The Mumbai Film Festival, which was almost cancelled two years ago due to lack of funds, has been given a new leash of life by sponsors such as Reliance Jio and Star. The 18th edition of the event starting Thursday will showcase more than 180 films from 54 countries. Festival Director Anupama Chopra spoke to Reuters about the challenges of running a festival and whether too much of Bollywood can be a good thing for an event that once stayed far away from the Hindi film industry.
Q: You said things were crazy last year with the search for sponsors. How are things this year?
A: What has been very reassuring for us is that our sponsors chose to stay on. The most nerve-wracking thing was raising funds because if that doesn’t come through, you don’t have a festival. What really bolstered us was that Jio and Star chose to stay on. We have an office, a team, so now it’s the struggle of putting together a damn good show.
Q: In the past, the festival chose to keep its distance from Bollywood. You, on the other hand, have chosen to involve a lot of people from the industry.
A: You would have to be very short-sighted if you are a Mumbai-based festival that doesn’t leverage the biggest brand in India. It (Bollywood) is an entity that gets eyeballs in the millions every day. I find the notions of “Oh, they are Bollywood and we are arthouse” really dated. I think they are archaic ideas.
Somebody just asked me if we have any Bollywood film, and I said our opening film is “A Death in the Gunj”, which is co-produced by Abhishek Chaubey and is directed by a wonderful actor (Konkona Sen Sharma), so these notions don’t exist. Maybe they did in the 80s when there was a distinct differentiation between arthouse cinema and mainstream cinema. But today, who would you say is parallel? Does Irrfan Khan belong to parallel cinema? He’s in “Inferno”, a gazillion dollar Hollywood film. I just think these ideas are old, and as a festival, we cannot adhere to these ideas.
Also, I love Bollywood and it is my reason for loving movies. As a festival director, I would never be condescending about it. Each person we have reached out to only helped us to make this bigger, better and get us more eyeballs. So why would I not do that?
Q: In what way has Bollywood helped?
A: The first year, they really helped keep the festival alive. When the festival ran out of funds in 2014, the bulk of the funds came from Mr Anand Mahindra and Mr Manish Mundhra, but a lot of money also came from people like Aamir (Khan), Vinod (Chopra), Sonam Kapoor, Siddharth Roy Kapur and Ramesh Taurani.
Taurani is a man who you would think makes a certain kind of cinema, but when we asked for money, his was one of the first cheques to reach us. So after all this, are we going to say, “How does a festival get too Bollywood?” Is Cannes too Hollywood because Angelina Jolie is on the red carpet?
Q: What kind of festival do you want MAMI to be? (The festival is officially called Jio MAMI Mumbai Festival with Star)
A: If we can be a festival for both viewers in Mumbai and the film industry in Mumbai, we will have succeeded. We need to help feed the ecosystem, we need to engage with the film-making community, we need to help emerging directors find a voice, and we need to bring good cinema to the thousands who visit MAMI every year. And if we can serve both those masters, we will have done very well.
Q: Bollywood is increasingly struggling to keep up with its audience. Do you think festivals like this can provide some sort of insight into what Indian urban audiences want to watch?
A: You can’t use the Mumbai Film Festival stick for a national audience. But when we showed “Dheepan” last year, we had people breaking down doors to get in… and then if you say “aisi filmein nahi chalengi” (This kind of film won’t work), then you have to ask, then who are these people? So, absolutely, it is an indication of a certain kind of urban audience who are now open to so much more than what people are willing to risk. But can it be assumed that nationally, something has shifted? I don’t know. But I do know that it is a very healthy indication of what the cinema palette is in urban India.
(Editing by David Lalmalsawma)