Jio MAMI 2016 : Curtain Raiser

Jio MAMI organizes the Mumbai Film Festival for the second time. Those of us closely connected to the festival for the last two decades were apprehensive of its continuation. MFF faced serious financial trouble when Reliance released MAMI, last year. Lots of independent well-wishers, including Dear Cinema (this house brought me to serious film criticism, exactly a decade ago) openly solicited public donation for the festival.

Unlike the Kolkata International Film Festival (KIFF), MFF is not open only to professed film-goers. I never got a delegate card to the KIFF before I took admission to the Masters in Film Studies, in 2001. Film Societies such as Cine Central closed their doors to us, undergrads students, out of a certain cinephile elitism. As a result, today, India lacks serious cinephiles and any strong culture of experimental cinema. But, I digress!

MAMI is unique in many ways. Unlike any other FIAPF accredited film festival in the country, MAMI keeps the registration for delegates officially open throughout the entire span of the festival. In a sense, this is not an elitist film festival.

That does not mean the curation and the programming are without fault. India does not have a visual culture in which we grow up. Our schools do not have visual arts in their curricula so far as the practical necessity of arts in life and their appreciation are concerned. Both Western and Eastern European blocks stand out unified in this regard. Europe has a heritage of visual culture, imbibed in pre-teenagers from their first day in formal school.

To cover this lack, the South Asian subcontinent needs multiple festivals like MAMI. It is interesting to note that the Mecca of masala filmmaking spearheads this enterprise. It is a popular, social, enterprise. Cinema should be for the people, by the people. Cinema should be participatory.

Exactly that is how some progress in visual acculturation, in India, may be expected.

Let us have a look at the Mumbai Film Fest, this year.

Kankana Sen Sharma grew enough to be Writer-Director. In a pretty interesting manner, her debut film, A Death in the Gunj, explores the same exotica that Ray tried to explore through urban eyes in Days and Nights in the Forest (1970). Bengali cinema, after Rituporno, in the post-Srijit era, found its acme in the conscious celebration of retrophilia. This is indeed a trend of the post-globalization Indian youth. In my film school days, I was stunned to find that my classmates and juniors (most of them were much younger than me, sometimes with a gap of a full decade) were haunted by a strong nostalgia for a past that they had never seen.

Such pseudo-nostalgia is a mark of transition generations. It is interesting to note that Ray made his ‘urban exploration of the marginal’ (marginal in the eyes of the urban, of course) film in 1970. That was the year when the Naxalite movement had already faced a setback and the party would slowly go underground in the years to come. It was interesting that Ray would make a film about crude romanticism (as the word stands etymologically) of a bunch of urban middle class youth, when people were literally dying across the country.

Kankana made a similar attempt in her debut feature, almost nostalgically photographed by Sirsha Roy. The film is plotted in 1979, at an exotic place in Jharkhand where anything could happen.

Good as a signature film for MAMI, which stands on its own, unashamed as the torch-bearer of non-criticality, Kankana’s film opens the Bengali nostalgic space to the broad uncritical tradition of Indian viewers. We hope such celebration of non-criticality would finally open a critical space in Mumbai, just as it had been doing in Bengal.

Other Films

Over 175 films are dished out to viewers in this year’s MFF. The itinerary for this virtual global tour is neatly divided into 16 sections.

Let us have a look at each of them.

India Gold

This competitive section, of total award worth 45,00,000, brings a packet of films upholding the changing face of our culture. Films that have been honored abroad may seek retreat in this club.

While a sneak peek is there at the official MFF site, we plan to cover each of these films and their Directors’ (and other makers’) views on how they made these films.

We plan deeper commentaries on how such films may be marketed in this land and abroad. Please stay tuned for that section as selling films is ultra important in an age when two big production chains (UTV and Balaji) are down, and big international distributors, such as Fortissimofilms, face existential crisis. Plan for alternate models of revenue generation is mandatory today, to sustain on the face fierce competiton both globally and locally (everyone makes films today. Fifteen years ago, everyone was writing (or changing) codes for Y2K, and fifteen years before that everyone was writing poems.) We may find some answers to this labyrinth. 

Total eleven films are selected for this Indian competition section. They range fabulously across a large fabric of plots, from an almost documentary sensation of  Autohead (Directed by Rohit Mittal, in Hindi) where the typical interview paves in to the interviewee's life, to the furthest soil of Manipur where the Indian identity is imposed (The Lady of the Lake, Directed by Haobam Paban Kumar) - these eleven films question identity and ways of aligning oneself in the society. While this section showcases two documentaries, some pretty interesting fiction features from experienced hands (Such as Lipstick Under my Burkha (Directed by Alankrita Srivastav, in Hindi)) are to provide tough contest for the newcomers to the trade.

The India Gold Jury is headed by the Turkish Director, Reha Erdem. The full list of Jury can be accessed here. It is interesting to note that the external head examiner of the Indian competitive section represents the country in focus for this edition of the festival.

MAMI made a pretty wise decision by not including any Indian personality in the jury for India Gold.

International Competition

Thirteen films will be screened in the International Competition Section. Usually, this creates the utmost attraction among the bulk of the spectators in any film fest. It is interesting to note that the entries in this section are less challenging, or striking, than the films in India Gold.

Out of these one dozen plus one flicks, Dog Days (Directed by Jordan Schiele, in Chinese) looks at the contemporary urban China where tradition and freedom feels claustrophobic in the wake of robotic modernization. This film attempts at looking at the perennial social management question - System efficiency or Individual freedom? Schiele stands detached to look at this human issue in one of the world's oldest unbroken cultural traditions.

Another film that looks important when the world sleeps in aloofness is Dren Zherka's debut feature Eho (Echo).

It is interesting to note how these new filmmakers, younger than me, or most of my friends around, try to read the realities and meta-reality around themselves without comment. Most of these new-generation films are self-produced.

International Competition Jury is headed by Miguel Gomes - the veteran film critic turned filmmaker whose triptych Arabian Nights stunned many of us, last year.

Anurag Kashyap is also on the Jury, for this section.

We are going to have two different articles in this section on the curation procedures for an international film festival, and the logic behind judgment (or, what the Jury do). So, keep an eye over this!

The total prize money for the International Competiton is 45,00,000 too. List of all awards are provided in this festival page

There are fourteen more sections just like the previous years, with one addition. Excellence in Cinema section is new, this year. Two important films by the Director Jia Zhangke, from the sixth generation of Chinese cinema, are to be screened. Unknown Pleasure (2002) and A Touch of Sin (2013)  paint an oddly dystopic society post-Tiananmen-Square killing.

Among the other sections, Indian Story (non-competitive section of Indian films), Dimensions Mumbai (Short films on Mumbai issues by the Mumbaikar early youth) Half Ticket (short features), Discovering India (Fictions and non-fictions poignantly focused on some social issue in India. Deepa Mehta's Anatomy of Violence loosely based on Nirbhaya's brutal gang-rape is included in this section), Restored Classics (Five films from five filmmaking cultures are to be projected in brilliant 4K restoration), Rendezvous (An ecclectic collection of French films), Half Ticket Collection, The New Medium, After Dark, Spotlight and Marathi Talkies would pull a crowd just as the last year's edition pulled for films like Teethi, Dheepan, Chauthi Kuth and Lobster. 

Two areas of major attraction (for virtual globetrotters like me) are World Cinema and the Country Focus. While there are ten films representing the country in focus - Turkey, there are 46 films chosen across the globe, to be played in the non-competitive section of the World Cinema.

Each of these demand separate articles of considerable length.

We go to festivals to see how others have thought, how are thinking now. Each culture's filmmaking practice may be paradigmatically different from the others. 

Stay tuned to learn how they are making films!

P.S. I forgot to mention the new MAMI logo. The varna Ma is suggested through two fishes. Minimalism is associated to Mumbai life vis-a-vis the excess of Bollywood. Exactly like ground and figure contrast; or like Yin-Yang. 

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

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