MAMI 2015: A Final Roundup

As another edition of the Mumbai Film Festival (MAMI) comes to a close, it’s time to look back at its hits and misses. 

Chauthi Koot, the Punjabi-language film that premiered at the ‘Un Certain Regard’ at Cannes earlier this year, won the Golden Gateway award in the India Gold section, while Shlok Sharma’s long-finished Haraamkhor won the Silver Gateway in this section. Raam Reddy’s charming little Kannada village portrait Thithi won a Special Jury mention in the prestigious International Competition Section. All in all, with more Indian films playing at the festival than ever before (43), viewers got a good taste of independent and regional cinema from all around the country. 

Misses:

With more money and recognition comes more responsibility, and though the organizers managed to put together a fairly successful program, the little mistakes made the difference. 

For example, there was no index in the festival booklet this year – which made it near impossible to find a film synopsis. 

Furthermore, the time slots in the day were random – with films starting every hour from 10 AM to 10 PM, making it difficult for viewers to plan their 4-5 films a day. Earlier, there’d be fixed slots (11, 1, 3, 5.30, 8), with no two slots truly overlapping. 

Moreover, with the suburban screens chosen (PVR Juhu, PVR Andheri), it was difficult for eager enthusiasts to watch 5 films a day, with travel between the two venues subject to traffic and other factors. No two venues, even across town (PVR Phoenix, Regal), were at a walking distance from one another. And not many big titles played at the only single-screen, 1000-seater Regal, which is miles away from the main festival audience (Andheri). Chandan cinema, last year, made all the difference for those spending all day at PVR Juhu. 

There were too many technical errors and data corruptions this year – far more than any other year. More screenings were canceled than ever before – starting with favorite The Club and Lobster on the first day itself. The rescheduled shows were almost never communicated to people. Award-winning director Gurvinder Singh made his disappointment with the poor projection quality public after the screening of his film Chauthi Koot. Moreover, other Indian films like Cities Of Sleep suffered cancellations due to sync issues. PVR ECX, in particular, was a venue where most of these errors occurred – thanks to pre-mastered settings (automatic 3D lens etc.) on most of their digital projectors. 

Also, the 9 AM booking idea had its detractors, especially for people who had to travel a distance to watch the 10 AM screenings in the suburbs. Perhaps, it’s time to revert to the midnight bookings. Overzealous PR folks rushed many journalists who had booked slots to interview the international celebrities. 

Memorable Moments:

Legendary cinematographer Christopher Doyle’s Masterclass was hailed as perhaps the biggest masterstroke of this year’s festival. He charmed audiences with his one-hour session, and graciously posed for photos with everyone later. 

Even though it wasn’t fully opened to delegates, Guardian Film Critic Peter Bradshaw’s session with the Young Critics was quite a hit, as well as his honest interviews with many local journalists. 

The mile-long lines for festival favorites like The Lobster, Anomalisa and Room were a sight to behold. More encouraging were the equally long and chaotic lines – with delegates standing up to 2 hours in advance – for Indian films like Thithi and Umrika. PVR Juhu, particularly, was a venue where maximum fights erupted within these lines – always a true sign of successful festivals. 

Certain well-known critics and writers even made quite a scene after not getting into the films they wanted to watch. Most of these occurred in the ‘stand-by’ lines, where people who hadn’t booked tickets stood way in advance to take a chance. 

Hits:

Lenny Abrahamson’s beautiful rendition of a horrific story, Room, was perhaps the most poignant film of the festival. 

Abhay Kumar’s hybrid documentary Placebo, based in the claustrophobic confines of the biggest medical school in India, earned two standing ovations (the only two of the festival) in its two screenings at Phoenix and PVR Andheri. 

Jafar Panahi’s Taxi, also the winner of the audience award, was an absolute charmer, and elicited the maximum amount of cheers at the end of the film. Sebastian Schipper’s daring and definitive, one-take German heist saga Victoria – shot in one long 140-minute take across the late night streets of Berlin – was easily the most outstanding cinematic experience of the festival. 

American indie Tangerine, a film about transgender prostitutes across LA, shot completely on an Iphone, stood out for its sheer vibrant energy, performances, music and overall mood. The Iphone stunt came across as much more than a device to get noticed. 

Noah Boambach’s lyrical, punky little New York tale Mistress America – about a college student and her time with her new enigmatic half-sister – was also received with much love and adulation. 

Picadero – a quiet little love story in the time of modern Spanish recession – was fascinating for its craft, minimalism and subdued humor. 

Raam Reddy’s Thithi – a quirky little dysfunctional rural family tale based in a remote village in Karnataka with non-actors and real villagers – was perhaps the most impressive Indian dark comedy in recent times. 

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