Film critic Anupama Chopra is a busy person especially ahead of the 17th Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival, one she is the festival director of. Chopra though graciously offers her time for a quick conversation about the festival she and her team breathed new life into. It wasn’t a walk in the park. It wasn’t going to be. In Chopra’s words, her “mad zeal” for the city and cinema helped. And so did the people of the industry who stepped up when needed most to save a monumental event; the loss of which would have been a dear one for Mumbai.
Excerpts from the chat:
How did you go about taking up this responsibility? What was the motivation and what were the immediate challenges?
The motivation was just to keep the festival alive. I have never been involved with organizing festivals. I only got involved when I read an article that the festival was shutting down. How can a city like Mumbai not have a festival like this anymore? Movies are in the DNA of this city and for us to not have a festival like this is just insane.
The immediate challenge was to raise money when there was absolutely none.
So, MAMI has been something very close to your heart?
Not specifically, MAMI. I have not been a regular MAMI attendee, honestly. Somehow, I have found it easier to go to festivals abroad. The idea though that a city like Mumbai where cinema is everything and is such a defining aspect will not have a film festival just seemed crazy.
We just had to save this festival. MAMI has such an incredible legacy. It was created by the stalwarts of Indian cinema. To let it die just seems to be the wrong thing.
In my mad zeal for movies and Mumbai, I got involved.
It sure must have been a humongous task.
I laugh when I tell people that if I had any idea of what I was getting into, I would have steered clear. It is a very tough beast. Be it any festival; Cannes or Toronto, it is very difficult to do this. It involves so many variables. It is like making a movie really.
For us, the problem was compounded by the fact that we didn’t have money. It didn’t begin with “Which films do we choose” but “How do we run the office”. There was zero corpus. In fact, there was a huge debt.
Most of our energies for the larger part of the year went into raising the money. We never looked up. We kept our heads down and kept looking at the next step. Had we known how overwhelming and huge the task is, we may have been too petrified to even begin.
How forthcoming were the sponsors?
Star India was the first sponsor to come on board. They had helped out last year too. They obviously believe in the whole cause. Understand that a film festival is not something that has an immediate ROI. You cannot immediately measure the number of eyeballs or TRPs. You are talking about shaping cinematic sensibilities and a cultural landscape. How do you measure that? You cannot take a short-term view.
I am so grateful that Star India and Reliance Jio could both see what our vision was and put faith in us. It is not cheap. I am not talking about a few lakhs here but several crores that is needed to put this together. For them to put out such kind of money and believe this is valuable is phenomenal.
What will be the significant and immediate changes one would notice at this year’s edition?
What you will notice is the variety. For me as the festival director what really was important is to have something for everyone. I like to mix it up. I like masala movies, I like different arthouse films, I like it all. It is wonderful to have choices. A choice to fit every mood and taste is really what we wanted to do.
So, you have all the great award-winning films but you also have something called the MAMI Movie Mela where mainstream Bollywood stars are going to talk about their work. People like Deepika Padukone, Zoya Akhtar, Varun Dhawan and Kabir Khan are going to talk to a live audience about how they make the movies they do.
There is a notion in India – "festival-type picture hai". I want to break that. There is no “festival-type”. There shouldn’t be. It should be a celebration of movies. Let’s celebrate by watching great films, by listening to great cinema conversations, by meeting great people.
The festival will have more mass appeal this time then?
The festival always had great programming. It is very important though to scale it up and to make it something the city owns. Honestly, it is too much work and too much money otherwise to talk to a niche group of people.
If you are going to do something of this scale, you need to be talking to more people. ‘Appeal‘ is the wrong word. You have to ‘engage‘ with people. My hope has always been that when you mix different things, you might lure someone into a movie they would have never gone to otherwise.
From a film critic, a journalist to a festival director; how have perspectives changed? What have been the learnings?
I will NEVER criticize a film festival again. I now have a first-hand view of how difficult this business is. I will never complain about anything anywhere no matter what happens in Berlin or Cannes.
This was like starting something from scratch. I had no knowledge of how to do this and neither did Smriti Kiran, my creative director or even Kiran Rao. We were just driven by our need to see this through.
One of the biggest learnings has been how much despite all the technologies at our disposal, it really fundamentally is about relationships. Another great learning has been about the generosity of people. We had nothing. We knocked doors and they opened. AR Rahman creating a signature tune for us, Vikramaditya Motwane directing a film for free and Amitabh Bachchan coming on board; everyone donated talent, time and gave us whatever they could.
What would your personal invitation to the film festival in a line read? “Come to MAMI because…”
Come to MAMI because no matter what your taste is, there will be something for you.
The 17th Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival
begins Oct 29. Register yourself for the festival here