October 27, 2016

Mumbai 2016, Day 5: Genre Benders

‘The Untamed’ (2016/ Mexico/ Amat Escalantecould have been a drama on infidelity. Instead, it has elements of fantasy/ mystery/ sci-fi. I discovered this filmmaker at this very festival in 2009 and followed it up with another of his film in 2013. For his latest he jointly won the Best Director prize at Venice this year.

‘Album’ (2016/ Turkey/ Mehmet Can Mertoglu) may look like a painfully slow drama about a couple hiding the adoption of their baby. And it could have been an intense film. It instead is a comedy, of a very dry kind, and if you miss to read its tone, you might get mightily bored with it.

‘Swiss Army Man’ (2016/ USA/ the DANIELScould have been an adventure, a survival movie, with elements of humor. But it is an outrageously original fantasy film with a deep commentary about life. The film won Best Director at Sundance.

‘I, Daniel Blake’ (2016/ UK/ Ken Loachwas arguably the most eagerly awaited movie of the festival, thanks to its Palme d’or status. And it could have been a painful art-house film. If nothing, it could have been a really moving drama, which it is, but then it surprises you with its humor and that is what really elevates you to a deeply touching but also entertaining film that you may want to watch again and again, especially for its masterful simplicity. No wonder it also won the Audience Award at Locarno. (‘Lagaan’ had won this award in 2001).

Breaking the expectations we have from a film’s genre can be tricky. It was wonderful to watch all four films do that today.

Only two days of the festival are left. Am I sad?

Mumbai 2016, Day 4: Taste and Tone

‘Multiple Maniacs’ (1970/ USA/ John Waters) is a C-grade crime comedy and is really, really bad. But the reason why it has gained a cult status is exactly that: so bad that it is good. I overheard some delegates sharing their disapproval after watching more than one hour of it. I was prepared for both – the movie and the audience’s reaction. In fact, I would have been disappointed if either were any better.

Shakun Batra believes a director’s primary job is to keep the tone of the movie right. Tone, he says, comes from taste. And taste comes from exposure. It is important to be open to all the varieties that come our way during a film festival. Taste buds grow fast during this one week.

‘Clash’ (2016/ Egypt/ Mohamed Diab) is Egypt’s Oscar entry this year. The entire film is set inside a van as the world outside clashes in one of recent history’s most violent political movement. Despite being a drama set in war, it had moments of brilliant humor and gripping thriller.

‘The Red Turtle’ (2016/ France-Belgium-Japan/ Michael Dudok de Wit) won Special Jury Prize (Un Certain Regard) at Cannes this year. This silent animation film tells an extremely simple story, with a fantastic twist that will leave you wondering what it is actually about. I plan to write a post on it soon. The interpretation aside, watching it on big screen was a meditative experience. I stepped out as if from a spa, cleansed from within, calmed from outside.

And the last film of the day was ‘Elle’ (2016/ France/ Paul Verhoeven) which was a brilliant example of the director meticulously controlling the tone of the film. It was a drama with elements of thriller, horror and mystery. But despite this it was funny and thoroughly entertaining. It is France’s Oscar entry this year.

18 movies in four days. Really happy.

October 24, 2016

Mumbai 2016, Day 3: More Power to the Dark, Please

Fourteen movies in three days. I am happy now. Yes, it is difficult to believe that three days are already over. But I am glad to have watched some really good movie. After a brilliant last day, it was difficult for me be blown away by the movies of today, but the last one, a deeply unsettling horror masterpiece compensated for everything. The 'After Dark' section at this festival is really good and I hope they keep bringing us awesome horror movies year after year.

Letters from War (2016/ Portugal/ Ivo M. Ferreira): Portugal's Oscar entry this year, it tells the real-life story of Antonio Lobo Antunes, an army doctor and novelist during his days in Angola.

Neruda (2016/ Chile/ Pablo Larrain): Another film on a real life character, a poet and a politician. With this I have finished watching eight Oscar contenders for the Foreign-Language category this year. Hope to add some more names to this list.

Goodbye Berlin (2016/ Germany/ Fatih Akin): Akin does a Gondry. This road movie involving two teenagers is very similar to last year's 'Microbe and Gasoline'. But despite that it was loved by the audience, for obvious reasons. Perhaps the most accessible movie of the festival so far.

The Wailing (2016/ South Korea/ Na Hong-jin): If I have to recommend one movie as a must watch from the fourteen that I have watched so far, it has to be this. Doing something original in the horror genre is such a tremendous achievement. And this film does not give you a single moment of gimmicky, alarming shock. It sits on you with its heavy knees on your chest and keeps grinding until you are exhausted and haunted forever. Is it South Korea's answer to 'Rosemary's Baby'?

Mumbai 2016, Day 2: Oh, What a Lovely Day!

All the five movies I watched today were really good, perhaps all were better than the best movie from yesterday. After these ten movies in two days, I already feel immensely satisfied with this year's festival. Following are the five from day two:

Paradise (2016/ Russia/ Andrei Konchalovsky): Joint winner of Best Director award at Venice, this film is Russia's Oscar entry this year. Every frame shines with brilliance. The film proves that even on the subject of the Holocaust, you can still make something extremely original. My favourite film of the festival so far.

The Land of the Enlightened (2016/ Belgium/ Pieter-Jan De Pue): Winner of the cinematography prize at Sundance, this docu-drama moves you like a beautiful poem. It is stunning, engaging, lyrical and deep. What an experience!

The Salesman (2016/ Iran/ Asghar Farhadi): Iran's Oscar entry, the suspenseful drama won Best Screenplay and Best Actor at Cannes. Farhadi continues telling compelling stories, movie after movie!

Death in Sarajevo (2016/ Bosnia-Herzegovina/ Danis Tanovic): Grand Jury Prize and FIPRESCI Prize winner at Berlin, this entire film is set in a hotel, but talks about everything from individual human struggles to international war and peace. The director of 'No Man's Land' does it again. It is also competing at the Oscars.

Personal Shopper (2016/ France/ Olivier Assayas): Joint winner of Best Director at Cannes this year, it is again a very engaging film about a girl dealing with the loss of her brother. It is an English-language film with elements of psychological drama and a ghost story.

October 22, 2016

Mumbai 2016, Day 1: Desperate Times

These are desperate times for the movie-buffs in the city. Our favourite film festival has started. The crowd is larger than ever and despite movies playing in eleven screens in Andheri, there is no respite. Some errors in scheduling, the ever-crashing booking website, and the unending confusion about the availability of seats has left the delegates exasperated. But they are not alone.

Lung and Chin are desperate too. Their relationship is going through a rough phase, as are their professional lives. Discontentment and distractions surround them and they are struggling to fight them out until they have each other for company. (Edward Yang's 'Taipei Story' - Taiwan/1985)

Ryota is desperate. His father has passed away and he remains a son who is yet to bloom and show his talents. A struggling author, he is somehow trying to provide monthly alimony to his ex-wife for some moments of togetherness with his son. And a storm is approaching. (Hirokazu Koreeda's 'After the Storm' - Japan/2016)

Lao Shi is desperate. A good-hearted taxi driver, he is forced to pay for the young man whom he hit for no fault of his and whom everyone else seems to have disowned for good. Shi's wife does not understand him. The authorities don't help. And the man in the hospital sleeps peacefully in coma. Why doesn't he die, for god's sake? (Johnny Ma's 'Old Stone' - Canada-China/2016. The film won Best Canadian Debut at Toronto)

Gana is desperate. As a nurse she has been taking advantage of the sick elderly she visits, trafficking their IDs to the bad guys. One accident and fear and guilt creeps in. Gana will have to fight everything around her in a world that God definitely seems to have abandoned. (Ralitza Petrova's 'Godless' - Bulgaria/2016. The film won over Locarno. Golden Leopard. Best Director. Actress. And Prize of the Ecumenical Jury. The director, Petrova, was present at the screening here and interacted with the audience afterwards.)

And Shideh is desperate as well. Iraq has launched missile attacks on Tehran and other Iranian cities. While people flee the city, she and her young daughter are forced to face demons Shideh never thought existed, leading to a horror no one can ever forget. (Babak Anvari's Persian language film 'Under the Shadow' - UK/2016. This is UK's Oscar entry this year.)

The fight continues. Despite sitting in front of the computer at 7.45, it is virtually impossible to book tickets when the window opens at eight. Or does it really open at eight? Because often we cannot book until it is half past eight. And then when we try, most good shows are already sold out. Is there any hope? Or our Mumbai Film Festival will continue with these glaring errors? After all, we love it so much anyway!

October 08, 2016

Mumbai Film Festival 2016: A Look at the Line-Up

Every year, as soon as the program for Mumbai Film Festival is released, I try to write a post about the line-up, mentioning some of the movies I most eagerly await. This year, due to some travelling and then being in my home-town for a family emergency, I am almost ten days late. Apologies for that. But here it is, my overview of this year's line-up:

OSCAR ENTRIES: I don't think we have ever had as many as 13 countries' official submission for the Oscars screening at our festival. I have watched India's entry 'Visaranai' and Venezuela's 'From Afar' that was screened at the festival last year. Following are the thirteen movies screening this year at our festival (also note the names of some big directors here):

  1. Bosnia and Herzegovina: 'Death in Sarajevo' by Danis Tanovic ('No Man's Land') has won Grand Jury Prize and FIPRESCI Prize at Berlin
  2. Chile: 'Neruda' by Pablo Larrain ('No', 'The Club')
  3. Egypt: 'Clash', the second film by Mohamed Diab
  4. France: 'Elle' by Paul Verhoeven ('Basic Instinct')
  5. Iran: 'The Salesman' by Asghar Farhadi has ('A Separation') has won Best Actor and Best Screenplay at Cannes
  6. Israel: 'Sand Storm' by debutant Elite Zexer has won awards at Sundance, Locarno and more 
  7. Portugal: 'Letters from War' by Ivo Ferreira
  8. Russia: 'Paradise' by Andrey Konchalovskiy who jointly won Best Director at Venice. This veteran film-maker will be a new discovery for me personally.
  9. Saudi Arabia: 'Barakah Meets Barakah' by debutant Mahmoud Sabbagh has won the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at Berlin
  10. Singapore: 'Apprentice' by Junfeng Boo
  11. Switzerland: 'My Life as a Courgette' by debutant Claude Barras has won Audience Awards at several festivals
  12. Taiwan: 'Hang in There, Kids' by Laha Mebow
  13. UK: 'Under the Shadow' by debutant 'Babak Anvari' is a Persian-language film from the UK
Apart from these, 'Aquarius',  the controversial film that was a strong contender from Brazil will also play.

WINNERS AT RECENT FILM FESTIVALS: Apart from the award-winning movies mentioned above, the festival will also screen:
  1. 'I, Daniel Blake' by Ken Loach ('Kes'): Won Palme d'Or at Cannes and the Audience Award at Locarno (the award won by Lagaan in 2001)
  2. 'Graduation' by Cristian Mungiu ('4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days' and 'Beyond the Hills'): Won Best Director at Cannes, tied with:
  3. 'Personal Shopper' by Olivier Assayas ('Clouds of Sils Maria'): Tied with the above for Best Director at Cannes
  4. 'The Red Turtle' by Michael Dudok de Wit: This silent animation film won Un Certain Regard - Special Jury Prize at Cannes
  5. 'The Woman Who Left' by Lav Diaz ('Norte, the End of History'): Won Golden Lion at Venice
  6. 'The Untamed' by Amat Escalante ('Los Bastardos', 'Heli'): Won Best Director jointly at Venice
  7. 'Things to Come' by Mia Hansen-Love: Won Best Director at Berlin
  8. 'The Commune' by Thomas Vinterberg ('Festen', 'The Hunt'): Won Best Actress for Trine Dyrholm at Berlin
  9. 'Fukushima Mon Amour' by Doris Dorrie: Runners-up Audience Award at Berlin
  10. 'Swiss Army Man' by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert: Won Best Director at Sundance
  11. 'The Land of the Enlightened' by Pieter-Jan De Pue: This documentary won award for cinematography at Sundance
  12. 'When Two Worlds Collide' by Heidi Brandenburg and Mathew Orzel: This documentary has won awards all over, including one at Sundance
  13. 'The Lure' by Agnieszka Smoczynska: It is a thriller that has won awards at several fantasy film festivals, and also the Special Jury Award at Sundance for Unique Vision and Design
  14. 'Godless' by Ralitza Petrova: Won four awards at Locarno, including Best Actress for Irena Ivanova and unanimously the Golden Leopard
RECENT MOVIES BY BIG NAMES: The movies mentioned above feature at least nine directors of repute. Then, there are more:
  1. 'After the Storm' by Hirokazu Koreeda ('Like Father Like Son')
  2. 'Don't Call Me Son' by Anna Muylaert ('The Second Mother')
  3. 'Endless Poetry' by Alejandro Jodorowsky ('The Holy Mountain')
  4. 'Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World' by Werner Herzog ('Aguirre, the Wrath of God')
  5. 'The Neon Demon' by Nicolas Winding Refn ('Drive')
  6. 'The Unknown Girl' by the Dardenne Brothers ('Rosetta', 'The Son')
  7. 'The Death of Louis XIV' by Albert Serra ('Story of My Death)
  8. 'Goodbye Berlin' by Fatih Akin ('Head-On')
  9. 'Tope' by Buddhadeb Dasgupta ('Laal Darja')
  10. 'Pinneyum' by Adoor Gopalakrishnan ('Swayamvaram')
  11. 'Anatomy of Violence' by Deepa Mehta ('Water')
  12. 'Trapped' by Vikramditya Motwane ('Udaan', 'Lootera')
CLASSICS: Apart from these, the festival will also screen classics like 'On the Silver Globe' and 'The Saragossa Manuscript' from Poland, 'Multiple Maniacs' from USA, 'Teesri Manzil' from India, 'Jaago Hua Savera' from Pakistan, 'The Bride' and 'Winter Sleep' from Turkey, and Jia Zhngke's 'Unknown Pleasures' and 'A Touch of Sin'.

I am also looking forward to the documentary 'The Cinema Travellers'.

October 04, 2016


There has been no activity on my blog for more than two months now. Although there can be no excuse for complacence and procrastination, I must admit that I was extremely caught up with things. The course I was conducing at AIB called 'First Draft' concluded on the 16th of September. Providing continuous feedback to ten students working on twelve stories was extremely demanding. As soon as the course ended, I went away for a much needed time alone, but then that trip was cut short because of a family emergency.

I am in my hometown in Bihar as I type these words. I hope to be back in Mumbai before the Film Festival begins. I also hope the festival will make me blog more often, starting with an upcoming post on the festival line-up.