Galas and glitches

Stories from Jio Mami Mumbai Film Festival 2015


A still from Terence Davies’ film ‘Sunset Song’
A still from Terence Davies’ film ‘Sunset Song’

Starting trouble?

It’s frustrating enough having to drop films you wanted to see from your schedule because they aren’t playing in the right venue at the right time. But when one of the films you have selected is cancelled, it can wreck carefully laid plans and turn retiring cinemagoers into fire-breathing ones. Viewers in PVR Juhu were especially badly hit by cancellations today. Yesterday, news emerged that the screening of Pablo Larraín’s The Club had been cancelled. Then, those who sat down to see Anna Muylaert’s The Second Mother in the morning, and Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster in the afternoon, were soon standing up, scrambling for their itineraries and bolting off to another screening.

Also frustrating—and no surprise to those who’ve attended MAMI over the years—is the problem of late starts. A thought-through schedule often necessitates a quick dash from Juhu to ECX, or from Phoenix to Regal. In such a scenario, 15-20 minutes makes a lot of difference. Each of the 4 films I saw today began at least 15 minutes late. This was understandable only in the case of the opening film, Aligarh, whose cast and crew were introduced to the audience before the screening.

Chalk and cheese

Two exceedingly different films made up my afternoon and evening sessions. The first was Sunset Song, which I snuck into after The Lobster was cancelled. I knew nothing about the film, though I love director Terence Davies’ work, especially his masterpieces Distant Voices, Still Lives and The Long Day Closes. Like these, Sunset Song is also a period piece, beginning its tale in pre-World War I Scotland. Adapted from Scottish writer Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s 1932 novel, it tells the story of Chris Guthrie, who grows up cowed by her abusive father, but finds the freedom to love and live as she pleases after his death. As is usual with Davies, every frame has a painterly quality, and the sombre material is given life by an extraordinary performance Agyness Deyn as Chris.

Half an hour after Davies’ film ended as quietly and unaffectedly as it had begun, I found myself in a very different world. Sean Baker’s Tangerine is as different a film from Sunset Song as one can imagine. For starters, it was shot using an iPhone, a decision which lends it a jumpy immediacy that’s perfect for its story of a trans hooker in search of her cheating pimp boyfriend on the streets of Los Angeles. It’s not just the difference in cameras—Tangerine, unlike Sunset Song, is the cinema of effect, not of self-effacement. It was fascinating seeing the two back to back, and enjoying both experiences while also wondering how the same art form could accommodate two visions so disparate.

Local hero

It was a very loving audience that had gathered in Regal to watch Hansal Mehta’s Aligarh. They clapped for each member of the crew introduced before the screening. They broke into applause twice during the film. They laughed in all the right places. And they seemed very moved—as was this writer—by Manoj Bajpayee’s performance as SR Siras, the Aligarh Muslim University professor who was suspended after a video of him in bed with another man surfaced.

In choosing an Indian film to open the festival for only the second time in its history, MAMI sent out a strong signal about its commitment to local talent. Still, there might have been a few nerves before the screening tonight. A bad foreign film in the opener slot—like Serena last year—wouldn’t be as damaging as a substandard Indian opening film. Its finer merits will be debated in the coming months, but for now it can definitely be said Aligarh doesn’t let anyone down.

Discovery of the day: Sunset Song, since Tangerine already comes heralded

Downer of the day: Paolo Sorrentino’s meandering, faux-philosophical Youth

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