Jio Mami 19th Mumbai Film Festival Day 1: Sharmila Tagore awarded for Excellence in Cinema
(Editor's note: For the next week, we will be publishing a fly-on-the-wall account of all that happens in Mumbai through the 19th Jio MAMI Film Festival. This daily diary will scope film and events to watch out for, as well as anecdotes and conversations through the festival.)
Just as the sun had descended into the sea, and the pink orange sky of Mumbai dissolved into night, the 19th Jio MAMI Film Festival opened its doors to the glittering world of cinema.
Over the next one week, the Festival screens over over 220 films from 49 countries, 51 languages and includes features, documentaries and short films. The Festival is spread across city screens including Regal and PVR in the suburbs.
The venue of the opening ceremony, Liberty Cinemas, has a history of its own standing witness to the ebb and fall of the relationship between cinema and its changing audiences. For all the visiting filmmakers, the ride to the theatre is a ride through the city itself that houses the busy cinema industry of India — and a lesson in the complicated time and distance math that Mumbai surprises the visitor with, just as it surprises them with the multitude of stories you see on the screen over years.
The red carpet was a busy affair with almost every known star and director but the real hero was the cinema theatre that was founded in 1947 by Habib Hoosein and aptly named Liberty. Even today one couldn’t help but admire the old world art deco charm of Liberty Cinemas. It’s endless high ceiling and balcony was reminiscent of the forties and fifties. I was almost reminded of Shoshanna’s fictional and grand theatre, the Le Glamaar cinema, in Inglorious Basterds.
The ceremony saw the hosts, an articulate Kunal Kapoor along with Aditi Rao Hydari, take us through the sections of the festival, also announcing the Juries of each section including; International Competition, India Gold, Shorts and the most exciting one — a bunch of young adults who came on stage complete with energy and charm as the Jury of the Half Ticket section.
The Festival was declared open by Co-Chairperson Nita Ambani who said of this cinema city: ‘Cinema is the lifeline in many ways and the ‘maximum city’ celebrates it with colour and character in abundant measure.’ The Head of Juries of the different sections, including John Madden, Kabir Khan, Rajkummar Rao, noted the changing times and the changes in cinema viewing vis a vis digital content and new technology.
Amongst the audience quietly observing the events, it was a pleasure to find iconic writer and Mumbai chronicler Kiran Nagarkar who is also the Head of Jury in the Book Award section that celebrates the Best Writing on cinema in both Hindi and English. Of course as a Nagarkar fan one wishes we could have had him on stage with his quick wit and repartee, which would have no doubt left the audience with a taste of his humour.
This year the Festival presented the Award of Excellence to the one of the finest and versatile actresses Sharmila Tagore. Satyajit Ray’s words, ‘Something about her eyes told me not to reject her outright’ were the words that lit the screen at the end of the clip that celebrated her 58 years of work.
The calm and soft-spoken actor talked of her own time and experience of being an actor of both Bengali and Hindi cinema. In a lighthearted story of her juggle between the two industries she spoke of how every time she shot a Bengali film she was gently told this is not a Hindi film, and she could do with more pauses, and just as she shot for a Hindi film she was told, this is a Hindi film, maybe she could hurry the lines just a little. Her anecdote was also an insight into the diverse worlds of cinema and filmmaking practices that existed and still exists in India.
And just as the evening was ready to end and the night of the opening film set in heartlands of UP was about to begin (Mukkabaaz) soon after, Ms Tagore ended her warm and compelling speech with the tradition and importance of cinema today — to be free and synonymous with the spirit of artistic expression.