In 1998, some of the iconic and globally lauded directors of our Mumbai film industry — Shyam Benegal, Govind Nihalani, Ketan Mehta, Sudhir Mishra, Subhash Ghai, Yash Chopra etc, long tired of wondering why a mega film city like Mumbai didn’t have a film festival of its own, decided to start one, with meagre funds (contribution from the Maharashtra Cultural ministry), but a dedicated venue — the NCPA complex in Nariman Point and the YB Chavan centre in the neighbourhood, curated by Sudhir Nandgaonkar, head of one of the oldest film societies of the city.
The festival was named Mumbai Academy Of Moving Images. It was a grand success, with the tribe of serious cinephiles travelling from all over Mumbai (a difficult city to negotiate, distance-wise) thronging, binge watching, pontificating about world cinema, by the sea. I had the honour of being associated officially, with my debut film — Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa, directed by Govind Nihalani, being the opening film.
I had long been a festival junkie (from my teenage years, in Delhi, with the India International Film Festival) and I was sure glad to have an aspiring world cinema fest in my adopted city now. One thing irked me though, that very few professionals from mainstream cinema (actors, directors, producers) were present to take advantage of and pride in their very own festival.
So while I couldn’t get enough of chatting with Rituparno Ghosh (his film Unishe April was showcased), Ashutosh Gowariker (pre-Lagaan dreamy days), Vidya Balan (a student in those days), post film screenings, my fellow actors were conspicuous by their absence.
What set this festival apart, was its very intimate, self organised vibe, unlike the bureaucratic official fest in Delhi, I was used to. But in subsequent years, MAMI hit many roadblocks, with paucity of funds and lack of a permanent venue (roaming around at venues, Wadala one year, Prabhadevi another, allotted by generous vendors) and even curation, with the acclaimed contemporary festival favourites giving it a miss. Overall, it suffered from an identity crisis.
Finally, a few years back, on the verge of closing down, MAMI reinvented itself, with a new management, trustees (a change of generation), sponsor, booking partner and seven cinema halls (mainly multiplexes) spread over different directions and, most of all, professional curation and categories, attracting the best of contemporary cinema from all the prestigious festivals. The festival was also thrown open to general public; the term ‘Delegate’ was no longer a privilege.
While the lack of a singular dedicated complex, where the cine-literates could converge and exchange ideas, made the festival just a screening fest (even though there were official master classes and interactions) and lack of criteria for delegation made patrons huff and puff for seats across the venues, I for one have settled for a system of absorbing (not consuming) a fair quota of good to great cinema whenever I am free.
This year has been no different. With some of the most coveted films from Cannes, Berlin, Sundance, Locarno, Toronto and masters like Werner Herzog, Ken Loach, Martin Scorsese, Pedro Almodovar, Francois Ozon, etc. being showcased, the feast of films was highly appetising and often exhilarating.
The real bonanza this year was the presence of a plethora of documentaries, which were highly varied, from cine biographies to realities from areas of conflict to astute social commentaries. I ended up digesting 27 films (missed one day, due to a theatre performance), and saw most of the covered ones (missed Ken Loach’s much acclaimed swan song, though).