Alfonso Cuaron’s Netflix-produced “Roma"(which won the Golden Lion at this year’s Venice International Film Festival), Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “Shoplifters" (winner of the Palm D’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival), Spike Lee’s outrageous comedy “BlacKkKlansman",Zhangke Jia’s “Ash is Purest White", and Paul Dano’s “Wildlife" are some of the international festival favourites at this year’s Jio Mumbai International Film Festival organised by the Mumbai Academy of Moving Images (MAMI), its 20th year. Among more than 20 Indian films to be screened are Vasan Bala’s “Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota" about a man who has a medical condition because of which he can feel no pain, which will open the festival, Rima Das’s third film “Bulbul Can Sing", Ivan Ayr’s “Soni", about an honest Delhi policewoman’s struggles with everyday sexism, Devashish Makhija’s “Bhonsle" with Manoj Bajpayee in the lead, about the immigrant experience in Mumbai, Kabir Chowdhry’s “Mehsampur" and Aadish Keluskar’s “Jaaon Kahan Bata Ae Dil".
Festival director Anupama Chopra will conduct masterclasses with American directors Darren Aronofsky and Sean Baker, Argentine director Lucrecia Martel, and Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos.
In its 20th year, the festival lives up to its biggest achievements so far: besides being the star of Mumbai’s cultural calendar, it brings the best films from the world to the city every year. For film-makers, it is aspirational to get screen space here. As “Bhonsle" director Deveashish Makhija says, “It’s to me what Eden Gardens used to be to the Indian cricket team in the 1980s—the most important home ground to play a match on." He says there is a certain “active" audience that seeks out films here. He adds, “The film gets spoken about. Does that help increase the audience base? Not really."
A team of 10 permanent staff including Chopra and creative director Smriti Kiran work on events throughout the year leading up to the festival. Earlier this year, publishers and film producers came together for the MAMI Word to Screen Market in which more than 200 books were up for optioning, and that list went beyond best-sellers to including the books first-time authors and authors who write in Hindi. At this year’s festival, there are more than 200 films to be screened at 10 venues across the city. It is hosting around150 delegates, national and international, and the registration fee this year has been reduced to Rs500 (it was Rs2,000 last year) to celebrate the 20th year. “It is our gift to the city," says Kiran. “The number of screening requests for the festival this year has gone up considerably," she says.
Jio and the Star Network are the festival’s primary sponsors and this year, the films screened in the India Story section are eligible for the Audience Choice Award of Rs10 lakh. Fourteen new titles will premiere at the festival, which includes 12 world premieres.The top prize, the Golden Getaway trophy is a cash prize of Rs25 lakh. Last year, Nicole Van Kilsdonk’s “The Day My Father Became a Bushgot" the Golden Getaway in the international competition category and Rima Das’s “Village Rockstar" got it in the India Gold category.
Chopra, who took over as festival director along with Kiran Rao as its chairperson in 2014 when it was in a Rs75 lakh debt and without new direction, says, “It is getting more and more recognized internationally, we had Cameron Bailey, who heads the Toronto International Film Festival come down and mentor our team in the past. We have many people from other international festivals coming to visit. The team has travelled to other film festivals and has built a network of contacts globally." Chopra and her team showed their explicit support for the #MeTooIndia movement by dropping films that are made by accused (including the new film by Rajat Kapoor) or which are produced by anybody complicit in a sexual harassment case (Shazia Iqbal’s “Bebaak", produced by Anurag Kashyap). Chopra declined to comment on the support Iqbal has received from sections of the film industry and her team protesting against the decision to drop her film.
Chopra and her team also did not reveal the budget of the festival this year, but it is at least 10 times bigger than when it started 20 years ago with Shyam Benegal as its chairperson. It was a taste-shattering experience for film lovers in the city, with venues then confined to South Mumbai. The team continued to get the best of world cinema to the city through the 2000s under director Sreenivas Narayanan. But financial and infrastructural troubles continued. With Chopra and Rao, the infrastructural and resource issues got addressed. Bollywood also makes a splash at the opening and closing ceremonies now. With all these changes, the Mumbai International Film Festival is now a film movement and a small industry in itself.
Writer, movie enthusiast and former member of the selection committee at the festival, Deepika Sorabjee, curated a section on films by artists in 2014. She has been watching films at the festival for the past 20 years, every year. Sorabjee says, “Under Mr Narayanan’s directorship it became focussed with the current categories you see today being laid. Now with Anupama Chopra at the helm, it is wonderful to see women lead the way and with increased sponsorship it has grown bigger and the list of fine films has grown. South Bombay does get a lot of World Cinema but needs more screens for the festival gems in categories like International Competition."
Another regular, film-maker Ranjan Das who teaches at Digital Academy, The Film School, says, “This festival is only for film buffs and people associated with the film industry, and not people from other walks of life, as it happens in the festivals at Kolkata,Trivandrum or Delhi." Most delegates like Das say that for the last three or four years, reserving seats has become difficult, the seats get reserved online within minutes and then a delegate has to stand in the unreserved line on the day of the screening, hoping for a chance to get in. The glamour doesn’t add much to the experience of the loyal delegate; the noisy queuing up and getting to watch movies do. “In fact, I don’t like the fact that the festival now relies a lot of glamour," Das says.
To register and view details of venues and screens, visit www.mumbaifilmfestival.com