Of deranged movie buffs, foreign films and real-life drama
From the frenzy that grips MAMI festival-goers, it’s almost like the fate of the planet rests upon these people getting to see a foreign-language filmUpdated: Nov 10, 2018 19:00 IST
-“Three Identical Strangers”
-“Mard ko Dard Nahin Hota”
This, dear reader, is not a conversation between pyromaniac, man-hating criminals, but a conversation between cinephiles, overheard by your intrepid columnist who has spent the better part of last week immersed in the crazy, violent, and transformative experience that is the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival with Star.
Once a year, something happens in Mumbai that could be the plot of a sci-fi, horror film. At certain spots – two of them in Andheri, because how could something sci-fi and horror not have a connection to a neighbourhood whose name sounds like ‘darkness’? – reality undergoes a tilt-shift. Enter these zones and the outside world recedes.
You’re transported to distant places and find yourself weeping for people you don’t know and issues that have exactly nothing to do with your everyday reality. You think it’s normal to wait in queues for two hours to see a 90-minute film. Days are divided into four time slots instead of 24 hours. You voluntarily part with hard-earned money to buy mounds of semi-solid ectoplasm and believe the vendor with dead eyes who tells you these are “chicken dimsum”. You rage against the machine that threatens to deny you entry. And you will not hesitate to kill that little old lady/ man if they cut in and try to weasel their way in before you. You’re plugged into a different, alien intelligence – one that is like a benevolent Matrix (remember the 1999 film by the Wachowskis? #WakeUpNeoYouHave45secsToBookYourShow). Welcome to the world of JioMAMI Mumbai Film Festival, the annual convocation of deranged film geeks and other animals.
For one week, a handful of cinemas across the city are overrun by crazed cinephiles with bloodshot eyes and varying levels of desperation. Hours are spent waiting and eavesdropping. I am now unreliably informed that Bollywood is using #MeToo to get rid of people they wanted to get rid of anyway, that Jean-Luc Godard really needs to retire, that the current rate of kickbacks for top TV executives is ₹5 lakh (per episode), that there were more than five lakh people trying to book tickets on day one, and that one person has told their mother to do a puja to ensure they get to watch Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma at the festival.
At a time when most films struggle to get audiences, MAMI has won over more people on an annual basis. This comes with its share of problems, not the least of which is lines full of angry humans. “I’m going to make a voodoo doll of all those *&@#^# who get gold passes for no reason,” growled one delegate behind me and I felt a rush of relief that I didn’t have the much-coveted gold pass that guarantees you entry into shows without queuing. The aspiring voodoo-doll maker’s companion said, “You can buy one if you know the right people… for a few thousand bucks.” There was such longing and need in the other person’s gasp, you’d think they were junkies sharing info on dealers.
From the frenzy that grips festival-goers, it’s almost like the fate of the planet rests upon these people getting to see a foreign-language film. “This year, I’ve totally mellowed,” said a delegate to me, five minutes after having threatened to plunder the theatre and murder the usher’s firstborn if the two reserved rows at the back of the theatre were not opened up to the public RIGHT NOW. Someone else told me, “I have four alarms across 15 minutes to make sure I don’t miss the 120-second window within which you have to book tickets.” Or you could just book tickets for films that aren’t sold out, I suggested. This person looked at me like I’d just sliced their stomach open and was wearing their entrails around my neck.
Pragmatically speaking, there’s no logical reason to make time for the films we watch at the festival. Frequently, they’re downright depressing. Sometimes, they’re beautiful, but in a way that makes you painfully aware of the ugliness within the fiction and around you in reality. Often, the directors don’t want you to enjoy a film as much as be tormented by it. “Why do we put ourselves through this?” a friend groaned to me last week. Because these films, beautiful and terrible, bring us together once a year and reassure us that darkness can be transformed into light, I explained. My friend made a face and said, “You got tickets for the shows you wanted, didn’t you?”