It’s that time of year again when the MAMI Mumbai Festival rolls back into town which means a week of sleep deprivation, heart-racing early morning sessions on the Bookmyshow portal followed immediately by triumphant war cries or howls of defeat, day after day of PVR’s finest cuisine and countless ‘What did you watch’ discussions. Did I mention the sweet pleasures of frantic venue-hopping and pointless attempts to predict Mumbai traffic?
As always, this year boasts of another lavish lineup of films with 223 titles from 49 countries in 51 languages in 7 locations across the city over those most sacred of 7 days. As someone who’s always determined to make the most out of the cinematic festivities, this means it’s time to start conjuring up the old trusty spreadsheet by pouring over and researching each and every title and watching an unending assembly line of trailers (not complaining). The outcome of this most exhausting yet rewarding exercise is a monstrous eyesore of a colour-coded Excel document, which contains the definitive shortlist of films I hope to see most.
To many, this may sound like a ridiculous exercise reserved for those who really need to get out more, but how else would you know if there’s a gem of a film that you might love, buried somewhere deep within the lengthy lineup unless you take the time to read up on each one individually? The big-ticket films making waves across the world with established filmmakers and fancy casts will always make themselves known and demand your attention one way or another. The energy must instead go into looking beyond them and mining the lineup to discover the smaller gems just waiting to steal your heart.
But putting together your bucket list of films is the just the beginning. That’s the easy part. The real challenge comes when they release the holiest of texts, that which dictates your every move and entire existence for those 7 days – the schedule. With it, come the demands of a whole new wave of spreadsheet-ing and excitable puzzle-solving as you have to weigh up variables of locations, titles and timings to compute, classify and iterate to finally arrive at your personalised timetable for the week. That which (ideally) comes closest to allowing you to watch as much of your wish list as possible. If only there was an app of some sort into which you could feed in your watch list and it would spit out your personalised schedule (here’s hoping all engineering film buffs out there take that very subtle hint).
But even this is anything but set in stone. It’s your best-case-hyper-optimistic Plan A which follows the assumption that you’ll get seats to all the shows you want (don’t count on it). Not to mention the hilarious rationalisations you end up making with respect to location and travel such as ‘I can totally make it to Colaba from Andheri in under an hour right?’ For the record, the answer is almost always ‘LOL sure you can’ *thumbs up emoji*.
While mine is certainly a time-intensive process, I’m always fascinated by how other festival-goers go about their film choices. Talking to other attendees in previous years, you realize just how many approaches and strategies there are in choosing what to watch. Many opt for the big, wave-makers with renowned directors, others avoid Indian films altogether assuming they’ll eventually see the light of a mainstream release later on anyway. Some cherish convenience and prioritise all films playing in a specific location #Andheri, while others go for the ‘anything starring Isabelle Huppert’ approach. One person I met last year even said he used to walk into a random screening and give the film 15 minutes and accordingly decides whether to stick around or walk out. While all are perfectly sensible approaches, and there are many ways to clock the game, I personally just look to have a great week of ravenous movie watching, panel discussions, masterclasses et al.
Because film festivals also provide the near-unique experience of being surprised by a film you know next to nothing about. This most cherished of feelings among cinephiles is close to extinct with regular movie watching in a world where marketing and hype around the average release inflict us with expectations and spoilers aplenty. We are in many ways already contaminated by the publicity of a film by the time we make it the Friday of its release and walk into that theatre.
The fact is regardless of how prepared, mechanic and organised you may be, these things tend to take a life of their own during the course of the week and a certain fluidity comes into play which you just have to be open to. Whether it’s a failure to get certain tickets or hearing about a must-watch film that you previously overlooked, you need to relinquish control, embrace the uncertainty with open arms and give in to the magic within the madness.