Let’s face it. The only relationship Mumbai has with cinema is Bollywood. The city’s exposure to regional and international cinema is restricted to film clubs, academic courses and more recently, expensive DVD libraries. The only way I could watch Micheal Haneke’s The White Ribbon that won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2009 was by downloading it from the internet. This week, though, I can see it on screen, as part of the MAMI film festival. The Mumbai Academy of Moving Images, an independent body of stalwarts connected to the film industry, has been organising an international film festival since 1997, and for long, it has been the city’s biggest resource for regional and international fare.
In typical Mumbai style, though, one needs to be ‘pushy’ to see these films. The crowd for the opening film, The Social Network, was so crazy that two people got injured in the stampede at the entrance. The manager of PVR multiplex had to step in and announce that the film would be screened again, but it didn’t pacify the desperate crowd. The film was stopped midway and more people were accommodated in the aisles.
In what I hope is a bid to go green, the PVR stopped the escalators and AC abruptly on the first day of the festival. The restrooms at Chandan Talkies, the main venue, didn’t have running water. Chandan Talkies is a rundown, old-fashioned theatre. Its regular clientele, which consists of rickshaw drivers and the Juhu beach crowd, now stands at the gate perplexed. They don’t know why there is a red carpet at the building entrance, and it isn’t playing Dabangg.
Organisers change, but the festival doesn’t. The inaugural function would be incomplete without a tacky attempt to entertain and a jeering audience. This year the honour went to Terence Lewis’s dance troupe, who imitated Broadway musicals and danced on numbers like ‘Roxanne’ and ‘All That Jazz’ in ill- fitting tuxedos to, hold your breath, represent Mumbai. While the international guests were polite enough to clap in the end, the rest of the audience was more honest. They boo-ed.
I’m part of that audience. It feels great to push and tug for empty seats one moment, boo and whistle in unison the next. All for the privilege of watching ‘foreign’ cinema.
Over the past decade, MAMI made an unlikely venue for my family to engage with exotic cultures and culture shocks. I still remember how an old wrinkled lady used a rabbit to sexually excite herself in an Argentinian film, and how that killed the conversation my mother had with the filmmaker. Most of the Japanese retrospectives did wonders for my father’s insomnia, while the Chinese films left most in tears. Melodrama, it turns out, is an Asian malady.
For reasons unknown to me, each year most of the European films in the festival, especially East European, have something to do with World War II and the Holocaust. Either their imagination is still haunted by it, or it’s our turn to exoticise them. Just like some view India as one big Dharavi, we too would like to believe that the holocaust still haunts the West. Iraq has a long way to go.