October 31, 2015

MAMI 2015 Day 1: The Same Good Ol' Feeling

MAMI has returned. And with it has returned everything that we associate with it. Euphoric cinema-loving crowds of all kinds. Yes, all kinds. The nice and patient. The rude and unreasonable. The fun and mad. The intense and motivated. Some new kids. Many old faces. Technical glitches. And the chaos they create. Frustrations and hope. Denial and acceptance. Eating bad food. Talking a lot of shit. But staying very, very alive. For a film-buff, a festival is like a great amusement park. Time is little. There is so much to experience. And the best you can do is run around with the hope to catch everything.

It is also an amazing feeling to spot the faces of MAMI-regulars during this week. Some of them I have been seeing since the first MAMI I attended in 2009. I don't even know who they are, or what they do. But watching them every year has created this unsaid bond between us. Well, not a bond may be. But certainly some kind of connection. I almost feel like approaching some of them this time and saying hello. For many, I would be one such face. Will someone come up and say hello to me?

It feels especially good when people tell me that they made their plans for the festival by going through my blog. Thanks internet. After fire, wheel, printing press and steam engine, you are what has changed the world!

Of course, there are things that don't change. Like all that I mentioned above. And like the movies you get to watch at a festival. Despite all the cancellations, technical glitches, and the chaotic atmosphere at the venues, I managed to watch three films. Am I happy with three? Of course not. At least four per day is what I want, always. But am I happy with these three? Yes. I am.

Paolo Sorrentino is only 45. And he already has such an incredible filmography. His latest, and a film in English, 'Youth' was the perfect film to start the festival. It was fun and intense. It was beautiful in every way. And it was deep. In short, it was very Sorrentino. There were certain breathtaking moments and sequences in the film that simply blew me over and reassured me that my favourite festival is back.

'Heavenly Nomadic' followed. Very endearing characters at an exotic location connected through a simple plot concerning love and loss. Being able to witness cultures and traditions of different people from across the world is one of the biggest pleasures of World Cinema. And the film definitely did that. However, we have seen so many films like these that I won't say it did anything exeptional to me. But a nice film whatsoever. Also Kyrgyzstan's Oscar entry this year.

And then, the surprise of the day came in the form of the Romanian entry at the Oscars, 'Aferim!'. The film won Best Director at Berlin and it shows why. It is a period road-movie, set in the early 19th century. And the director actually created the atmosphere of that time. The stunning locations and the black & white cinematography only helped. But the most unforgettable part of the film was its lead character and the lines he spoke to create this wonderful dark comedy. A friend said he must be the Kader Khan of Romania! My brother added, the song that best describes this guy is "Saiyyan tu kamaal ka, baatein bhi kamaal ki!" from 'Prem Ratan Dhan Payo'.

Catching up with friends and finding new ones will continue. As will the feasting on movies. I only wish - there are no more technical glitches. Eventually, it will frustrate me. As of now I am just to ecstatic to have my favorite festival back!

October 10, 2015

High Hopes

Last weekend I screened Alexander Payne's 'Sideways' (2004) for my current screenwriting batch. I had watched this beautiful film twice before, and had also studied its screenplay very recently. So I, obviously, very clearly remembered every detail, all the plot-points, all the big and small characters and at times even the dialogue. But still, watching it with the entire batch added to my own pleasure. I laughed harder and choked easily, and in our collective admiration I saw the film in a new light. Most of the students in the batch are not that well-exposed to anything beyond mainstream Hindi and American cinema and it satisfied me to see how much they enjoyed the film. 

I had a similar fulfilling experience while watching Meghna Gulzar's 'Talvar' (2015) this week. Brilliantly written and filled with terrific performances, it works, as Anupama Chopra contests, like a horror film, stunning the audience and disturbing them unlike anything they have seen before. Unlike anything, because it is very rare in India for a film to be based on true events and to be crafted so well that it does what good movies do - move the audience. And when 'Talvar' played, the audience watched. It is as simple as that. I very clearly remember that during that screening we had very few of the usual disturbances that annoy me - people talking among themselves or on phone, or texting with their phone-light shining in the dark hall. Mostly, the film did not allow its audience to do anything but pay attention to its enthralling narrative. And we did exactly that. We. The audience as a whole.

Both these experiences reminded me all over again of the refreshingly optimistic view that Christopher Nolan had expressed a little over a year ago in this article called 'Films of the Future Will Still Draw People to the Theaters'. In this article Nolan dismisses the widespread notion that movies as we have known them, motion picture projected on a white screen in a dark room full of hundreds of people, and movie-theaters are heading toward their inevitable death because as the world becomes more and more compartmentalized, thanks to technology that pretends to 'connect' people, and home-theaters give you a more fulfilling experience, going to a movie theater to sit with annoying strangers would be the last thing one would prefer. Nolan does not believe in this and defends his views with a clear phrase - "the shared experience of these narrative". I firmly believe that we will always be aware of how our movie-exeprience gets enhanced with hundreds of people reacting simultaenously to the images on screen and that will bring us back to the cinema halls. In fact, I believe, as the world gets more and more segmented, and humans lose physical touch with each other by immersing themselves to virtual reality, cinema halls will be the only place where man, essentially a social animal that loves to laugh and cry together, will reconnect with a collective emotional experience and for that reason alone, cinema will survive, in its classical form. My hopes are high. And filmmakers who know their job will ensure that it lives on.

I had a very similar feeling by the time I finished watching 'The Walk', the latest film by Robert Zemeckis. It has its flaws and the often annoying voice-over narration proves once again why screenwriting gurus hate this tool. But all the patient wait of the first hour or so was paid-off during the last forty-five minutes of the film. The film is definitely nowhere close to 'Gravity' or other 3D adventures we have watched recently. But it is perhaps as universally effective as them, because of its simplicity. There is no theories of astrophysics or esoteric images of a dystopian future in play here. The film does not play on your logical mind, it plays on your survival instinct, and it plays on a most widely-experienced fear - of heights. It is also a film that you must experience on big screen, with audience, because only then you will be able to fully enjoy the breathtaking spectacle that it is. As it ended, I smiled within. It is films like these that will make sure that the big screen stays alive. And I thanked Sony Pictures in my heart for inviting me for the special preview at this IMAX screen. It was the same screen where I had watched, roughly a year ago, Zemeckis' 'Forrest Gump' for the first time, twenty years after its release. Doesn't it seem like I was trying to make up for that by watching 'The Walk' by the same director ten days before it released worldwide?

October 07, 2015

Mumbai Film Festival 2015: A Look at the Line-Up

A few hours ago, the line-up of the films playing at this year's Mumbai Film Festival was released. I spent all the time after that to go through the list, read about these movies and the filmmakers, and to kick-start my eager wait for this year's festival that opens in the last week of October. The festival we wait for all year long is back. And it is time to take a look at the movies that will be playing this time:

OSCAR ENTRIES: With India's submission 'Court' generating a mostly positive sentiment among our film-folks, it is important to judge the level of competition for the Oscars this year. There are dozens of films that come as official entries from their respective countries. Nine of them will be playing at our festival this year: 
  • Romania's 'Aferim!' that also was a joint winner of Director prize at Berlin, 
  • Portugal's 'Arabian Nights: Volume 2' that will be playing with two other films of its trilogy,
  • Taiwan's 'The Assassin' that won Director prize at Cannes for the legendary Hsiao-Hsien Hou,
  • Chile's 'The Club' that won Grand Jury Prize at Berlin and is the latest film by Pablo Larrain (director of 'No')
  • Brazil's 'The Second Mother' that won awards at Berlin and Sundance
  • Belgium's 'The Brand New Testament' 
  • Ethiopia's 'Lamb'
  • Kyrgyztan's 'Heavenly Nomadic'
  • Guatemala's 'Ixcanul Volcano' that won the Alfred Bauer Prize at Berlin for opening "new perspectives on cinematic art".
The last two movies are first films of their respective directors and hence also in Official Competition at Mumbai Film Festival. It should be noted that Jordan's entry this year, 'Theeb', played at last year's festival, as did 'Court'.

WINNERS AT RECENT FESTIVALS: The top prize winners of this year's Cannes, Venice, Berlin and Locarno are all playing at our festival this year. I don't remember when did this happen last. This by itself is something that should make our curators proud. Following are the top winners at recent international festivals that feature in the list:
  • 'Dheepan' that won Palme d'Or at Cannes this year is the latest film by Jacques Audiard ('A Prophet' and 'Rust and Bone')
  • 'From Afar' is this year's Golden Lion winner at Venice
  • 'Taxi' that won Golden Bear at Berlin this year is the latest by Jafar Panahi
  • 'Right Now, Wrong Then' is the Golden Leopard winner at Locarno this year
  • 'The Pearl Button' is the winner of Best Script at Berlin
  • 'Body (Cialo)' is the joint-winner of Director prize at Berlin with aforementioned 'Aferim!'
  • 'Chronic' won the Screenplay award at Cannes
  • 'Land and Shade' won Camera d'Or at Cannes and is also in competition
  • '45 Years' won Best Actor and Best Actress awards at Berlin
  • 'Blood of My Blood' won FIPRESCI Prize at Venice
  • 'Virgin Mountain' won Best Narrative Feature, Screenplay, and Actor at Tribeca

THE LATEST FILMS BY BIG NAMES: Apart from the films of Hsiao-Hsein Hou, Pablo Larrain, Jacques Audiard, and Jafar Panahi, the festival will also screen the latest works of Paolo Sorrentino ('Youth'), Atom Egoyan ('Remember'), Nanni Moretti ('My Mother'), Jia Zhang-ke ('Mountains May Depart'), Yorgos Lanthimos ('The Lobster'), Arnaud Desplechin ('My Golden Days'), Michel Gondry ('Microbe and Gasoline'), Philippe Garrel ('In the Shadow of Women'), Christopher Doyle ('Hong Kong Trilogy'), Terence Davies ('Sunset Song'), Noah Baumbach ('Mistress America'), Paul Thomas Anderson ('Junun' - a documentary), Charlie Kaufman ('Anomalisa') and Aleksandr Sokurov ('Francofonia').

CLASSICS: Satyajit's Ray's 'The Apu Trilogy', Ritwik Ghatak's 'Komal Gandhar', Guru Dutt's 'Pyasaa', MS Sathyu's 'Garam Hava' and Eiichi Yamamoto's 1973 Japanese Animation 'Belladonna of Sadness' will be screened under the section 'Restored Classics'. Then there are 'Special Screenings' of Jacques Becker's 'Montparnasse 19' (1958) and Claude Lelouch's double Oscar-winner 'A Man and a Woman' (1966). We will also look forward to Agnes Varda ('Cleo from 5 to 7', 'Vagabond' and 'The Gleaners and I') and Chetan Anand retrospectives ('Neecha Nagar', 'Haqeeqat', and 'Heer Ranjha').

DOCUMENTARIES ON CINEMA: Documentaries on the lives and careers of Sidney Lumet ('By Sidney Lumet'), Ingrid Bergman ('Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words'), and Jia Zhang-ke ('Jia Zhang-ke: A Guy from Fenyang') will be played. The last film is directed by the Brazilian great Walter Salles who made 'Central Station' (1998) and 'The Motorcycle Diaries' (2004).

AND MORE... 'Thithi' the debut film by my friend Raam Reddy, which won two awards at Locarno this year, will also play in competition. And then there is a film called 'The Sky Trembles and the Earth is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers'. Isn't the title good enough a reason to not miss this one! I also expect some more films will be announced in the days leading to the festival. I will update this post as and when it happens. Until then, let us rejoice - MAMI is back and how!