Category: Lists

My Nostalgic Pre-Coronavirus Experiences

self isolation india

On 16 April 2020, I completed a month of remote working. As I continue to practice spatial distancing and occupy myself with some indoor activities, I have grown nostalgic of some experiences that I used to enjoy before the Covid-19 epidemic. Experiences that I never thought I would have to live without. Or at least wasn’t prepared to live without for such a long stretch.

Here they are in no order.

  • Watching a movie in a packed theatre and sometimes getting so absorbed in it that I pay no attention to anything else (even my phone or my mom sitting next to me)
  • Going for a solo walk or just strolling through the busy streets near my house while running errands in between and observing people carry on with their own tasks
  • Going for an unrestrained bike/car ride with some music on to enjoy the feeling of moving faster (despite the threats)
  • Travelling to work in a local train (which I took up back in January) that for more than two decades was an activity that made me anxious and exhausted but still made me feel like a part of something, a collective group, a herd
  • Going to a restaurant with friends or family to have a complete meal and getting lost in the food and conversations
  • Catching up with friends and replenishing the feeling of belonging
  • Travelling to farther places to de-stress after weeks of hectic schedule at work (my Bengaluru trip earlier in 2020 is going to go down as very special in my personal history)
  • Staying at a resort and enjoying the comforts of a laid-back holiday characterised by borderline decadence.

Some or all of these may sound like thoughts of a privileged person. It’s not that I do not understand the gravity of the coronavirus situation where healthcare professionals, law enforcement, and essential service workers are putting their life on the line for the sake of the greater good. I also understand that the essentials – food, shelter, internet – that I am enjoying may look like privileges to those without some of them.

But hiding these feelings wouldn’t have been right either. They had to be recorded. TN.

Bengaluru International Film Festival (BIFFES): 8 Observations

poster of Bangalore film fest

Earlier in 2020 before the Covid-19 outbreak paralysed all my travel plans, I was fortunate to attend the 12th edition of the Bengaluru International Film Festival (BIFFES). I managed to attend the festival for two days and watch a total of five films. It was a fairly exciting experience for someone like me who – in my first solo trip – took a bus from Mumbai to Bengaluru just to attend the fest which is perhaps Karnataka’s biggest cinema extravaganza. Yes, I’m a film enthusiast. And this was an important trip for me because I was also in need of a break after a certain kind of failure in February.

It was my first time at the festival, so I thought I would take the free time during this lockdown to jot down some of my thoughts about BIFFES. Essentially, these might answer some of your questions if you plan to attend it in the following years. The biggest one being: is Bengaluru film festival worth going to? The short answer is yes.

My Experience at the Bengaluru Film Festival

The first day, after alighting at the Navrang Theatre junction, I walked to my hotel and checked in. I took a shower, and without grabbing breakfast, went straight to Orion Mall where PVR was hosting the film festival across 11 of its screens.

I observed the following things when I entered the film fest scene:

  1. You don’t have to book seats. Unlike the MAMI Mumbai Film Festival (MFF) – where you have to reserve your seats online on BookMyShow for each show – here your festival registration is sufficient. You follow the schedule for the day and directly enter or join the queue outside the hall where your chosen film is going to be screened. As simple as that. And because there is no seat reservation required, there is only one queue per auditorium
  2. Eleven screens in a single venue is like a dream come true in a film festival organisation.[1]Out of these, at the BIFFES, 2-3 are reserved for jury screenings. Much like how it is for the Cannes[2]The Cannes film festival takes place entirely at a single large venue – the Palace of Festivals and Conferences – which has a total area of 3,80,000 square feet containing, among other rooms and offices, 18 film screening auditoriums the largest of which (Auditorium Louis Lumière) can seat 2,300 people. (https://en.palaisdesfestivals.com/meeting-space-and-lay-out) it is one of BIFFES’ biggest advantage over MAMI MFF where venues are scattered across places that are 10-30 kilometres apart from each other. Here, I didn’t have to spend time travelling between venues, something that a lot of people complain about other film festivals in India like the IFFI in Goa (and something that I frequently observed at the EUFF in 2019). In the 12th edition, BIFFES also had three more venues: the legendary Navrang Theatre at Rajajinagar, Dr. Rajkumar Bhavana at Chamarajpet, and Suchitra Film Society (the farthest from South Bengaluru)
  3. The queues are bearable. Because I had planned my trip for the weekend, I was expecting huge crowds at the venue. Also since Orion Mall was the largest of the four venues, I was also expecting serpentine queues outside each screen. To my surprise, I found the queues much more bearable than how things are at other Indian film festivals. Even for popular films like Elia Suleiman’s It Must Be Heaven, I was able to get inside the hall despite joining the queue just 10 minutes before the show. (Of course, again, this is relative to Mumbai standards)
Long lines at Bangalore film fest
Delegates lining up on Day 1 of BIFFES 2020 / via FB
  1. Cafeteria food is affordable. PVR in Mumbai usually robs you and turns you half richer by the end of a film festival, but not in Bengaluru. And if the regular low prizes of food and confectioneries are not enough, the fest ran a 50% flat off on everything for festival delegates in its 12th edition. This was especially useful because Orion Mall – being the only major mall in South Bengaluru – was crowded on both the days I attended the festival. The food court? Even more so
  2. Each film is introduced in both Kannada and English before the screening. I liked this small feature which formally gave out a bit more information about the film being screened; its language and country of origin, director, and running time
  3. The crowd is more responsible. They maintained cinema theatre etiquette, and more importantly, didn’t remind me of my own imaginary theatre
Tejas Nair at Bangalore film festival
That’s me at the fest
  1. Post-screening Q&As are rare. This was disappointing to learn because one of the pros of attending a film festival is that you can meet and/or listen to a film’s cast and crew to get more insights about their creations. Out of the five films I caught, Q&A was suggested only for one film (Geetha J’s Run Kalyani) but a majority people walked out soon after the credits began to roll. So, it didn’t happen
  2. VIP culture is absent or restricted. This is another great feature of the Bengaluru film festival where all delegates are treated equally unless you are part of a film’s crew (which is fair). I was able to sit on any row that I wanted and no usher was present to tell me otherwise.

If you’re curious, I watched and reviewed the following five films:

  • Psychobitch (dir. Martin Lund)
  • Biriyaani (dir. Sajin Baabu)
  • It Must Be Heaven (dir. Elia Suleiman)
  • Run Kalyani (dir. Geetha J)
  • Market (dir. Pradip Kurbah)

Here are some pictures that would further help summarise the film fest.

Overall, I had a fun time at the 12th edition of the Bengaluru film festival. So much that I have plans to go back in 2021 provided travel restrictions ease by then. But before that, the question that comes to my mind is: will film festivals exist in this new normal? Screen has some guesses. TN.

Featured image courtesy: BIFFES via FB

footnotes   [ + ]

1. Out of these, at the BIFFES, 2-3 are reserved for jury screenings.
2. The Cannes film festival takes place entirely at a single large venue – the Palace of Festivals and Conferences – which has a total area of 3,80,000 square feet containing, among other rooms and offices, 18 film screening auditoriums the largest of which (Auditorium Louis Lumière) can seat 2,300 people. (https://en.palaisdesfestivals.com/meeting-space-and-lay-out)

10 Things to Do While Observing Janta Curfew

self isolation india

The PM of India has asked its citizens to observe what his office likes to call the Janta Curfew so as to try and restrict the further spread of the deadly coronavirus (COVID-19) disease. Essentially, we are not supposed to venture out of our homes on Sunday, 22 March 2020 from 7 AM to 9 PM unless there’s an emergency. As someone sitting in his Mumbai residence, it’s hard to know what all I can do tomorrow.

So, I did some research to come up with ideas to help you through the curfew, also spelled as ‘Janata Curfew’ sometimes, which I think is an obnoxious term for the regulation. I know you may already have plans to laze all day tomorrow but hear me out.

10 things to do during the Janta Curfew. Will also double up as handy tips for the future self-isolation days when most of us will continue to work from home.

  1. Do nothing
  2. Take a 30-minute walk at 6.30 AM or 9 PM
  3. Learn how to take a better nude of yourself. (5-step guide by Sangeeta Singh-Kurtz for The Cut)
  4. Watch the 1998 cult Hindi action film Gunda (for free on YouTube)
  5. Browse IKEA’s catalogue of beautiful products but don’t buy anything right now (wait till the pandemic dulls) (example)
  6. Watch a Met opera (for free)
  7. Tour a popular world heritage site for free (via Google Arts & Culture)
  8. Telephone an old friend
  9. Watch a live home animal safari organised by Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden at around 12 AM IST (here on Facebook or via their YouTube channel after the live session is completed) (a glimpse)
  10. Read how to detect a fake news story or fake information in general (by Christina Nagler for Harvard Summer School)

Whatever you do, you should avoid following what others – mostly blind patriotic twits – in whatever they plan to do at around 5 PM tomorrow (22 March). Instead, explore better ways to congratulate and support your local healthcare professionals by donating either to Kasturba Hospital in Mumbai or by chipping into the global coronavirus relief fund.

You know what you have to do. TN.

Featured image courtesy: JD Designs via Unsplash

10 Best Malayalam Film Posters of 2019

best malayalam film posters 2019

2019 has been rather a weak year for Malayalam cinema. We had some terrible films come out this year, some of which were discussed and bludgeoned to death on Reddit. But there is no denying that we also had some fabulous poster designs that promoted these very films – both good and bad – through their various, often unnecessary, stages of publicity.

From two first-look posters to a trailer release countdown poster to character posters to a final official poster featuring the cast as a crowd, we had everything this year. And here I am picking the best of the lot, out of all the publicity designs (including every single version) made for over 150 films that released between January and December 2019. Fan-made posters were not considered but I should admit some of them were really good.

The advent of computerised designing tools and filmmakers’ willingness to question the status quo have given rise to these charming designs. And it is important to give credit where it’s due. A film poster is a work of both the designers and the film’s crew, but here I am going to focus only on the art. The art of promoting a film through an image.

Best Malayalam Movie Posters of 2019

Here are ten of the best Malayalam film posters that adorned social media posts and flex billboards in and around Kerala in 2019. In random order; poster files sourced from official channels with proper credits given wherever needed.

Jallikkattu

Jallikkattu Malayalam film poster
Produced by Opus Penta and Chembosky Motion Pictures

Dirt is the main character in this earthy poster design for Lijo Jose Pellissery’s loud survival crime drama Jallikkattu (that quickly became a sleeper hit post its October release) that has traces of the colour of blood to describe the Tamil-origin spectacle as well as the deadly mess that it leaves behind. Hand-illustrated (using clay) by Oldmonks, one of the most prolific and skilled design agencies currently working in Malayalam cinema, this first-look poster released back in 2018 earned the Malayalam indie a lot of attention even before it circuited across festivals around the world and grabbed awards. So much that I would like to note it as one of the chief examples of how a poster can ignite interest for a film even when the viewers have no clue about the cast or the plot. Film Companion ended up featuring it in its 2018 list of the best Indian film posters.

PS – Sadly, the designer who worked on the Jallikkattu poster, R Mahesh, passed away in September 2019.

Unda

Unda Malayalam film poster
Produced by Movie Mill and Gemini Studios

Another fine example of a publicity design actually having an impact on its target audience and piquing their interest is this first-look poster design by Thought Station. For a person who is not familiar with Malayalam cinema it is difficult to point out who the star is in this image. They might even say there’s no star in the picture. Unda by Khalid Rahman gave us a Mammootty that was different from his usual mass style (posters of such films often focus only on him and a few gundas flying in the background) and we embraced it.

It gives us a good hint about what to expect from the film. A police caper that seems funny but also seems serious (where is this group heading?). This is how first-look posters should be. And Thought Station nailed it. Don’t miss the bullet trails in the title typeface.

Pranaya Meenukalude Kadal

Pranaya Meenukalude Kadal film poster
Produced by Dani and Frames Inevitable

How do you describe a love story set on a shore and be obvious about it? You take a picture of the lead cast submerged in the water with fish around them and let the shades of blue do its job. That’s what Oldmonks did for Kamal’s Pranaya Meenukalude Kadal, a romantic drama. The shades work too well both against the darker background of the photo as well as an indication of what’s in store for us when the film hits the marquee.

Although, I will admit I haven’t yet figured out the inclusion of the shark beside the title, seen in most of the film’s posters.

Helen

Helen Malayalam film poster
Produced by Habit of Life and Big Bang Entertainments

When Helen‘s trailer was released, potential viewers got anxious as they complained that the story was entirely out there in under those two minutes. What would debutante director Mathukutty Xavier do to keep the audience hooked when they already know what’s going to happen to the protagonist in his survival thriller starring one of Malayalam cinema’s breakout actors of 2019, Anna Ben? I think Xavier must have wanted it that way, teasing his audience with just enough (or more) information and then pulling a fast one on them by supplying drama that is masterfully ambient, emotionally tugging, and superbly enacted. That sort of anticlimactic treatment is also seen in this para-minimalistic poster by one-man show Prathool NT that’s as captivating as the survivalism explored in the film.

Last year, I had given an extra nod to the poster of Rohith V S’s Iblis (2018) for featuring the names of the primary cast in it. In 2019, Helen and a couple others did it, which is a very welcome trend in Mollywood.

Olu

Olu Malayalam film poster
Produced by AVA and Urvasi Theatres

If we ignore the 50-year-anniversary stamp of the well-known soap brand and the dull font, we see delicate, wiry stems of water lily with bulb shoots and sprawling leaves embossed, engulfing the lead actors, Esther Anil and Shane Nigam, in their colourful attire, as they seem divided in their stance on a common topic yet unknown to the beholder. It’s enough to fire an interest in Shaji N Karun’s magical realism drama Olu where a young girl is trapped underwater and can communicate only sparingly. This Oldmonks poster gave vigour to the film’s campaign after its first look got dissolved in the cesspool of low quality content that is the internet.

Virus

Virus Malayalam movie poster
Produced by OPM

The hue of electric green, cyan, and roguish pink in this poster featuring the ensemble cast is enough to terrorise you and also give you a very good idea as to what to expect in Aashiq Abu’s cloak-work fiction tale of the Nipah virus outbreak that spread in some parts of Kerala in 2018. This use of shades plus the dramatic faces (and portraits) of the cast helped Virus gain extra momentum in its publicity which it did not need at all.

For an outsider, this imagery is striking. Designed by Popkon.

Thottappan

Thottappan film poster
Produced by Pattam Cinema Company

I don’t think any other poster on this curated list comes close to how Thottappan‘s boldly signifies a relationship between the two main characters of the film. Of course, that one for Pranaya Meenukalude Kadal is based on a similar trope, but everything comes together here: the brown shade, the title with a suffix that is the Malayalam word for ‘father’, and that pose where the kid’s foot is on the man’s chin. Does this count as spoilers?

Designed by Oldmonks, this first-look poster for Shanavas K Bavakutty’s crime drama got much love when it premiered back in 2018. My only pet peeve here, though, is the lack of space between the periods used inside the director’s name.

Android Kunjappan Version 5.25

Android Kunjappan poster
Produced by Moonshot Entertainments

There’s more than three elements that make this poster for Ratheesh B Poduval’s technology-is-evil reminder Android Kunjappan Version 5.25 stand apart from the usual trope that involves a gang posing for a photograph. How is a robot a part of this family? How are these people related, especially the people who are not under the robot’s vision and care? What’s the foreign connection? And what the hell is a cow doing in this picture? It makes you think, with Oldmonks giving one of their best work of 2019 and the crew giving us one of the best Malayalam films of the year. Go ahead, scan that QR code!

Moothon

The Elder One Malayalam film poster
Produced by Jar Pictures, Mini Studio, and Good Bad Films

If Oldmonks used blue to signify an ocean in Pranaya Meenukalude Kadal, they used the shades of the colour of blood to show what Geethu Mohandas had built using her story about an unscrupulous, small-time yet bumptious goon from Mumbai. Almost all the posters, that involve Nivin Pauly in his bhai look, are smeared with the colour red, and that is enough to ignite an interest in people who otherwise don’t feel their throat go dry at the mention of Kamathipura.

The man at the centre also signifies another element that comes full circle when you complete watching Moothon, one of the best movies I watched at MAMI MFF 2019. Such little bits are also what makes a poster more delightful when you look back.

Thamaasha

Thamaasha Malayalam film poster
Produced by Happy Hours Entertainments

What more do you need to symbolise desperation for union garnished with lechery? Than Vinay Forrt in character with a peculiar form of pattern baldness staring at the camera looking like he will approach you right this moment and profess his love. This is another example of bull’s eye marketing and caching in on star power (Forrt’s similar character in the 2015 hit romantic comedy Premam had won hearts). Extra marks for those words in Malayalam script in the blackboard behind him.

For the seventh time here, designed by Oldmonks.


It is always fun to go back to these posters and select the best. And unlike last year, I won’t avoid mentioning the films that had equally good designs as part of their marketing strategy but just didn’t get included in the final list. These posters should also get some love when we look back. In no order, those are Ishq (Oldmonks), Allu Ramendran (Thought Station), Kumbalangi Nights (Oldmonks), Under World (Oldmonks), and Praana (Vinci Raj).

What do you think about these posters? Which one is your favourite?

Check out my listicle for 2018 here. TN.

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.

List: Dumb Things People Do in a Movie Theatre

people watching in movie theatre

I am currently attending the India edition of the European Union Film Festival (EUFF) in Mumbai and it is during one of the film screenings last day that I got the idea for this article. As the title suggests, there are dumb things that people do while they are watching a movie in complete darkness. And here I am going to list them out without much description.

  • Murmur
  • Take a photo of a shot in the film with a flash
  • Slide unlock their mobile (with the brightness usually higher than average)
  • Return a phone call after it has rung for a few long seconds
  • Make a phone call
  • Get up and leave*
  • Do something on their smartphone
  • Chew something
  • Get up before the end credits have finished rolling up
  • Stand in the aisle
  • Bring their kids who are clearly not interested in cinema
  • Take a selfie in the middle of a show
  • Laugh or clap more for than the accepted time span (the upper limit is 3 seconds unless you are at Cannes)
mobile flash taking picture movie theatre
Guess the criminals / © jonlarge/Creative Commons

I have to admit that *I have gotten up and left from quite a few movies because they were just too bad to endure but in film festivals this just happens a lot, especially if the entry is free. But there’s no reason why anyone would engage in any of these activities while watching a film. While I get why someone would want to take a photo of a scene in a film (for film Twitter, of course!) and I know they must have forgot to switch off the flash. But what I don’t understand is where is the sensitivity and common sense? Engaging in any of these just goes against the idea of going to the movies. One would rather binge-watch on Netflix at the comfort of their home if they also want to chat with their friend or munch on popcorn all at the same time. This is why we need stricter cinema theatre rules and regulations.

It surprises me more to see such type of behaviour even in film festivals where it is assumed that the audience is more serious and sensitive with the art and their fellow enthusiasts. But I think it is safe to assume that none of these festivals are secure from this type of dumb behavior from its patrons. Be it TIFF or Berlinale or MAMI.

Maybe I am dumb for having pointed them out and spent 30 minutes writing this stub. TN.

Featured image courtesy: Jake Hills/Unsplash

List: All the Films that Opened the Mumbai Film Festival Since 1997

mumbai film festival opening films 2010 to 2019

On 29 August 2019 the Mumbai Film Festival tweeted out a few photos celebrating their decision to choose Geethu Mohandas’s gritty crime drama Moothon as the opening film for its 21st edition scheduled between 17 and 24 October. It is the first time that a Malayalam-language film is opening the festival, which has for the last four years consecutively honored Hindi-language features (with the odd one A Death in the Gunj (2016) a mix of Hindi, English, and Bengali) and majorly English-language ones before that. So, naturally as a Malayalam cinema connoisseur it made me jump up in joy. It also made me want to look back at all the opening films of the festival since its inception. This list is a product of that desire and MAMI’s contributions in decorating brilliant cinema since 1997.

From 1997 when Jaya Bachchan’s comeback film Hazar Chaurasi Ki Ma opened the inaugural edition to 2010 when it selected David Fincher’s Academy Award-winning The Social Network to 2019 when a Malayalam film is about to finally get a seat at the high table. This is a list of all the opening films of the Mumbai Film Festival (MFF) in its two-decade-long history.

mumbai film festival opening films 2010 to 2019
Posters of all opening films from 2010 to 2019 in reverse order / © Letterboxd

Opening Films of Mumbai Film Festival

Listed chronologically along with the name of the director and the primary language of the film. Sourced from a tweet by MAMI (opens in another tab).

EditionYearFilmDirectorLanguage
1st1997Hazaar Chaurasi Ki MaaGovind NihalaniHindi
2nd1999The Sixth SenseM. Night ShyamalanEnglish
3rd2000Crouching Tiger, Hidden DragonAng LeeMandarin
4th2001BanditsBarry LevinsonEnglish
5th2002Taking SidesIstván SzabóEnglish
6th2003Warriors of Heaven and EarthPing HeMandarin
7th2005Human TouchPaul CoxEnglish
8th2006The ChorusChristophe BarratierFrench
9th2007Curse of the Golden FlowerYimou ZhangMandarin
10th2008KatynAndrzej WajdaPolish
11th2009The Informant!Steven SoderberghEnglish
12th2010The Social NetworkDavid FincherEnglish
13th2011MoneyballBennett MillerEnglish
14th2012Silver Linings PlaybookDavid O. RussellEnglish
15th2013The ButlerLee DanielsEnglish
16th2014SerenaSusanne BierEnglish
17th2015AligarhHansal MehtaHindi
18th2016A Death in the GunjKonkona Sen SharmaEnglish
19th2017MukkabaazAnurag KashyapHindi
20th2018Mard Ko Dard Nahin HotaVasan BalaHindi
21st2019MoothonGeethu MohandasMalayalam

Note 1: The festival did not run in 1998 due to a lack of funding by the Maharashtra state government and in 2004 for unknown reasons.[1](MAMI – A Retrospective, The Big Indian Picture, Tanul Thakur and Roshni Nair, October 2013)

Note 2: For your convenience, this list has been duplicated on IMDb and Letterboxd. Updated every year.

A Little Bit of MAMI History

In the inaugural year 1997, MAMI screened a total of 70 films from 25 countries. The Big Indian Picture reports it as 65 films from 23 countries[2](MAMI – A Retrospective, The Big Indian Picture, Tanul Thakur and Roshni Nair, October 2013). Govind Nihalani’s adaptation of the Mahasweta Devi novel opened the festival which was then labelled as India’s first independent film festival. This, considering that Kolkata and Trivandrum already had their own versions, Kolkata International Film Festival (KIFF) and International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK), respectively. One other major contender for that label was the International Film Festival of India (IFFI). But then MAMI was founded and it kicked off the first edition on 24 November 1997 with much pomp and circumstance. And it naturally ‘assumed’ the title. According to Rupleena Bose writing for MUBI Notebook, it was originally titled as ‘Festival of Films’ when it launched in 1997, which was partly because of a desire to replenish the dull mood of the Mumbai populace after the 1993 bomb blasts.

Either from the people involved in creating the fest or the type of films that were screened (The Fifth Element, Sholay (1975), and Ankur (1974) to name a few), it is safe to assume that many must have thought that it would revolutionize the industry. But more than either of those, it was self-sustenance that pushed MFF to the fore. More than twenty years later and with at least half a dozen more festivals running in India perhaps as a result, I’m inclined to confirm that it is the biggest cinema extravaganza that India currently has in the global landscape.

It is interesting to learn that the opening edition saw about 200 delegates in attendance and Jio’s part was played by Mahindra & Mahindra then which donated INR 5 lakh as sponsorship. The rumour that PepsiCo India showed interest – because of a lack of funds to run the 1998 edition – in sponsoring the fest in 2000 is actually true, but the organizers declined because they did not want it to be named ‘Pepsi Film Festival’. Nonetheless, India Inc. has been historically generous to the festival as past years have seen companies like Indian Oil (IOC), Star TV, Zee Cinema, Sahara, and Godrej contribute for the sake of continuity of the fest. In 1997 if the festival budget was around INR 10 lakhs, in 2013 it was estimated to be about INR 6 crores, thanks to ample funding by Reliance’s Big Entertainment (now ADAG). This type of funding helped MAMI turn from a cash-strapped passion organization into a real harbinger of creativity and vision for cinema on an international scale. In the next decade, it would not only start new competition sections but also run the only film criticism workshop in India – the Young Critics Lab which began in 2009 as a platform for young cinema lovers-cum-writers to hone their skills and take up film criticism as a serious profession.

One key thing to note here is that the organizers did not want the festival to be influenced by the demands of corporate giants, which is why film selection was and has been entirely up to MAMI. This confirms that there is no ulterior motive by certain elements who would want to push a specific film in which they have a vested interest. All the more reason to celebrate the decoration of Indian features as opening films.

What’s in a Festival Opening Film?

A lot, to be honest.

Since 2015 when the opening film was Hansal Mehta’s Manoj Bajpayee-starring biopic Aligarh, MFF has managed to be the starting point of buzz for creative cinema. How else would one explain the almost cult status that the Internet generation has given to Konkona Sen Sharma’s debut feature? Or Vasan Bala’s Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota (2018) that took Reddit by storm when it released on VOD earlier in 2019? MFF helps native films create buzz, the type that Moothon is currently enjoying as it approaches its worldwide premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) along with other Indian award hopefuls like Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Jallikattu and Shonali Bose’s The Sky is Pink.

mff opening films 1997 to 2009
Posters of opening films between 1997 and 2009 in reverse order / © Letterboxd

But this was not always the case. One of the main reasons why most of the MAMI opening films have been foreign imports is because of the buzz that existed and which they wanted to bring into the country’s mainstream cinema. Moneyball (2011), The Social Network (2010), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), and The Sixth Sense (1999) have enjoyed heightened status and success in Mumbai and elsewhere in India also because they all were opening films.

In 2018, Vasan Bala’s action comedy opened the festival. And despite the hiccup by its producers due to an issue with distributors and theatre-owners, the film got a theatrical release in 2019. The buzz that MFF created in October 2018 definitely needs to be attributed.

An opening film sets the tone for a festival and in some cases it can also influence the rest of it. In 2017, Anurag Kashyap’s Mukkabaaz got the honour and the response was lukewarm. Although I could not attend the entire week-long event, I can confirm that the overall fest in terms of footfalls and audience response was much weaker than what it was in 2015 and later in 2018, one of my most successful years as far as MFF and me are concerned.

Some Statistics

I like statistics so it makes sense to take a look at what numbers tell us about the MAMI opening films. Here you go:

  • 12 are English-language features, four Hindi, three Mandarin, one each Polish and Malayalam
  • Three have been directed by women filmmakers, 18 by men
  • A total of eight Oscar wins for three out of 21 titles
  • Only one unanimously poor critical performer (Susanne Bier’s Serena (2014))

Conclusion

I think selecting Moothon (The Elder One) as the opening film for the festival by an organization that is largely influenced by Bollywood cine artists is a breakthrough. Admitting that cinema is the common language that we speak, MAMI has only transcended beyond what it set out to achieve when two decades ago industry stalwarts like Amol Palekar, Sudhir Nandgaonkar, Kiran Shantaram, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Shabana Azmi, Shyam Benegal, Gulzar, Ramesh Sippy, and others came together and sowed a seed that now gives us a taste of the best of Indian and world cinema every year. In 2018, the festival was one of the best experiences I had.

mami 2019 opening film moothon
Nivin Pauly in the MAMI MFF opening film Moothon (2019) / © MAMI

It is important to also note that the main intention of MFF was to create a platform for appreciation of regional films. International films already got the attention they desired, but for a secular and multi-lingual country like India where there are films being made in all major languages, MFF was a necessity more than a fad. The selection of a regional film (Moothon is produced by artists majorly from the south Indian state of Kerala) for the 2019 edition is a step towards an extension of fulfillment of that vision.

It is difficult to trace the history of MAMI but this list will probably act as a type of archive as we move ahead and break more barriers. TN.

MAMI 2019 edition poster

The 21st Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival with Star begins on 17 October 2019 and ends on 24 October 2019. Registrations are now open over at BookMyShow with one pass worth INR 500 ($7).

footnotes   [ + ]

1, 2. (MAMI – A Retrospective, The Big Indian Picture, Tanul Thakur and Roshni Nair, October 2013)