November 06, 2014

Mumbai 2014 Epilogue: The Return of the Story

Consuming movies back-to-back at a festival is very different from experiencing the daily dose of cinema. With more than 30 movies in the festival week, I often find myself simply going through the process, never allowing myself to be completely consumed, and enjoying this mad binging without caring too much about the details of each film. But every year, the increased awareness of cinema and the movie-making process gets tested during this week, as I observe my reaction to the images and sounds unfolding on screen. For example, last year I found myself paying extra attention to the aspects of cinematography - lighting, lensing, and composition, as well as the formats of filming, mainly because I had been focussing on these during the months leading to the festival. It happened very organically, as I saw things I never did before. This understanding into the craft has kept increasing every year, for obvious reasons, and gets reflected in my festival experience. And that's why this year I was amazed at realizing how my approach and attitude to watching films had taken a complete turn as I found myself seeking the most basic element in a movie experience - the story.

After watching ten movies in the first two days, I realised that form and technique, although more naturally evident before my eyes, did not interest me too much, unless it was too extra-ordinary to be missed. My strongest reaction would be directed toward the story - interesting characters in unique situations, going through a significant cinematic journey being part of some meaningful change in the end. I think 'The Little House' did this to me, my seventh movie of the festival. It was being screened through a DVD and the image quality was below average. I even contemplated leaving it for some other movie but decided otherwise. And thank God I didn't leave, because once the story engufed me, with its endearing characters, I really didn't mind about the picture quality. "What a story!" was my reaction as the film ended, and I felt strongly connected with it.

By the third day, it had become evident in the degree of pleasure I received from the movies and for the rest of the festival week, it was to remain one of my major criteria to select what movies to watch. This renewed faith got reaffirmed with other films. 'The Umbrellas of Cherboug' is a musical where every line of dialogue has been sung like a song. It took us some time to get used to it, and most of us found it extremely amusing. But as the film progressed, we were reacting to like any other film -  the story had taken over. 'Life of Riley' is filmed like a play on screen, and that made it very unique, almost uncomfortably so. Soon, I realised, every story element in this film is working as well as it should. We were more concerned with the characters than with the medium through which they communicated with us. And then, of course, there was 'Mommy'. Shot in 1:1 aspect ratio, it looked audaciously weird when it started. But when the story took over, none of us really cared about the ratio, and started reacting to it like any other film. The playful use of the aspect ratio, which was a complete surprise for me, was definitely a bonus by the end.

I am very glad that the signifcance of story has returned back to me, through all the unlearning and learning that movie-making requires. And I hope to stick to the importance I have learnt to give to story above everything else in future as well, especially as a film-maker than a film-buff.

I managed to watch 33 movies in the seven days of the festival this time. The overall experience was not as good as last year's, but in the end I did watch sufficient number of good movies to make it truly special for me. Following are my recommendations from those I watched:

If you are looking for unique, festival-like movies and have the patience and will to give all they require to enjoy them, you should go for:
However, if you want safe bets, well-made, high quality films that entertain you without too much of effort, these are my top suggestions:
I also watched three classics and as expected, they completely fulfilled my expectations. You can check them out as well, if you like classics:
From the sentimental outburst of the Opening Day of MAMI 2009, to watching festival promos directed by me on the screen before the movies this year, I have had such an eventful relation with this festival of ours. After religiously attending six of its seasons during which I watched 186 movies, all I can say is "MAMI 2015, we are waiting for you already!"

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