18th Mumbai Film Festival: Some Critical Observations

Bookmyshow employs young people – fresh out of college (or, not yet) for the Mumbai Film Festival. There is fresh release of energy every moment; but young age calls for rashness, quick (and wrong decision) and pride – symptoms of inexperience. Jio MAMI should check prevent this from happening on its second edition.

The festival is running well. The choice of films is predictable for a city like Mumbai. So, it would be redundant to comment on that. This is not Telluride, or Melbourne, or Rotterdam. We do not have a culture of visual communication, let alone art or cinephilia. Almost all filmmakers (that include writers, actors, technical crew and, above all, producers) imitate what others have (i.e. foreigners) have done before. The situation was not so pathetic when Ray was making films in the 60s. Or even when a bunch of filmmakers came out after the critical success of Bhuvan Shome (1969) a new gen of filmmakers took the alternative cinema space by storm. Critics termed this the Indian New Wave, which Satyajit Ray maintained (although he tried to show that this was a false wave, and hardly new).
Most of them have retired now. Adoor Gopalakrishnan is still making films. His new film Pinneyum (Once Again) is a star attraction in the MFF too. This is exactly eight years since he made a film. The last time his film was showed in Mumbai, I interviewed him. Surely, a relishing experience. But, one Adoor or a Amit Dutta do not make a difference to a culture. It is important to note that our classical music has always been connected to religion and rites. Both the Hindusthani and the Carnatic schools never attempted a secular framing, the way it turned its face just before Bach in the west. This is probably the main reason that our music never embraced harmony despite knowing the multiscale, polyphonic structure, and the impact of harmony, pretty well.

It is the same for our dance forms – both the classical and the folk. The rejuvenation and popularization of the dance structures, in the last century, by people like Rukmini Devi and Uday Shankar, did not generate a true secular dance structure.

This religious structure is rooted in our upbringing, which is why Marx and Lenin are the modern gods. So are Rajinikanth or Shahrukh. This is why we take Bollywood so seriously, our wedding parties so ultra- seriously, and personal happiness so negligently.

The choice of films in the current MFF, just like any other, reflects this attitude. Some of my friends, such as the film critic Dalton L, think that an individual’s past (or, history) does not necessarily influence her/his future choice of actions. But, I have a serious disagreement with them, here. A person’s individuality is made up of several traits and experiences. One does not know the full range possibilities of her/his actions most of the time. More so when s/he is inexperienced in that particular situation. If s/he is not influenced by win or loss in the situation, and correspondingly her/his personality and further choice of actions do not change, then there is a serious problem regarding that person’s general and social intelligence, and her/his love for life.

Whatever we do in life is either influenced by our past, or it is imposed upon us by an outsider who hegemonizes us in believing that we are acting out of our own will. Such outsiders chalk out our lives for us, and expect that we follow their plans happily, yet feel that we are totally free.

Bollywood is among the set of cultural tools that effect this kind of false consciousness excellently. It produces, and reproduces, our minds throughout our lives. It does that through a process called socialization. On top of that, Bollywood, along with our morality systems and their agents (such as parents, family, friends, peers, school, police, army, judicial systems and the press), make us believe that this is the only type of socialization.

The films that we are allowed to watch are part of this socialization. However, just like anything else, some structural fault-lines grow prominent in this lab-process. Some films show up in those fault-lines.

Lav Diaz’s new film The Woman who Left is among those. Suddenly Lav has grown popular with his Venice victory. I never expected the Mumbai crowd flock to make the first screening houseful. But, the impossible occurred.

I am not sure how many of these called him a swine, after the 227 minute experience. The auditorium was almost empty when the film got over. No official MAMI reportage wrote much about the film, anyway.

Readers, please feel free to share your views/opinions in the comment box below. As always your feedback is highly appreciated!

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