What surprised the most at the ceremony of the opening of the film festival: that the festival is organized exclusively by ladies. Festival director is Anupama Chopra, co-director is Maitreyee Dasgupta, artistic director is Deepti Dcunha. I remember that 20 years ago, when I participated at Third Eye film festival in India, this was also Mumbai film festival where all of the management was male. I remember the program director, Sudhir Nandgaonkar, who organized that film festival within 19 consecutive years. In January 2023, he, unfortunately, passed away. Nevertheless, he has contributed to the development of film festival communities and film clubs movement in India.
Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival in its title means:
Jio – main telecommunications eco-system in India and its creator is Mukesh Ambani, who is not only sponsoring this film festival, but he also built a cultural center, where the opening of the film forum was held.
MAMI – Mumbai Academy of Moving Images, where film screenings and other events take place year-round.
Mumbai Film Festival is the biggest South Asian Film Festival that has been held since 1997.
Our NETPAC jury that consisted of Latika Padgaonkar from India, Nashen Moodley from Australia and myself, we were watching the program that is composed of films from South Asia along with the main competition jury members. South Asia program consisted of 14 movies from India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. A number of films already took part in world known international film festivals such as Venice, Busan, Locarno, Saint Sebastian and Toronto. Five films had a world premiere in Mumbai.
Prior to discussion of artistic merits, it is interesting to learn the culture of the regions where those movies were filmed in. I could split those films into four categories:
1. About rights and freedoms of women - A House Named Shahana (Bangladesh) directed by Leesa Gazi, Shivamma (India) directed by Jaishankar Aryar, A Match (India) directed by Jayant Somalkar, The Sentence (India) directed by Fazil Razak.
2. About a little man– Agra (India) directed by Kanu Behl, Which Color? (India) directed by Shakrukhkhan Chavada, Mithya (India) directed by Sumanth Bhat.
3. About immigrants – Bahadur –The Brave (India) directed by Diwa Shah, Dilli Dark (India) directed by Dibakar Das Roy.
4. About wonderful and mystical events in this world: Guras (India) directed by Saurav Rai, Rapture (India) directed by Dominic Sangma, The Monk and the Gun (Bhutan) directed by Pawo Choyning Dorji, The Red Suitcase (Nepal) directed by Fidel Devkota.
Furthermore, Against The Tide directed by Sarvnik Kaur deserves a special mention as it is the only documentary film in this competition and because it tells a story of fishermen of Mumbai city. This movie received the main prize - Golden Gateway. As Mira Nair said about this film: “It is a pleasure to learn that such complex filming-wise movie has been created by a female film director.” Mumbai film festival was held parallel to APSA award ceremony and this film “Against the Tide” has received the award as being «Best Documentary» in Asia Pacific.
Among the films about females as a foreigner, I have been impressed by Indian culture of getting married that is still existing in the villages. In the house of a girl, a potential groom is visiting, along with his father and other male relatives. They are all asking her, the same questions: how old she is, what’s her height, what’s her education level, does she work in the fields and so on. Then they depart, with a promise to return back with an answer. That way in the movie A Match such humiliating way of getting married in a form of interrogation is happening seven times. In the movie, A House Named Shahana - a girl is getting married with the help of Internet, where she is traveling to an unknown Indian man in Great Britain. Two other movies are about elderly women who are having trouble to organize and to live their personal lives.
Another category that was titled “a little man” - other stories about men or families that don’t fall into place. In the movie Agra that received a special jury prize young, sexually restless man who could build his family life despite his family that didn’t believe he could live normally. In the movie Which Color? unemployed head of the family, in the movie Mithya
– story of an adopted teenager, whose real parents passed away.
It is interesting that the category of films about immigrants is completely different than in Europe. In Europe, we see immigrants that are trying to reach the west. And in this category of South Asian films, we see the stories of people who ended up in India. Undoubtedly Bahadur – The Brave deserves attention, it tells a story about Nepalese immigrants during the pandemic, and their inability to return back home because of the closed borders. This film received Silver Gateway award. Dilli Dark is almost a comedy about an African man who is trying to get going in Delhi.
Overall, the program was interesting and touching upon cultures from different angles.
However, personally, I enjoyed the fourth category the most as it showed something extraordinary, mystical and spiritual. In the film Guras - a touching story about little girl, who is looking for her dog in the neighboring village, and parallel to her search she is communicating with neighbors and a monk and even with the spirit of a dead ancestor (this film received an award in Karlovy Vary). Nepalese film The Red Suitcase tells a story about the red suitcase and its owner, who is already in the coffin, and it returns back to the outskirts village and on the way, the driver is communicating the entire movie, who is the owner of that red suitcase, who was a business owner of a road cafe in that same village (was shown in Venice). A film from Bhutan The Monk and the Gun shows of drama of the first democratic elections in the country. Why the gun? Because the monk is trying to bury two guns as a symbol of saying “no to war”. (Film was shown in Toronto, Telluride and at Mumbai, it got an award of the audience). North Indian film Rapture is a story of a small village, for me was as an Indian version of Hundred Years of Loneliness by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. There are so many extraordinary personalities, and the way they lives are intertwined is impressive. Routine and socially difficult life is weaved with magical and extraordinary. And in that small community, there is everything: faith, love, adultery, fear, corruption, death and rapture, spiritual virtues, and most of all formation of a young soul.
After extensive discussion about following films - Against the Tide, A Match (this movie already received NETPAC award), Mithya and Rapture, we decided to give Rapture our main prize with the following note: “for delicately combining the natural and supranatural worlds inhabited by a community and for evoking the mysterious challenges it must overcome both in itself and beyond.”
Written by Gulnara Abikeyeva
23rd Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival NETPAC Jury bios
Dr. Gulnara Abikeyeva
Kazakh film critic and researcher Dr Gulnara Abikeyeva was an artistic director of the Eurasia International Film Festival in Almaty from 2005 to 2013, 2022. She launched the film magazine Asia-kino, served as editor-in-chief of Territoriya Kino, and produced TV programmes about Kazakh cinema. As a member of FIPRESCI and NETPAC, she is a frequent jury member at different international film festivals. She is the author of twelve books about cinema, mostly about Kazakhstan and Central Asian countries.
Dr. Latika Padgaonkar
Latika Padgaonkar is a columnist, editor, translator, former Joint Director of Osian’s Cinefan Film Festival, and former Executive Editor of Cinemaya, the Asian film quarterly. She was a foreign correspondent for The Telegraph in Paris in the 1980s; she has also worked for UNESCO in New Delhi and for the National Commission for Women’s Media Group. Currently, she is a member of the Media Foundation.
Nashen Moodley is in his twelfth year as Festival Director of Sydney Film Festival. During his tenure, the festival has grown vastly. Moodley’s career in film programming has encompassed many leadership roles, including Manager at the Durban International Film Festival (2001–2011) and Programming Consultant for Dubai International Film Festival (2005–2017).