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Cinema for the people

 Film festivals are meant to be spaces where dialogue, content and craft can be appreciated in a vibrant, inspiring set up, or as Kamal Haasan, Lifetime Achievement Awardee at the 15th Mumbai Film Festival, shared in his speech, “a learning experience .”

We all would like to believe so too. After all, on display were an impressive, lip-smacking line-up that spanned works by greats like Greco-French director Costa-Gavras to small budget, Indie filmmakers who are refreshingly, finding applause and audiences with their movies. It’s an annual, not-to-be-missed occasion to celebrate cinema in the city. Alas, this time around, lovers of fine cinema were in for a few surprises as the same festival got underway.

For one, the lack of spread-out venues meant one had to choose from two destinations in South Mumbai and a multiplex in Versova. Enthusiasts from the northern and eastern suburbs would have to pick between the devil and deep sea. Secondly, the online booking system is turning out to be as cumbersome as it is defeatist. Gone were the days when entry to watch your favourite film at this festival meant the ‘first-come-first-serve’ format – apart from possessing a valid festival pass. It had a languid charm to proceedings: People catching up, waving helloes as they queued up a la Wimbledon Super Sunday style.

This newly introduced system involves having to log on (using a registration ID printed on your pass), select and block your movie(s) of choice. On confirming the film (a three-click procedure on the landing page), an SMS alert and a ticket are issued. It needs to be done in a time frame; for example, to book any show on October 22, the online counter opens on October 21 at 00.00 hrs and shuts on October 22 at 23.59 pm; this booking procedure was followed for each day of the festival, with a similar time frame. There’s more to this – — you change your mind by wanting to watch a different movie that happens to be at the same time of your earlier choice, the system doesn’t allow it. After these many discoveries, the exercise of booking in advance defied all logic. For, when we turned up for our shows, the issued ticket (the SMS alert/ printout) didn’t matter at all; it wasn’t checked at any stage. As we wormed our way to enter a screen, the first-come-first-serve system was followed — early standees in queues got better seats compared to those standing behind.

Why complicate matters with such systems that serve zero purpose, we wondered. Looking around, film aficionados across ages were caught unawares in this melee, as we heard countless voices of discontent over this introduction.

This apart, several shows were delayed by 20-30 minutes. Also, we noticed reserved seating (the last two rows) lying vacant throughout shows. The delightful, pleasant movie watching experience seemed to have got diluted somewhere. Being a no-fuss city, buffs rarely raise a voice, and will watch their cinema irrespective of these hiccups. Eventually, the festival will be dubbed a success too, going by the crowds we encountered. But Mumbai, where time is of the essence, and where aficionados are willing to cross the seven seas to watch their favourite films, deserves far, far better. Convenient venues, less chaos, a simple system will surely add up to a happy ending, as the credits roll in. We’ll wait.

— The writer is Features Editor, MiD DAY

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