Over 175 titles will jostle for attention at the Mumbai Film Festival 2016, which will run between October 20 and 27. The Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival, to give it its full name, comprises competition sections for Indian and internationals, picks of the best of international and local cinema, retrospectives, sidebar events and documentaries. The event is organised every year by the Mumbai Academy of Moving Image.
One of the big themes this year is the (debatable) lowering of the barriers between filmed reality and fiction. There are several documentaries in sections typically meant to showcase the best of fiction from India and the rest of the world.
Another theme is women and cinema: there are films about and by women, with even a newly constituted Oxfam award for the best film on gender equality, to be given to a female Indian filmmaker.
An Indian debut feature is the opening film Konkona Sensharma’s A Death in the Gunj is the opening title, which will be screened at the restored Opera House in Mumbai. The actor turned filmmaker’s debut is set in 1969 and revolves around a family vacation that goes horribly wrong.
Many festival favourites are here… Among the internationally hot titles is Ken Loach’s Cannes Film Festival winner I, Daniel Blake, about the fissures in the social welfare system in the United Kingdom. There is also Paul Verhoeven’s Elle, in which Isabelle Huppert’s rape victim takes revenge on her rapist. Nicholas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon, starring Elle Fanning, unearths rivalry of truly horrific proportions in the Los Angeles fashion world. Swiss Army Man, the comedy about a farting corpse (played by Daniel Radcliffe), is on the list.
Also on the list are mid-career veterans and reigning stars: prolific Chilean director Pablo Larrain’s biopic Neruda, starring Luis Gnecco as the poet and Gale Garcia Bernal as the police officer assigned to hunt him down, Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Koreeda’s family drama After the Storm and Danish director Thomas Vinterberg’s 1970s-set The Commune.
The world cinema section includes Graduation, the Cannes winner from Cristian Mungiu (4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days) about a father’s efforts to get his daughter to pass a medical examination, and Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman, about a couple who portray the lead characters in the Arthur Miller play Death of a Salesman. Endless Poetry, by venerated head-scratcher Alejandro Jodorowsky, will land at MFF, as will Lav Diaz’s 226-minute seat warmer, The Woman Who Left. Woman and wolf forge a strange bond in Nicolette Krebitz’s Wild.
Madly, the anthology of short films about love and sex by six filmmakers from around the world, includes Anurag Kashyap’s Clean Shaven, starring Radhika Apte.
Letters from War, by Ivo Ferreira, revisits the Portuguese Colonial War between 1971 and 1973 through letters sent by a soldier to his wife. Kleber Mendonca Filho’s Aquarius has a plot similar to Arvind Adiga’s novel Last Man in Tower: a woman refuses to leave her Art Deco apartment block in Recife in Brazil, which is being redeveloped. Lantouri (Iran), by Reza Darmoushian, is about a gang of kidnappers and thieves who target the rich.
The French are represented by Bruno Dumont, whose Slack Bay explores mysterious disappearances in a beach town in 1910. In Mia-Hansen Love’s Things to Come, Isabelle Huppert plays a philosophy teacher whose life spirals out of control. Spanish director Albert Serra’s The Death of Louis XIV is an account of the French monarch’s last days, starring the acting legend Jean-Pierre Leaud.
Staying Vertical, about a filmmaker’s quest to complete a project, is allegedly one of the “most shocking films at the Cannes festival” – a description programmers love. A woman dies after refusing surgery, and her doctor tries to piece together her story in The Unknown Girl by the French brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne.
…And many are not (thus far) No Toni Erdmann, no American Honey, no The Birth of a Nation, no Loving, no La La Land, no Julieta, no It’s Only The End of the World, no Handmaiden, no Paterson, no A Quiet Passion, no Personal Shopper. Some of these films will wash up at other festivals in the country. Others might be added at the last minute.
Indian films will compete for top honours India Gold is a competitive section containing the first films of Indian directors. It is the place to find emerging talent and storytelling styles that are far removed from the mainstream. Eleven films will compete in this section. Milind Dhaimade’s Tu Hai Mera Sunday, starring television sensation Barun Sobti and Shahana Goswami, is about five amateur footballers and their quest to pursue the sport.
Sudhansu Saria’s Loev examines unresolved feelings between male friends. Autohead is in the grey zone between fiction and reality that festival programmers around the world insist is the new home for cinema. Rohit Mittal’s satire is about an auto driver who claims to be a serial killer (or not).
Four women seek freedom from social restrictions in Alankrita Srivastava’s Lipstick Under My Burkha. Assamese director Jaicheng Jai Dohutia explores militancy through the story of a mother who loses her son in Haanduk. Award-winning documentary filmmaker Haobam Paban Kumar turns to fiction for Lady of the Lake, in which a man finds a gun.
International competition Ana Cristina Barragan’s Alba is the coming-of-age story of a 11-year-old girl who is forced to live with her father after her mother falls ill. A joyless nurse involved in a scam gets hope from a choir in Ralitza Petrova’s Godless. Sand Storm by Elite Xexer is a take on female empowerment set among the Bedouin tribe. Natalia Almada’s Everything Else considers the inner life of a bureaucrat.
Restored classics Among the classic that have been restored and will be shown in Mumbai are Pakistani director AJ Kardar’s Jaago Hua Savera, a drama about a fishing village in Bangladesh, John Waters’s grotesque comedy Multiple Maniacs, which stars the acclaimed drag artist Divine, and Polish director Wojciech Has’s period fable The Saragossa Manuscript. Also showing is The Silver Globe by Andrzej Zulawski.
There are documentaries too, and in all kinds of places It is debatable whether films that are hard-core non-fiction can be slotted in categories dedicated to fiction, but in this regard, MFF seems to be following the lead set by global festivals.
The long-awaited documentary on the rise of Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party, directed by Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Tewari, finally makes an appearance on local soil. An Insignificant Man, previously titled Proposition for a Revolution, was premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. Another TIFF premiere that will be shown in the India Gold section is Cinema Travellers, in which Shirley Abraham and Amit Madhesiya explores the dying practice of improvised travelling tent theatres in rural India.
Dileep Mehta’s Mostly Sunny, a biographical documentary on the adult entertainer and Hindi film actress Sunny Leone, will also be screened. Other documentaries include Lo And Behold: Reveries of the Connected World, in which tireless German provocateur Werner Herzog meditates on the internet. Another provocateur, Ulrich Seidl, sends up the European obsession for big game in Africa in Safari.
Experimental films The section called The New Medium traces the evolution of experimental narrative traditions, from Dziga Vertov’s landmark city film Man With A Movie Camera (1929) via Santiago Alvarez’s Now! and Nina Shivdasani Roshen’s Chhatrabhang to Harun Farocki’s Parallel I-IV.
There are experimental strains too in Deepa Mehta’s Anatomy of Violence, which has been slotted in a section called Discovering India. Mehta revisits the December 2012 gang-rape by looking not at the victim but at the rapists.
Lifetime achievement awards Jia Zhangke will get the Excellence in Cinema award in the international category. One of China’s most celebrated filmmakers, Zhangke maps his country’s recent and distant history through films and documentaries. His films have been shown at Indian festivals in the past, including 24 City, Still Life, A Touch of Sin, and Mountains May Depart.
From India, the honour goes to Sai Paranjpye, the multi-hyphenate talent whose films, television series and plays have looked at middle India like few others. Paranjpye’s Chashme Buddoor, Katha and Sparsh are among the popular modern classics which, through gentle humour and sharp observation, gently skew middle class foibles.
See www.mumbaifimfestival.com for full programme.