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Film lovers not losing hope for Mumbai Film Festival

Even as it is feared that the city’s biggest film festival, MFF, might not happen this year, some prominent film lovers prefer to not lose hope

For a city that homes one of the biggest film industries on the planet, it’s quite ironical that its premier film festival is facing an existential crisis. Mumbai Film Festival (MFF), organised by Mumbai Academy of Moving Image (MAMI), is scheduled to run from October 14 to October 21.

 Jaya Bachchan (left) and Sridevi at the 14th Mumbai Film Festival (MFF), that was held in October 2012. With MFF’s main sponsor pulling out — citing lack of profit — the film fest’s fate hangs in the balance. Pic/AFP
 Jaya Bachchan (left) and Sridevi at the 14th Mumbai Film Festival (MFF), that was held in October 2012. With MFF’s main sponsor pulling out — citing lack of profit — the film fest’s fate hangs in the balance. Pic/AFP

However, that seems uncertain given the event hasn’t attracted any major sponsor for the first time since the turn of the century. Reliance Entertainment backed the annual event for five straight years before deciding to pull the plug last year citing lack of profit. As a result, the celebrated film fest is struggling to raise an estimated amount of R5 crore that is required for the function to take place. And so far, the crowdfunding measures have attracted an encouraging response from celebs and cinephiles on social media. But still, it’s a long journey ahead and time is running out.

Anand Gandhi’s acclaimed debut Ship of Theseus was first screened in India at MFF
Anand Gandhi’s acclaimed debut Ship of Theseus was first screened in India at MFF 

Last year, the festival showcased over 200 films from more than 65 countries. In 2012, Anand Gandhi’s Ship of Theseus was screened at the festival, making its debut in the country. Later, it was not only shown but was also internationally feted at several film festivals. In fact, the directorial debut finally earned a commercial release last year. No wonder Gandhi is saddened by his favourite film festival’s current state of affairs. “It’s really hurtful. I don’t understand how the corporate structure doesn’t fit in with cinema in a country like ours where everybody likes to watch movies. To me, Reliance backing off is bottomline shameful. The company is way too big to say that it’s not making profit with the film festival,” adds the director.

Marathi feature film, Fandry, earned critical appreciation as well as awards
Marathi feature film, Fandry, earned critical appreciation as well as awards

Gandhi has a point because in the West, corporate involvement in international film festivals is commonplace. The mantra is simple: the corporate world can do with some visibility that cinema tends to offer on a plate.

Blame game
Regardless, it’s difficult to blame any one party for the issue. The argument doing the rounds is how the Hindi film industry, which boasts of R100 crore blockbusters, can do a lot more to sustain a cultural event. Moreover, R5 crore seems like a meager amount when you look at the extravagance that Bollywood is so used to. But then, the other side of argument is it’s not incumbent on film studios to help run a film festival.

Umesh Kulkarni
Umesh Kulkarni

The United States of America, which boasts of the most number of film festivals in the world, sticks to the corporate structure. However, organisers are generally headed by independent bodies — not film studios — who have the final say in everything, from which films are to be screened to who is going to win the awards.

Speaking of awards, out of its estimated budget, Mumbai Film Festival spent about a crore on handing out prize money to the competition winners.

Putting value
Filmmaker Rohan Sippy is a self-confessed fan of the Mumbai Film Festival. He fondly remembers the inaugural year of the fest. Back then, he assisted his father, filmmaker Ramesh Sippy, with the first edition. And he too disapproves of the dismal situation. “In an ideal world, sponsors would be queuing up considering the pull movies have in our day-to-day life. Unfortunately, that’s not happening.”

Early bloomers
To put it succinctly, the Mumbai Film Festival is not just about providing a week-long visual treat for the aam janta. Many a times, Indian filmmakers, whose works are appreciated worldwide, get a chance to showcase the same to the local crowd. For instance, Ashim Ahluwalia’s Miss Lovely won multiple awards, including Best Film in the India Gold category at the 14th Mumbai Film Festival. This happened a few months after his film was screened at the Cannes Film Festival.

Ashim talks about what might be the crux of the financial problem: “Whether it’s Cannes or Venice, money is a major ingredient but at the same time, patience is a priceless commodity, too. We ought to have patrons because it’s not just cinema we are talking about here. Culture is also a matter of concern, isn’t it? The corporate world doesn’t seem to understand this.”

Support base
Last year, The Lunchbox made a lot of headlines not only in India but also in foreign shores. Interestingly, the celebrated movie wasn’t screened at the Mumbai Film Festival. However, the film’s leading actress, Nimrat Kaur, has been an regular attendee of the festival for quite some time now. “If it weren’t for this film festival, I would have missed out on some really good uncensored films. Of course, in today’s age, one can download to watch these acclaimed films but what can replace the thrill of watching them on the big screen?” asks the actress.

Regional fare
Some of the finest regional films have been showcased and appreciated at this fest. Last year, the Marathi feature film, Fandry, received a lot of accolades for its grim but honest portrayal of class divide. It was screened for the first time in India at this fest; later on, it won an award in the international film category as well. The film’s ensuing journey culminated with the film earning a commercial release this year on Valentine’s Day.

Director Nagraj Manjule is hopeful that the 16th edition goes ahead as per plan and manages to run with as fewer glitches. “Regional cinema can flourish thanks to festivals such as these — it’s a boon, especially for regional filmmakers. They watch and inculcate values and lessons that will shape their thinking as filmmakers.”

Umesh Kulkarni, whose films, Vihir (2009) and Deool (2011), were screened at the festival, agrees. “I hope the film festival goes ahead. It’d be a huge loss to the society; it’s not just about money. A festival nourishes both filmmakers as well as the audiences and you can’t put a price tag to that accomplishment,” he points out.

History repeats itself?
In 1998, the second edition of the festival couldn’t take place due to lack of funds. However, the event took place the following year and hasn’t skipped a single year since. “I hope they manage to pull it off this year. To me, it is more about the cultural pluses than the commercial minuses. The event needs patrons and sponsors, and if it works out, well and good. If they don’t, they should at least aim at coming back with a bang next year,” says filmmaker Rohan Sippy.

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