It’s that time of the year. Every Indian film enthusiast’s favorite week – their annual pilgrimage – will take place from October 20th to 27th. Seven days of handpicked cinema, up to five shows watchable a day, with the best of films curated by experts who seem to be getting closer and closer every year to making this a truly world-class festival.
The Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival with Star will have its 18th edition this year, with over 180 films selected from all over.
In addition to Master Classes by American director Cary Fukunaga and Chinese auteur Jia Zhangke (also recipient of this year’s Excellence in Cinema Award), there are, of course, the best of them that made waves at the top film festivals this year – Cannes, Berlin, Toronto, Venice, Telluride, Locarno and New York: Pablo Larrain’s Neruda, Olivier Assayas’s Personal Shopper, Cristian Mungiu’s Graduation, Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake, The Daniels’ Swiss Army Man, Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman, Michael Dudok de Wit’s The Red Turtle, The Dardennes’ The Unknown Girl, Fatih Akin’s Goodbye Berlin, Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon, Thomas Vinterberg’s The Commune, Paul Verhoeven’s Elle and more.
But of keen interest to us is the collection of Indian films, spread largely over three sections – India Gold, India Story and Discovering India. So many of them look promising, including a special Marathi Talkies section screening last year’s hit anthology Bioscope, Rajesh Mapuskar’s family comedy Ventilator, Sachin Kundalkar’s joint-family generational drama Rajwade and Sons and Punarvasu Naik’s satirical thriller Vakratunda Mahakaaya.
It goes without saying that Konkana Sen Sharma’s directorial debut A Death in the Gunj is perhaps this year’s most-anticipated Indian film – one that opens the festival this year. Last year, it was Hansal Mehta’s Aligarh.
Here are some of the other premiering Indian films that look interesting to us:
Lipstick Under My Burkha (India Gold; 156 minutes)
Director: Alankrita Shrivastava
Prakash Jha’s assistant director for years, Alankrita Shrivastava made the Gul Panag-starrer Turning 30! five years ago. Her latest (an NFDC Film Bazaar selection last year), a small-town chronicle of four different women living secret lives and aching to break free, premiered at the Tokyo Film Festival last month, and sounds like an interesting multi-narrative digging deeper into the desires and complexities of being a woman in this country.
The Cinema Travellers (India Gold; 96 mins)
Directors: Shirley Abraham, Amit Madheshiya
The only Indian feature-film to be selected at Cannes earlier this year is an enthralling portrait of the fast-fading journey of the ‘Traveling Cinemas’ of India. The two directors follow a group of three for five years across villages in the country as they try to keep their craft alive against the age of digital technology. This sounds like a documentary born out of pure love for the medium – a rarity, and a timely reminder in an age where old-world charm is increasingly becoming a relic.
Autohead (India Gold; 97 mins)
Director: Rohit Mittal
The one-liner is, on its own, a hook: An edgy ‘mockumentary’ about an unhinged rickshaw driver’s increasingly destructive adventures across the suburbs of Mumbai. Just the darkness and psychological probe a festival needs amidst all the meditativeness and drama. Mittal’s film was part of Film Bazaar recommends, and will premiere in India after playing at Hong Kong (the only Indian film selected there) and Spain (Sitges).
Loev (India Gold; 90 mins)
Director: Sudhanshu Saria
Saria’s hypnotic slow-burning relationship drama – about three Indian men caught on the threshold of friendship and love – has traveled across the world for the last one year, after premiering at the Tallinn Black Nights Festival in Estonia last November. It finally premieres in its own country, featuring some fantastic performances and restrained storytelling, without really positioning itself as an all-out ‘LGBT’ film.
Cecilia (India Story; 97 mins)
Director: Pankaj Johar
Seemingly a hard-hitting documentary about the filmmaker’s struggle to secure justice for his domestic help, a maid named Cecilia, whose 14-year-old daughter is trafficked and found dead. The producer of the much-acclaimed Shuttlecock Boys (2011) turns director with this one, which primarily documents and delves into the endless chain of bureaucracy, corruption and a broken system.
Maroon (India Story; 94 mins)
The young director’s debut film is a single-location psychological thriller about one man’s (Manav Kaul) descent into a disturbing world of disillusionment after his school-teacher wife – who has been cheating on him – goes missing. This low-budget film looks anything but, especially with a haunting soundtrack and some very resourceful evocative sound-design, as one goes deeper and deeper into the predicament and collapsing psyche of a fast-spiraling creative mind.
417 Miles (Discovering India; 74 mins)
Director: Mainak Dhar
What’s a list without a ‘mumblecore’ road movie? Two college friends – one living and flourishing in America, and the other an indie filmmaker from Mumbai – drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles on the West Coast and rekindle their chemistry. Sounds fairly straightforward, and perhaps one of those unrehearsed scripts that develops into an intimate snapshot of times gone by.
An Insignificant Man (Discovering India; 100 mins)
Directors: Khushboo Ranka, Vinay Shukla
The much-awaited Arvind Kejriwal documentary, formerly known as ‘A Proposition For A Revolution’, finally has its India premiere (after playing at Toronto this year) a while after it followed the revolutionary and controversial AAP leader for two full years. Kejriwal’s story remains of great relevance and interest to many curious about his political mindset, and perhaps we won’t get a better insider look into this enigmatic world.