Brilliant cinema at the ongoing Mumbai Film Festival, raves Sukanya Verma.
In all its 16 years, this is my first trip to the Mumbai Film Festival. For some reason or another, I always found myself occupied with a professional or personal engagement to make time for what I have discovered to be the sine qua non for all movie buffs.
But this year I planned things better and made sure I attend the festival made possible this year by passionate patrons of cinema with mind and money.
Early in the morning, I set out for Andheri’s PVR theatre, in the western suburb of Mumbai, wearing the identity badge around my neck, feeling more cheerful and eager than a school kid off to an excursion. Access to the allotted screening room is a breeze and I settle in my seat with a couple of friends and equally excited folk. It’s a Takeshi Miike film after all.
Over Your Dead Body (Japan): Miike creates an eerie, enigmatic ambiance to coincide fact and fiction and achieve the sinister ideals of its zigzag plot with a gruesome finish.
It all has to do with the developments of an on-going period play, based on a 200-year-old folklore, wherein a penurious samurai deceives his wife and child to marry a wealthy man’s young daughter and how these adulterous events find a semblance among the drama’s leading actors in real time.
For all its artistry and deliberation, this is ultimately Miike. And in keeping with his reputation, Over Your Dead Body eventually offers ample of blood and gore to nauseate over.
Early morning horror is drowned in a steaming hot glass of cutting chai on the roadside before I head for the next screening -- Elephant Song at nearby Cinemax. En route, I learn all shows before 3.15pm are cancelled owing to Maharashtra assembly elections.
Much too new at the festival scene to feel disappointed about such setbacks, I walk back to PVR hoping to sneak into another movie. Luckily, I snare a vacant seat inside the screening of Argentina’s Refugiado.
Refugiado (Argentina): The film delicately examines the impact of domestic violence on a young mother-son duo on the run. There’s some wonderful acting in there, especially by the young Sebastián Molinaro, in those heart tugging moments where he resists, revolts yet eventually reconciles with his rude reality.
And to think a girl in the adjacent seat kept texting on her phone throughout such a poignant story.
I have quite some time on hand before the next film on my menu so I head back home and wolf down my lunch of masoor biryani.
Back in Cinemax, I decide to check out film critic Anupama Chopra’s conversation with the legendary French actress Catherine Deneuve and Bollywood’s Deepika Padukone.
Undoubtedly Padukone is on a all-time high in her career and, sure, they both have tattoos on their feet, but the pairing of a hot star of recently recognised acting potential with an accomplished icon to discuss a heroine’s perspective and evolution in cinema simply felt odd.
While the Belle du Jour stunner sat there like a radiant lioness chomping off a slice of her interviewer at every opportunity, the Finding Fanny heroine played the diplomatic card but couldn’t resist rolling her eyes and making a face when the veteran joked about the 28-year-old’s unfeasible fantasies regarding film production.
Nothing substantial came out of this discussion except Denevue’s French pride, Padukone’s patience with moronic questions from the media and Chopra’s resilience in the face of technical glitches and vastly conflicting sensibilities of her two guests.
After this entertaining session, I was more than willing to take that hard-hitting sock of a Spanish drama, Schimbare.
Schimbare (Spain): Making difficult choices is something we all have to do but seldom the kind a married couple does for the sake of their ailing child in the harrowing Schimbare. And yet is it so easy to let go of one’s conscience?
Almost nothing of consequence happens for the longest time but all those minor details eventually connect to make a dreadful disclosure, one that culminates into an unforgettable tragedy.
Too much intense stuff for one day, whew. I proceed for the final viewing of the day and spot The Lunchbox director Ritesh Batra queued up for the French crime thriller, Fever. I don’t know if he enjoyed what he saw but I LOVED my pick.
Killa (India): What a delightful piece of cinema. Killa is like Hayao Miyazaki in live action. Just think the deliberation, the soaking in of the atmosphere, and the familiar face of childhood, only the sweeping hand drawn imagery replaced by superlative performances from its young, insightful cast.
This Marathi gem deserves every single applause and accolade that comes its way. To be dubbed a festival favourite on Day 1, says a lot, doesn’t it?
The Little House (Japan): First of all the print wasn’t impressive. But mostly the middling direction fails to raise the potential of the story about a maid’s observations of the family she served and witnessing an extra-marital affair between her mistress and her husband’s young colleague against the changing climate of Japan’s political history. The Little House unfolds like the pages of an erratically maintained diary that’s neither probing nor personal.
After this underwhelming experience, I join National-award winning director Hansal Mehta, Bangistan director Karan Anshuman and rediff.com’s journalist turned filmmaker Suparn Verma for lunch at TGIF. Famished, I gorge on the yummy enchiladas and their animated chatter on evolution in editing software as well as Bollywood’s ghost director stories.
A Most Wanted Man (UK/US/Germany): One of the festival’s most coveted screenings, A Most Wanted Man sees a massive turnout. I quite enjoyed Anton Corbijn’s espionage drama based on John le Carré’s novel.
It may not have the sly brilliance of Tinker Tailor Solider Spy but maintains an attractively absorbing momentum and tense mood around a man’s moral dilemma. The late Philip Seymour Hoffman delivers as one would expect but is simply god-level in the fabulous final scene.
French romance comedy, Into the Courtyard’s screening at Cinemax is delayed by an hour so rush to PVR in a bid to catch the Iranian film, Snow but its packed to the core. Left with no option, I go to watch The Good Lie.
The Good Lie (USA): It may have Reese Witherspoon’s face plastered all over the poster but the film mainly revolves around a bunch of Sudanese refugees.
The Good Lie shifts from a dramatic story of their survival in Sudan to adapting to the American way of life producing some funny moments. Familiar but endearing, this.
And then the last one.
Serena: A watchable if glossy tale of doomed romance where you know pretty much everything that’s about to happen before it does. Jennifer Lawrence dons pretty vintage attire with aplomb but offers nothing new in yet another wild, wounded avatar. Bradley Cooper does better in comparison with his understated disquiet.
Back to back movies take its toll on my ill-equipped health. I wake up to a bad bout of cold, fever and cramps, pop in some antibiotics with the hope to catch at least two movies.
I scrape through.
While waiting for the screening to begin, I cannot help but overhear (I have no choice, really, they’re sitting right next to me) this lively chitchat about a Screenwriters’ panel discussion that happened earlier in the day. About how insolent and nasty the crowd can get instead of engaging in a healthy debate around the ‘cute’ Vishal Bhardwaj and his witty responses, the sharp and super eloquent Sridhar Raghavan, the no-nonsense Anjum Rajabali, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s justifying star power and how Sriram Raghavan’s ‘talks like a Parsi.’
Girlhood (France): The film hits several high notes before arriving at its slightly prolonged climax.
Director Céline Sciamma plays on the melancholy of its teen protagonist caught in tough surroundings and bleak prospects with a realism that’s both refreshing and effective.
I am back in another queue to watch another French flick, Love at First Fight, which by the way boasts of some exceptionally tender chemistry between its two talented leads in this quirky and novel take on boy meets girl.
I slowly exit the hall feeling no trace of fever, cold or cramps. The ambiance is healing. The mood is jubilant. It’s like we are all enveloped in an alternate reality more dazzling than the Diwali markets sprawling all over the city.
What a festival!