The IMAX multiplex at Wadala, in central Mumbai, is like a spaceship. A spaceship stationed in the middle of a vast industrial wasteland. A glistening, septic-looking lake on one side, and slums and factory skylines on the other. It is the largest IMAX dome in the world, but after its five minutes of fame with the release of Taj Mahal, India’s first 3-D film, in 2005, the swanky, hi-tech multiplex has remained eerily unpopulated. (Yes, even “thinly populated” is eerie in our city.)
The International Film Festival of Mumbai has somewhat reclaimed IMAX, Wadala. Year after year, for seven days in the early part of the year, it transforms into a hyperactive wonderland. Film-makers, curators, video games, B-list celebrities, coke machines, film technicians, pop-corn, ganja-smoking film students, Punjabi food courts—it’s all here.
Not as charming as shuttling between the Y.B. Chavan Centre and the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) by Marine Drive on chilly November evenings (the festival’s first three years), but the ride to Wadala is worth it.
At the festival’s press conference, director Shyam Benegal, the president of the Mumbai Academy of Moving Images, the trust that organizes it, was asked, “Are you going to provide shuttles between Chavan Centre and IMAX?” Benegal was flummoxed and amused.
The Y.B. Chavan Centre has always been one of the screening venues, but in the last two years, every film screened here has been screened a second time at IMAX, so there’s no avoiding Wadala this year, too. But, when it comes to scale and convenience, it’s one of the most easily navigable film festivals ever.
There are two films every year that transform the place into something like a mall on a Sunday; everybody is there to catch them and the queue spills over to the outside foyer. (This year’s two: Mira Nair’s Namesake and Pedro Almodovar’s Volver.) The best way to get in there is to stand in the queue at least an hour before and forget the group you came with.
If you don’t step out onto the empty streets in between screenings, the festival is a networker’s paradise. Three types of people flock here. Industrywallahs vary—you’re most likely to spot Ramesh Sippy and his wife, Kiran Juneja, who’ve been loyals for the last two years. Besides the opening ceremony, when some biggie is always garlanded, the festival is starved of glam quotient. Then there’s a coterie of film students from FTII, Pune, always in torn denim, perfectly slipping into the stereotype of a film-school student you have in your mind. And then there’s the aspiring or small-time film-maker or writer for whom this festival is a serious, but fun affair.
And you want to hang out with them. Neither rookies nor jaded veterans, their enthusiasm is fuelled by the offbeat film and the lesser-known cult director. They’re your best guides.
If you can brace yourself for the long walk back to the taxi stand in the evening on the first day, be pretty sure IMAX Wadala will be your home for the next six days.
The International Film Festival will run at the Y.B. Chavan Centre and IMAX multiplex at Wadala, Mumbai, till March 15.