Tag: India

How Difficult Is It To Buy a Laptop These Days?

Pretty difficult. As I found last month while looking for a decent, mid-range laptop for a friend.

What Seems to Be the Problem?

You would think that all the guides, discussions in various forums, and video reviews on YouTube would come in handy when you are looking for a computer. But that’s not the case. Especially if you are like me, someone who does not keep track of the latest laptop models. For instance, I have no idea what’s the current highest standard when it comes to a laptop’s processor or why Alienware computers are so damn expensive. Or is it Apple that I am talking about? I know Apple boasts about its design and centres its marketing around the quality of the work that you can produce using its products. But I don’t know how its MacBook it different from, say, a high-end Lenovo laptop other than the operating systems they use. I just want to be able to work, play games, and listen to some music, that’s it.

You could call it ignorance. And I am not proud about my lack of knowledge about these technologies or that I haven’t yet figured out the difference between 32-bit and 64-bit systems. I plan to do it, but it’s just farther away in my long list of things to know and learn about.

But that is exactly my point too. I don’t know what the best laptops under 40,000 rupees are. So, I would expect tech bloggers, reviewers, and influencers to tell me. They are better equipped with that information and they understand the terms that are used to gauge the usability and functionality of a laptop. Plus, I am the exact audience they are targeting. Unfortunately, none of the guides or reviews that I read or viewed helped me make a decision. While the blame is partly on Google for burying honest pages in the nether search results, I would think that the quality of such guides and technology review in general in India is subpar.

How Difficult Is It Actually?

There is no Wirecutter or a Tom’s Guide for Indians. The closest we have to those dependable review havens is NDTV Gadgets 360, but even it resorts to paid promotions. The sponsored posts automatically diminish its overall dependence. A lack of credible source is why the difficulty stings.

paradox of choice buying laptop india
Paradox of choice in a nutshell – a snapshot of a section in Amazon India that came up when I searched for laptops

I had a hard time finding a decent laptop for my friend because of two reasons: no idea about what’s selling (or what’s worth buying) these days and the paradox of choice (or overchoice). The requirement was for a mid-range laptop for heavy office use (spreadsheets, Outlook, at least three different VC apps – you know the drill these days), heavy web browsing (over a dozen Chrome tabs), some moderate video gaming (GTA IV and Among Us, maybe Phasmophobia), and decent portability. So, naturally I started by searching for models in the price range. Then, I compared brands, sub-brands, and features. I entered the rabbit hole and came out with more questions that I couldn’t answer.

Should I go with Lenovo, Dell, or a third brand? Or should I go for a notebook? How is it different from a laptop? What about a tablet that doubles up as a laptop? All this while HP and Apple were staring at me with their ads about laptops. I started losing patience. No luck.

So, I created a spreadsheet and added into it the features, pros, and cons of the top five laptop models that I found satisfactory based on their marketing texts. This is when a new problem appeared. All the models had similar features, were within a narrow price range, and seemed good enough against the requirement. But the problem? Polarizing user reviews. Each one of those models had almost equal number of critical and positive reviews. The aggregate ratings didn’t help nor did individual reviews by tech bloggers that I wrote about earlier.

I stopped putting any more time on the exercise, forwarded the spreadsheet to my friend, and moved on. I moved on with the hope that my current laptop (by HP) never dies on me. So far, so good. TN.

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

My First IKEA Bookshelf

ikea nodeland bookshelf mumbai

Last week I bought my first-ever IKEA bookshelf. Here it is in all its glory.

IKEA India Mumbai bookshelf nodeland
I bought this from the Mumbai online store of IKEA India

Everyone who knows me closely knows that I have been waiting for IKEA to open its Navi Mumbai store ever since the news about it buying acres of land in Turbhe came out. But when it decided to throw open its online store before the physical one, I thought I might execute my lifelong dream now than wait for a few more months.

And I did it last week, spending about INR 3,000 for this modest, pretty-looking shelf called Nodeland that’s apparently only available in India. I quickly assembled it and put it in my living room where it breathes fresh air and holds the weight of literature, including a small part of my book collection. Check out my valuable Booker Prize winners collection (second rack from bottom). My eyes are now on IKEA’s most popular bookshelf model, Billy.

This has been one of my most uplifting moments and I thought I’ll share my happiness here as well as on Reddit. TN.

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)

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.

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)

Times My Vehicle Has Hit Another Vehicle Since 2004

cars on a highway

I would have used the term ‘motor vehicle’ but then I would not have been able to include my first-ever road accident that occurred back in 2004. It was a bicycle versus an auto rickshaw crash. This also means that I have been using faster transport mechanisms for about 15 years now, making this a perfect time to chronicle some of my worst road incidents, one of which haunts me till this very day.

Here are six times when my vehicle hit another or when another vehicle hit mine or when both the riders/drivers were equally responsible. Unfortunately, there’s no way to find out who was to be blamed during any of these crashes. We will have to depend on my point of view. Let’s start.

Bicycle Vs Auto Rickshaw – 2004

I had recently been gifted a bicycle – a black Hero Razorback bought from a private dealership in Airoli. Because I had managed to learn how to ride beforehand with the help of a friend named Alex, I was allowed to take it out for rides freely.

I also had a group of friends with whom I often went for cycling sprints. It is while returning home from one of these that I crashed into a stationary auto rickshaw. That day I learned that you should not put all your trust on mechanical brakes.

The fault was mine because I was at a good speed of ~30 kmph in a crowded street. I would have not crashed had I known that rains can restrict ability of a braking system. The rickshaw driver let me go with a minor admonishment but then years later I wrote something generalizing him.

Motorcycle Vs Sedan – 2014

Fast forward ten years and I now ride a motorcycle – a black Honda Unicorn 150 CB. Thanks to my friends Mitesh and Jithin, I quickly learned how to ride the two-wheeler before taking it for a ride on my own.

It is during one such solo riding in Kopar Khairane that I nicked into a sedan’s passenger-side mirror. It was a busy street and I had crossed about ten meters before I looked back at the car and the driver. I mouthed an apology and the driver waved me off with a smile. Don’t know if it was the apology or the admission but none of that has worked for me ever since, as we will learn later.

This was the safest crash because neither of our vehicles sustained any damage.

Hatchback Vs Motorcycle – 2016

This was probably the most devastating and also the one that involved my entire family save for my dad. We were on a pleasure trip to Murud in Maharashtra, a month after we bought a second-hand maroon Hyundai i20 Magna from a family friend. I was still a rookie driver, trying my luck at our first long trip outside Mumbai. That was probably the first mistake.

I was fairly confident of my driving skills, but that didn’t help me manoeuver the vehicle properly as we hit an oncoming two-wheeler. The bike first hit my right-side mirror, breaking it into pieces, and then slipped into a corner of the zigzag road, eventually hitting a tree. The rider did not sustain any injuries but he claimed otherwise. And so did 100 of his friends who he quickly called up to threaten me and my family. We ended up being traumatized and settling the dispute privately as it had soon turned into a religious issue, something that the on-duty policeman seemed to have enjoyed that day.

I like to believe the blame was on both of us, but the financial and emotional damage was one-sided. It temporarily put me in a state of tizzy.

Hatchback Vs Scooter – 2017

This occurred in a crowded place in Kopar Khairane. I was trying to get my car out of the busy street when my front bumper slightly – just lightly like a feather touches the ground – touched the back of a pink Scooty Pep. The helmetless rider, along with his kid, got out and started splashing expletives in Marathi.

I asked him to relax without downing my window glasses. He appeared to calm down as he took a look at the back of his scooter, gave me another look as if I had rammed into his kid and he was forgiving me, sat on and took off. The surrounding brouhaha as a result of the drama did not seem to matter to him at all.

I am to be blamed here, but then I have some questions:

  • Can’t two vehicles even slightly scratch each other when you are out on the road?
  • Why do some people take so much care of their vehicles (more than themselves at times) when they know vehicles are just temporary objects you use to get from A to B?
    • Why do these people wear their vehicle-protectiveness as a hat of pride?

This brings me to my most recent experience.

Hatchback Vs Hatchback – 2019

Around the dusty area of Panvel, my car rammed into a white Maruti Suzuki WagonR, denting its bumper and screwing up the parking sensor. The guy put on his aggressive suit and started talking like, again, I had rammed into his person. So much drama evolved from that minor crash that I almost ended up giving him the keys to my house. I began my response by admitting my mistake and that’s where onlookers started grabbing popcorn.

I was driving at 60-70 kmph and it was raining, together which led to the crash. But the lack of basic empathy from the victim left me startled, as I moved on to a state of depression for two weeks.

Hatchback Vs Sedan – 2019

This was on our way to Girgaum Chowpatty. Just before the Metro cinema turn, a golden Honda City scratched into my car and sped off before the lights turned red. I think it did more damage to their car than it did to mine, so we’re square, I guess.

The traffic policemen witnessing the scene remained motionless for a few seconds. Then they went back to chatting. Thankfully, it would have cost me a few hundred bucks for the mistake of someone else because my PUC certificate had expired the previous month.


Riding or driving on the roads these days does not come without its fair share of issues, regardless of who’s to be blamed for the ‘issue’. And the best way to stay calm and live life is to use public transit and avoid private travel as much as you can. You need peace? Use your car and bikes less often. TN.