MAMI, or Mumbai Film Festival, or JioMAMI as it’s now known, is an annual pilgrimage for the city’s passionate film buffs. Once every year, for a week, people like me abandon our regular lives, families and activity, to immerse ourselves in this glorious smorgasbord of world cinema. All at once, we becomes like kids in a candy shop – choosing screens with great glee, walking between venues, staying up late to plan out the next day’s schedule and trying to fit in workshops and lunches in between.

It’s more than just a festival for us; it’s a way of life, and it takes us at least a month of withdrawal to get over it after it finishes.

Let me tell why this film festival – the only one of its kind in the city of Hindi cinema – holds a special meaning for me.

For starters, I wasn’t even aware of the concept of film festivals back in 2006. I had just finished my graduation, and was aimless, disillusioned and confused about my Statistics degree. I didn’t want to go to an office. I didn’t want to crunch theories and numbers. And then, after six months of doing nothing, I visited Fun Republic in Andheri to watch the new Mel Gibson-directed film Apocalytpo. At the counter, I heard that there were a bunch of world cinema screenings going on in the adjacent screens. I watched the movie, and then decided to take a chance. I randomly walked into one of the halls, and settled in to watch a French film called Cages.

This movie changed my life. It was a strong, powerful and beautiful movie about love, passion, pain and obsession. I went home that night and wondered – what it must feel like to create such a glorious film on the big screen. Many Indian viewers had walked out during the sex scene. But I stayed because it was part of the whole. Because it made sense. I decided to go back again the next day, and this time, I paid 50 for each screening at the counter. Back then, a pass wasn’t needed. I had learned that this was the Mumbai Film Festival.

I watched three more French films that day. I remember each one of them even today. I went home and wrote down the titles. Then I went back again, and again, for five more days.

By the end of the week, I had watched 20 films over 6 days – most of them French, many of them South American and Asian, too. I went home and decided that I wanted to be a filmmaker.

I enrolled in a course the month after that. And after that, I became a writer. And then, finally, a film critic. The MAMI festival in 2007 changed my life. And back then, it was a small, intimate festival with no organization and a lot of chaos held in a couple of screens, at a local multiplex.

Ironically, during the film course, I only watched seven films at the festival. And from 2010 onward, when I struggled to find a place for myself as an assistant director and writer, I threw myself back into the film festival. I watched more and more regional Indian films to get an idea of different kinds of cinematic languages. I established a new record of 27 films over 6 days in 2011. The routine was barbaric: Wake up at 8, make a schedule for the day, go to the first film by 10, come out at 12, go for the next one at 12.30, come out at 2.30, eat lunch quickly, go in for the 3.30 film, come out and run to the 5.30 PM screening, and then finally, trudge to the 8 PM screening – usually the most popular film of the day, where long lines and madness reigned supreme outside the doors. Over the years, organizers increased, and audiences swelled, and more and more people became aware of this annual ritual. I realized that there were more insane souls like me, leading their life in a haze between screens for 7 consecutive days. The ambition was to absorb and consume as much un-cut, ‘un-interval’ world cinema as possible – to consume an entire year’s quota in one week on the big screen.

When the main venue shifted to NCPA in 2012, it was a new experience altogether. Car-pooling to town with fellow buffs, sitting in the massive main hall to watch some truly outstanding films, and come back home by 11 PM to get some sleep…it’s the moments in between the films, chatting with strangers about recommended films – that make the film festival a complete experience for me.

For the last two years, I’ve been part of the press, yet I’ve been watching more than 20 films in the week. For that one week, everything else is compromised on, and for that one week, I can forget about everything else and escape into a new story every few hours.

This year, MAMI is much bigger, and has considerable PR power behind it. A lot of very notable Indian films – all festival favorites – are having their Indian premieres. It was Court and Killa last year, and this time it’s Thithi, Chauthi Koot, Umrika, the opening film Aligarh, documentary Placebo, Island City, Ludo and Haraamkhor. For a change, I will watch all these Indian titles, and you should too. This is a time when our cinema is at par with festival darlings from all over the world, and don’t be surprised if you don’t find seats in any of these shows. Always reserve your seat when the website opens booking at midnight for the next day – and come with a plan. Gone are the days when you can walk into any screening and enjoy what you want.

I suppose, with great power (of today’s MAMI), comes great responsibility.

Stay tuned for posts on how to best experience this year’s film festival and other pro-tips this month. And book your delegate and press passes on this website.