subtitles.

If you are interested for the 2020 edition and if they run it in your city, keep an eye on their website and social media profiles. They (EU in India) are quite active on both Facebook and Twitter.

Plan your itinerary before and make sure you reach the screenings at least 10 minutes before to get the seat that you want. Other than, it’s just basic film festival etiquette. The location for Mumbai is given below. The most economic way to get to the venue (if its Films Division in future editions also) is to get down at Grant Road station in the Western line of the Mumbai Suburban Railway (local train) and take the #155 Limited BEST bus to Cumbala Hills Post Office. Good luck. TN.

Featured image courtesy: EUFF India

Update: Added bus route option to get to the EUFF venue in Mumbai. (27 September 2019)

footnotes   [ + ]

1. Interestingly, Mumbai was not in the list for the 2018 edition and it ran in eleven other cities. It was not there in 2017 either.