On 20 October, the Jio MAMI 18th Mumbai Film Festival with Star is all set to screen its opening film, Konkona Sen Sharma's A Death in the Gunj at the Royal Opera House in Mumbai, a heritage location which has been shut since 1993.
It has been two years since a new committee took over the reigns of the Mumbai Film Festival. Film critic Anupama Chopra is now the festival director and filmmaker Kiran Rao joined her as chairperson of the board. As the two gear up for the 18th edition of Mami (20-27 October), Firstpost spoke to Chopra about the film festival, now in its 18th year and the largest event of is kind in India, and the challenges she faces as its director. The interaction took place after Chopra held a press conference to announce Mami's tie-up with Tata Sky, to broadcast the films that were part of the programme at previous editions of Mami, to viewers at home. Excerpts:
More about the film fest this year
Chopra explained how the film festival would be different this year:
"Well it’s definitely bigger and we are hoping it will be better. We are scaling up a few things.
Our section for children, the Half Ticket section, its definitely different this year. Last year the curator had an arrangement with schools, so children were coming in from schools. This year the festival premises will be open to children so parents can bring in children when they want.
The MAMI Movie Mela, which will give fans access to their favourite film's merchandise, books, DVDs and and have conversations with their favourites from the industry, will be open two days instead of last year's one.
We are also introducing a special section called Word To Screen. Our aim is to get more books made into films by interaction between publishers who are based in Delhi who want their books to be adapted into films. Through 'Word To Screen' we hope to put these publishers in a room with content creators for a happy arranged marriage union to help more create more films based on books."
On opening the Royal Opera House
The India's unique 500-seat baroque style theatre was inaugurated by Britain’s King George, during his visit in 1911. The new restored theatre will be the opening venue for this years MAMI event. How does Chopra feel about the opening film being screened at a historic landmark of Mumbai?
"It was so overwhelming. We have been pursuing this idea for six months. The royal family who owns the house, the Gondals, have been great. We just hope it's a magical evening because it's a magical space."
The festival's journey
Chopra admitted the journey for Mami has been difficult because it is a privately funded festival.
"So you need to get a lot of sponsors to put everything in place. We are not asking for a few lakhs. We are asking for a lot of money to manage the whole festival. So that perhaps and especially the financial crisis have made the future of the festival uncertain in the 2014 crisis.
I keep emphasising how I want this festival to be place to help filmmakers find their voices. We have always had great local filmmakers signing up to be a part of the festival. The Marathi cinema showcase especially has been great. Court (directed by Chaitanya Tamhane) came out of there. Killa (Avinash Arun's film) came out of there and they won all the top prizes.
Our other section, Dimensions Mumbai is one of the older sections of Mami and it was Jaya Bachchan who came up with the idea of engaging young filmmakers (under 25) to come up with shorts (films under 5 minutes). "
What about the 'Country In Focus' for this 18th edition, Turkey?
"Last year we didn’t have a country in focus," said Chopra. "We need 10 films that represent a country and not just any 10 films but films that define the country's persona. Luckily we were in touch with the council general of Turkey who was very enthusiastic about the idea of putting together films and elements from Turkey for the 'Country in Focus' segment. There’s a film from 1973 (The Bride) and a host of contemporary films too, all of which give you a perspective of the country as good films should."
Feminism and more
Chopra told us that the entire festival is led by women.
"We have a very few guys, and this wasn’t a conscious decision. It just so happens that all the curators and heads are women.
This year Oxfam India is introducing a new award 'Best Film on Gender Sensitivity' where the jury will select the film which is sensitive towards the portrayal of women, as well as men. I do think the portrayal of women onscreen has improved over the years, but there’s an immense distance to go as well. With this its always one step forward, two steps back. Women are in a far, far better placed in in the Hindi film industry, but there’s still a lot to be done."
Chopra said Bollywood was of immense help when the Mumbai film festival was facing its crisis.
"Everyone from the film industry has supported this festival. They all wrote checks, they all gave time, at the very least they asked people on social media to register for the festival.
All festivals need eyeballs. I am very pragmatic about that fact. I know if the festival doesn't get attention, eyeballs and registrations, I cannot go back to my sponsor and say, 'Write me another check'. For me, the Hindi film industry is a huge brand and since this festival is based in Mumbai, if we don’t use it for the simple reason of differentiation that it's Bollywood and this is arthouse cinema, it wouldn't work. Anyway the lines between Bollywood and arthouse cinema are getting blurry. What is Dangal? Is it arthouse or mainstream Bollywood film? I think it is wonderful that we can leverage the power of Bollywood for the film fest."
On the subject of the films that were her favourites from this year's line-up, Chopra chose to play safe:
"As a critic it's my job to tell you which film to watch, but I just can't seem to pick a favourite one for this festival."