The 2016 Mumbai Film Festival is a go. Officially opened with Konkona Sen Sharma's directorial debut, A Death in the Gunj (which was delayed by more than half an hour), the festival is a frantic but fulfilling adventure for any movie buff.
Tips and tricks to maximise the MAMI experience
The day at MAMI begins with a mad rush with everyone frantically booking seats for the films they want to see. For those worried about missing the booking window online, the saner thing to do is to go to the venue and make bookings.
Seeing as the venues for the festival were quite far away from one another, and taking into account Mumbai traffic, the smart thing to do is to pick the venue which has the most number of films you're interested in watching. Darting from one to the other is likely to leave you drained and, even worse, late. Only make exceptions for movies you absolutely cannot miss because.
Another thing to be prepared for is the national anthem. Film-goers in some parts of the country may be used to it, but, coming from Delhi, this was a bit of a strange one. Especially at an international movie fest.
Don't get me wrong, I will stand up for the national anthem when it is played, but I don't understand why it has to be played before a movie, especially those that aren't Indian. Watching a movie is hardly a patriotic act. The whole thing is just baffling. It may not be lengthy, it may just be a fleeting moment before the movie starts, but to have to do it four times in a day seems ridiculous.
If you have a spinal injury and are unable to stand for it, you might want to give the fest a miss lest looney nationalists attack you.
Food is something else to keep in mind. The timings of a lot of the movies leave you with precious little time to pop out for a meal. So, if you don't fancy having to sneak food into the theatre, plan your shows with enough time for meals. Being left at the mercy of movie hall snacks and their ridiculous prices will wear your wallets and insides out long before the festival ends.
The movies themselves
My venue of choice for the day was Regal Cinema in Colaba (South Bombay). While I'm not sure whether the organisers intended on a theme for each venue, but the overarching theme at Regal, and quite ominously so for an opening day, was death.
Three of the four movies on offer - A Death in the Gunj, Swiss Army Man & Neon Demon - all had death as a central theme. The one that didn't, The Road to Mandalay, was grim enough in parts for it to fit in with the others.
1) The Road to Mandalay
The first movie of the day was The Road to Mandalay. The movie is a drama by Chinese-Burmese director Midi Z's set in Bangkok. It tells a simple story of love between two illegal immigrants traveling from Myanmar to Thailand. For a Friday morning movie at 10:30 AM, I was pleasantly surprised to see the hall more than half full (mostly late walk-ins, but still).
The movie's a slow burner for sure, but, it's one of those that rewards you for sticking with it to the end. By the end, you've really learnt the two main characters' intricacies and, in some ways, feel a part of their lives. The movie is set almost entirely in the working-class halls of Bangkok and the titular city doesn't even feature.
The ending may come at you suddenly - a surprising and violent finish, but the director leaves a number of clues along the way to set it up beautifully. Walking out of the hall, most people just dispersed without a conversation. Probably to get some food - something I failed to factor in.
2) Swiss Army Man
The next movie I took my seat for was Swiss Army Man preceded by, you guessed it, the national anthem. The hall was even less full than it was for the morning show.
It's a movie starring Paul Dano and a 'dead' Daniel Radcliffe (if you've seen the trailer, then you'd know this isn't a spoiler). Dano, wh himself is stranded on a deserted island, finds a new lease of life when he finds Radcliffe washed up upon shore. It's his mission to ride Radcliffe back to the mainland, where, still lost he drags Radcliffe along on his quest for salvation. It's hilarious for the most part, fuelled by great performances, and is equal parts weird and imaginative.
Realising we had only a short turnaround time before the next movie, and realising my earlier folly, I made a beeline for the restaurants. It seems a lot of other people had learnt this lesson too - most rushing back to the hall, secretively sneaking leftovers in with them.
3) Neon Demon
Neon Demon is a movie that takes crazy and messed up to a whole new level. The movie, by Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn, played to an almost packed house.
The ride Neon Demon takes you on is hard to describe, and, if you don't believe me, listen to how Variety described it: "The other side, which is now threatening to take him over, is his too-cool-for-school hooligan-chic side, his Kubrick-meets-David-Lynch-meets-Kenneth-Anger side, his compulsion to make movies that wow you with their giddy misanthropic designer ultraviolent glee."
That's just what this movie was. It's a satire on the fashion world in Los Angeles and that's basically all you need to know. It's gory, dark for the most part, and, once again, it includes death.
4) A Death in the Gunj
My fourth and final film of the day was A Death in the Gunj (the title has death and yes, there is a death in the movie). The line was a good four to five hundred people long just about 30 minutes before the doors would open. Unsurprisingly, after we got in, we were all made to sit and wait.
It's a movie where one gets enough time to engage with each and every character, something rare in mainstream Bollywood films. This one had a star cast, but the question was whether Konkona Sen Sharma could pull it off as a director. Going by the buzz before the movie, the answer was yes. After the movie, that yes was amplified many times over.
People did not move from their seats for many a minute after the show ended. People stood outside for many more. The audience was all smiles and some left in a stunned daze after the show. Maybe it was the result of a whole day spent watching the big screen in dark theatres. But, in all likelihood, it was just the film.
As Trisha Gupta said in her recent column, "What we miss out on by watching movies on our laptops, we regain by going to film festivals."