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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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):
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
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.)
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)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.)
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.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 bag (tote bag)
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.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:
A high-speed internet connection
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.
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:
Through BookMyShow at 8 AM the previous day of the screening
Through on-ground support the previous day of the screening (as early in the day as possible)
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
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.
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)
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
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
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
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 bhajiwala 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.
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 securityThere 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 doAlthough 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
Your medication (if any) + the usual Indian basic first-aid like paracetamols, Vicks inhaler and rub, antacid tablets
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.
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.
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)
Did you find this guide useful? If yes, consider buying me books.
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.
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.
Thanks to Sujay Kulkarni for the analogy.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa
The Sixth Sense
M. Night Shyamalan
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Warriors of Heaven and Earth
Curse of the Golden Flower
The Social Network
Silver Linings Playbook
David O. Russell
A Death in the Gunj
Konkona Sen Sharma
Mard Ko Dard Nahin Hota
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.(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(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.
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.
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))
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.
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.
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).
Disclaimer: I talked to Ms. Oberoi in 2016 on phone soon after the premiere of her film Island City at the 2015 Mumbai Film Festival. This was originally written for The Review Monk but never published due to last minute edits. I am publishing this today without her approval.
Island City is the dazzling debut feature by Ruchika Oberoi who has already collected accolades for writing from various major film festivals around the world.
Her anthology film consists of three stories that sample themes of alienation and vapidity in the city of Bombay (Mumbai). Oberoi’s characters are ordinary people, whose tragic narratives have been carved from her own experiences as an outsider. She came to Bombay after graduation. Island City, starring Vinay Pathak, Tannishtha Chatterjee, and Amruta Subhash, which won the FEDEORA prize at the Venice International Film Festival in 2015, is about people trying to find hope and meaning in a life without substance. Excerpts from the interview with director Ruchika Oberoi:
Island City is about three stories – three short stories that talk, in some way or the other, about the chilling solitude of living a fast-paced life in Mumbai. What was the inspiration behind these stories?
Being a Bombay-ite and living here for so many years definitely did help. But most importantly, not being born in Bombay, and experiencing the city as an outsider really was the starting point for these stories. I have lived in so many places in India including Bihar and Darjeeling, and then I came to Bombay only after my college. At that time, a lot of things affected me, and many years later, when I began to write the script for Island City, the vivid experiences of Bombay came back to me. I wanted to write about the arrival and adherence of Western culture in the city’s work ethics – the corporate culture – which is now an integral part of the system.
Overall, my aim was to capture the tragedy of the working class – the middle class – especially where women find themselves circumscribed within the household with no scope of chasing their dreams and aspirations. I was working on these stories separately, and in the case of the third short, “Contact”, it was based on a story written by my husband. But, while the original idea was for a TV serial, I worked upon it and created a story within the working class milieu. The characters, played by Tannishtha Chatterjee and Chandan Roy Sanyal, are both working people and are trying to figure out life through romance and matrimony, respectively. Later, at some point of time, I decided to bring these stories together and furnish it as an anthology. However, these stories are not about any one thing, but about many things at once. In terms of plot, they have more to do with the city of Bombay and alienation.
The first story, “Fun Committee”, starring Vinay Pathak was inspired by an incident involving your spouse. Can you tell us more about that?
My husband was working with a bank and was not really happy with the job. He was contemplating moving on, and finally when he did, the bank asked him to join back. Although, even after joining he was not very happy with the projects. One day, after coming home from work, he was emptying his pockets when some bright-coloured coupons fell out. So, when I asked him about them, he told me that those coupons were part of his bank’s ‘fun committee’ department which distributes such freebies and vouchers to employees to keep their spirit up. I found this idea very interesting and decided to carve it into a story.
That’s how “Fun Committee” was born, which is indicative of the present corporate culture, where you have jobs that suck out all the fun from your life. Everything that you do is decided by the committee who also has the final say in your happiness quotient. A sense of black comic story is what it is.
So, do you have a favorite? From your three stories?
No. No favorites, because all three talk about diverse things that are primarily only related by the city in which they are based in. They have different tones, but similar culminations. Also, after watching the film, a lot of people came to me during festival screenings and told me that they could connect with the first story or the third one. Even in Venice, lots of people were vocal about their connections with the second story, “Ghost in the Machine”. So, it is evident that obsession with the idiot box is not local, but universal. While some could connect with the first one, some found the second one more relatable, with others finding the third short more interesting. So, basically, since the stories talk about ordinary people, they were perceived well.
The underlying theme of the stories is slightly offbeat. For example, in “Fun Committee” we have Vinay Pathak’s character going on an impromptu fun ride organized by his employer. How did you market this to your artists and producers?
Vinay was one of the first to read the script and he instantly liked it. Similarly, the producers actually went for the quirkiness of the stories – the offbeat nature of the stories that you mention – that’s what worked for me. I didn’t have to market it in anyway. The stories are black and slightly oblique, which is the USP of the film. That was the thing that everybody liked and connected with the film as a whole.
The Hollywood Reporter compares “Fun Committee” with the Orwellian concept of Big Brother. What do you think? Is the semblance real?
Sure. George Orwell’s 1984 was there in my mind when I was crafting the story, although it is not overtly thick as the novel. When you have read these books about dystopia and the idea of Big Brother, they are always present in your subconscious. That is why you connect with these stories in the first place. That is why when my husband described the coupons he had got from his office, I could connect the dots and create what is “Fun Committee”. So, yes, definitely there are Orwellian elements in the story – as in the voice that Vinay’s character follows, in the short. The voice is totally disconnected from the activities that are happening. For a moment, we wonder if it’s really of a real person, is it really a fun committee, or is it a machine, or a program which has no idea what’s going on. What if this program goes wrong and it won’t be able to deal with it or fix it? Something of this nature is currently happening around us, wouldn’t you say?
What genre would you collectively place this anthology in? Black comedy? Tragedy? Or is it genre- neutral?
They have diverse tones. So, collectively, I would put them in the tragic-comedy genre with traces of black humor. And the final story with Tannishtha – it does have bit of a romance in it. But, for me, it is not very important to set the stories in a single tone. All of them are interesting, per se, and together they have a voice that communicates the city’s core as it currently stands.
Could Island City be based on another city in the world and still be similar?
Absolutely! I can’t say any particular city, but like I said, in Venice, the audience could relate with the second story where people sometimes forget their own life owing to their habit of TV-watching. Talking about the first story, the entire concept is about a Western culture, so it connects with a universal audience. Of course, the working class conditions will be different, but in general, the essence remains the same. Island City has played in different countries like Colombia and in the States, and the fact is that people have managed to connect with the stories.
How was it to win the FEDEORA prize at Venice?
Totally unexpected. To even get selected was a big thing for us. I personally thought it was difficult to get selected mostly because it’s not that serious a film. Although it does deal with serious issues, it is narrated in a dark humorous way. But, the selectors were unanimous in their praise for the film and they promoted it very well from their side. It was screened at a huge hall with 500 occupants, and it was jam-packed. At the end, we even received a standing ovation. Overall, it was a wonderful experience for the whole crew, and afterwards when we won the prize, we were sort of ecstatic. At the end of the day, festival selections and awards are what build credibility for you as a filmmaker and your independent films. Such treats provide hope to us that, yes, films like this are worth people’s time.
What do you think about independent films in India? How are they perceived? Will the trend change?
As in, have people started accepting independent films which convey strong messages? I know that more and more are being made here in India, but the artists are not making much money. I think, with the digital media coming in, it has been easier than ever to get a film out there; at least the publicity part. Great films are definitely happening in India and are competing at major film festivals around the world. However, I am not sure whether the public is watching it or not. There are certain people – the youth – who are interested in watching a different kind of cinema, but I don’t know why it snaps there. The interest and content are not connecting with each other.
I also don’t know if filmmakers even recover the costs. But, we have to keep doing what we do and hope that somewhere down the line, things will change for us. The audience also does complain about a lack of quality films, but at a time, when there are films which are also easily available to watch, why don’t they give it a try? I can sense that producers are trying to bring content and relevant audiences together through digital and social media. And that’s a good thing for this part of the industry.
Last year when we talked, you told me you were trying to find a distributor for the film in India. Can you share the experience? What challenges did you face?
I was not involved much in the distribution side of things. Sure, we had NFDC with us which gave us all the support we needed. As you know, NFDC is of great help to independent cinema filmmakers, and they were sure that they were going to give it a wide release. We were happy with the press the film was getting and we wanted to get good distributors. Moreover, it was our decision to let the film travel for a year and let it make a name for itself before getting a theatrical release. So, that’s why it premiered last year (2015) in September at Venice and now 12 months later, it is releasing nationwide on September 2nd (2016). We are lucky to have NFDC and Drishyam Films supporting us.
What was the budget of Island City like? Do you plan to do big-budget films?
The budget was pretty low, but the film was not based on a budget. The actors definitely helped by cutting down their fees; otherwise, it would not have been possible to complete the film. Plus, I cannot outline a script on a budget. It has to interest me and help in my own understanding of the medium and of myself – only then will I write it. For me, filmmaking is not really about the budget.
Do you have anything in the pipeline?
Nothing right now. I do have an idea in mind, but I think I am going to take a brief break for a couple of months, get some rest, and then get back to writing.
One last for the audience: why should people go and watch the film starting this weekend?
I think people should go and watch it just to be entertained and to dive into a series of poignant stories. No other reason at all.
Island City, directed by Ruchika Oberoi and produced by NFDC in association with Drishyam Films released September 2, 2016 across India and is available to watch on Hotstar.
It’s been nearly six months since the last edition of the Mumbai Film Festival (MFF) concluded and I am finding it difficult to wait out any longer for the next one. Especially with Cannes releasing its official poster for 2019 featuring a tribute to late French filmmaker Agnès Varda as well as folks on my Twitter already starting to build up on TIFF 2019. It was difficult enough to see critics reshare opinion pieces of their favorite and not-so-favorite movies they caught at Sundance this year. And then our own MAMI came out with a tweet that sent a tribute to the late legendary Indian filmmaker Mrinal Sen on 10 April, and I just couldn’t control. Yours truly is filled with misery these days.
But, thanks to cheap access to the Internet and theaters nearby, I have somehow managed to find a way to sustain the gap – which almost feels like an eternity – between the festival editions, October through October. The key, they say, is to stop thinking about it, but good luck doing that if you are an active social media user. And if you are someone who follows the film fraternity (for whatever reasons), you are bound to become miserable over the 12 months. More so if you are disturbed by the wave of low-quality movies that have come out of Bollywood in 2019 so far. Why Cheat India, Total Dhamaal, Mere Pyare Prime Minister, Junglee…
If you think you are in a similar situation, don’t worry. I have found a few ways to keep myself occupied till the week-long festival comes back, scheduled between 17 October and 24 October this year. If you can manage to find a buddy then nothing like it. Schedule a day and a time, grab a few packets of instant popcorn, and fire up your home theater to end your hectic days with doses of filmy smack. Here’s how…
Waiting Out the Next Edition of the Mumbai Film Festival
Since the 2018 edition was my most successful in terms of catching the movies that I actually wanted to, it has become even more difficult to exist and function knowing that October is so far away. I often think about my days at the festival and how I managed to watch both the opening and closing films for the first time in three years. Talking to a few acquaintances that I made in 2017 and 2018 made me realize that I am not the only one.
Here are a few things that I have been doing over the past few weeks to make for the cinematic hunger that has suddenly dominated me.
Watch and Complete Previous Editions
In 2018, there was a guy who watched 27 films in six days. This is like an unachievable record for me. Because there’s a limit of four movies per day (that you can book online against your MAMI ID), and this guy booked three extra films by standing in queues. That’s five movies back to back between 10AM and 10PM, each at least 150 minutes long. I would be doing better if I had that kind of commitment for anything in my life.
But that’s not the point. The point is that if you are like me – whose record is a measly 13 per festival – then you have a lot of films to go back to. You’ll have even more if you skipped any of the recent editions of the festival because there are upwards of at least a 100 titles that are screened per year.
I am personally going to try and catch all the pending movies of the 2018 edition. I also created an ambitious list on IMDb so I have a headstart here. If you are looking for inspiration, here is a list of lists –
Other than these, IMDb itself has a separate section of films that were nominated/awarded in the festival. Have a look at the lists for as back as 2013 here.
Catch Up on MCU or GoT
Now I know that not everyone is a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe or TV shows like Game of Thrones, but if you are and if you have been putting them aside for long, now is the time to catch up.
The latest Avengers installment is scheduled to release in a week’s time. Which makes April the perfect time to complete the three phases of MCU that lead up to it. Same for GoT as its final season is currently running on HBO (Hotstar in India).
If none of these franchises interest you, there are numerous other shows and movies in various genres available for consumption. Obviously. So go to IMDb or Letterboxd and take a look.
MAMI Year Round Programme
This should have been on top of my list. Because it is MAMI’s own way of answering the hunger of cinephiles after they are done with the festival every year.
The Year Round Programme is a subset of the MFF where MAMI organizes screenings (often premieres) of new movies and web shows at their partner theater network (PVR) throughout the year in Mumbai and Delhi. Access is free; members only have to sign up separately for the programme (on their website), wait for email invitations of new screenings, register their interest (as soon as possible because of the limited number of seats), and then wait for the confirmation.
If you’re an early bird and/or first-timer, you have high chances of getting a seat. On the other hand, if you get a confirmed seat and don’t show up, it will be hard for you to show your loyalty to the sweet MAMI people again.
The Year Round Programme hosts a lot of cool movies and web shows as MAMI directly partners with the producers and distributors. For example, their last show in Mumbai was the Oscar-winning documentary Free Solo, in association with National Geographic. In the past, they have screened Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota, Sonchiriya, Made in Heaven (Amazon Prime Video), Green Book, and Stranger Things (Netflix) to name a few.
It’s a great initiative by MAMI because it gives a form of community to the participants. And more importantly, a way to stop missing the festival.
Embrace the Academy Awards
Or any international awards for that matter. I like to keep a track of the Oscars – winning films, nods, snubs, long shots, everything – and then predict which ones will win when the night comes. Unfortunately, I have never been able to watch all movies let alone predict correctly. But I still have at two lists prepared and ready:
These will be enough for at least 2-3 months from now, depending upon the number of titles you have seen already.
If Oscars are not your thing, you can pick any of the major international awards like the Golden Globes, BAFTAs, and Independent Spirit awards, or even Filmfare and Indian’s National Film awards. The idea is to continue watching films to keep the spirit high and constant. Heck, you may also consider the Razzies.
This might come as a surprise but let me at least make a case. The amount of information that is exchanged in this small Reddit community of Bollywood lovers is just breathtaking. All types of news, trailers, and trivia are discussed there every day by users from around the world.
They even have polls of new Bollywood releases, and unlike popular opinion, have constructive discussions that you can take part in. The community is also actively moderated, which means no spam, no advertisements. Just plain Bollywood worship.
This is not for me, but for people who are between the age of 18 and 25. If you are that young and still interested in cinema, the Young Critics Lab organized by MAMI every year will be a beautiful opportunity.
It is a short workshop for young students and professionals who want to get a little hands-on training about the basics of film criticism. The club’s favorite and National Award-winning critic Baradwaj Rangan conducts the workshop between July and October. He is sometimes supported by an international film critic. 2016 saw The Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw come to Mumbai for the class while in 2017 (when I attended), TIME magazine’s Stephanie Zacharek made an appearance.
I wrote a detailed article about YCL last year which I think will be enough to push you to sign up if they host it this year. Keep your eyes and ears open in May/June when they usually announce it.
Lastly, and this is not very relevant here, there’s Sujay Kulkarni’s fantastic take on how to prepare for the festival. Writing for VICE, he captures the very essence of the festival – from ticket booking to finding obscure films outside of your watchlist to getting from one venue to another – in so less words.
Take a look as you revisit your own time at the festival last year… or five years ago. Whichever suits you.
There is no doubt that the MFF has transformed into a national phenomenon if not a global one. Last year the ticket price was INR 500 (approx. $7) which surely helped increase the footfall. And with so many new members looking forward to the 2019 edition, I’m sure it will be grander this time.
The MFF is now officially open for entries. If you are a creator, you need to sign up and submit as soon as possible. Check out the website for more details. If you are unsure if your film belongs to MFF, check out the rules and regulations here. And don’t forget to follow MAMI on Twitter becausethat’s where the action is.
Here’s to six more months of hope-filled anticipation. TN.