When Jio MAMI 20th Mumbai Film Festival With Star (Mumbai film festival) comes to town, I discover myself becoming Iranian, Peruvian, French, Swedish, Chinese, Sri Lankan, Australian, Italian, Kenyan and even Icelandic. It’s a week where I cry in Maori, fall in love like the Spanish and lament like the people of Cabo Verde… I travel to all these countries and become a part of the stories of the people of these lands.
This traveller becomes a pilgrim. The Jio Mami, or Mumbai Film Festival, offers more than 200 films, conversations with filmmakers, in just seven days. I usually enter a theatre at 9:00 am and then emerge late into the night, every night, having gone through ups and downs of emotion, eyes glazed by this magic called cinema.
Every newspaper, every website will have a heavyweight film critic worth his weight recommend movies that should be a ‘must watch’. They will tell you how many awards so and so director has received and how critics have loved (or panned) the films. It’s easy, googleable knowledge. And don’t get me wrong, they are not recommending something high-falutin stuff that is beyond normal comprehension. But it is so much fun to sit with the list and figure out what you want to discover.
Most film crazy people will have a couple of directors or actors in their list which they do not ever miss. Even if you have to get on to a map app and find out where the theatre showing that film is located.
My eternal favourite remains Juliette Binoche. She’s French, she’s gorgeous, she’s a stupendous actor and if they make a film on ‘Juliette Binoche walking in Paris’ (or the woods), I am sure I will watch it. This year, she’s in a film called ‘
Non Fiction’, a film where a publisher of books needs to catch up and turn digital.
This time the Asian film selection looks so good, I’m already practising my spoken Japanese and hoping the Cantonese that I have learnt when living in Hong Kong works when I watch Chinese movies and yes, am grateful to the Korean shows on Netflix (from teenage romance to political dramas). ‘
Shoplifters’ by Hirokazu Kore-eda is on my watchlist, along with the Singaporean film ‘ A land Imagined’ (director: Yeo Siew Hua).
This time Zhang Yimou is bringing ‘
Shadow’, a story that chronicles the struggles of the common people, especially women. Now Yimou makes visually spectacular films, and this epic comes with a reputation: they say it has been painted in 5,000 shades of grey.
The American films are plentiful. Michael Moore’s ‘
Fahrenheit 9/11’ brings to the screen the Trump Times. And in a similar vein, Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman tells us the story of a Black Klu Klux Klan member. What?! Joel Edgerton's Boy Erased is a film I am hoping to stand in a queue to watch if I don’t get tickets. And I want to watch Madeline’s Madeline (director: Josephine Decker), High Life (director: Claire Denis)
And there are films from the European continent: Denmark and Sweden and France. Iran’s indefatigable Jafar Panahi brings his new film
3 Faces. There’s ‘ Island Of The Hungry Ghosts’ which sounds like it is a Hong Kong film, but no, it’s from Germany. And these are just films on day one.
Jio Mami has been around for longer than my grey hair, and each year the selection is so different that I come away drunk on cinema (sometimes it helps that the film theatres are located quite close to interesting restaurants that innovate their menus to offer giant pizza slices and a glass of wine to crazy cinema delegates).
Over the coming days, I will share the joys of living on chocolate (smuggled into the cinemas, of course) and on coffee (extra shot of Espresso, please!). I will also tell you how like a couple of years ago sat through two hours of a man on the horse going to his farm and back to his home.
The only thing we saw was his wife making potato stew and his daughter undressing him and bathing him to break the monotony of that journey. There was also a very well put together art film about refugees from Sri Lanka in Europe, but it seemed to be just too entitled and fake...
Not all films are clunkers. One also ends up watching visual magic of ‘
Loving Vincent’, a hand-painted film, animation from Ghibli studios, children’s films like ‘ Kafal’ (for which director: Batul Mukhtiar won a National Award), a mad Korean film where comic book characters come alive, a stunning Peruvian tale about villagers living in the shadow of the volcano, an Argentinian film on oil politics, or even a film about vampires in a seedy bar.
Every year I take pictures of people who show up dressed like they’re auditioning for a part, gawp at people who show up every year only at the film fest (where do they go the rest of the year?), chat with folk who travel from nearby towns like Pune and Nasik and even Hyderabad.
Filmmakers and wannabe filmmakers who discuss everything from editing techniques to ‘how they would have shot that scene’. I am the eavesdropper into these conversations, I am that person who will threaten to smash your phone if you do not dim the screen.
I am that fevered pilgrim who drowns in these very human tales of love and hope, fear and sadness, humour and misery. And I will be sharing my anticipation with you, hoping you will experience the madness that will drive this city crazy for seven glorious days.
Manisha Lakhe is a poet, film critic, traveller, founder of Caferati — an online writer’s forum, hosts Mumbai’s oldest open mic, and teaches advertising, films and communication. Disclosure: Jio MAMI 20th Mumbai Film Festival With Star is sponsored by Reliance Jio, a subsidiary of Reliance Industries that controls Network18, the parent company of CNBCTV18.com.