Damien Chazelle's Los Angeles-set musical, La La Land, first caught the public's imagination right after its premiere at the Venice Film Festival in September 2016. The film opened to a thunderous standing ovation and most of the critics who watched the film there immediately hailed it as a masterpiece.
I longingly ached to watch the film but wasn't sure which Indian distributor would decide to give it a theatrical release. Most of them come onboard to release a critically-acclaimed film only when there's a generous Oscar buzz and September is a little too early for it to catch on.
However, La La Land was making some serious musical waves and as my excitement levels peaked, I learned that the MAMI Film Club, a parallel segment of the Mumbai Film Festival, had managed to get the required permissions from Lionsgate to screen the film in Mumbai, well before its official release in India or even in North America.
I, like several other La La fans, was ecstatic.
La La Land is just one example of the several initiatives undertaken by the club.
Anupama Chopra, the festival director of MAMI, told HuffPost India, "The idea is to be a year-round brand and create a dedicated place for the film-loving community of Mumbai. We launched this last year. La La Land was one of the first films to screen at the club because we couldn't bring it to the festival."
Other than the Ryan Gosling-Emma Stone-starrer, the MAMI Film Club, which usually hosts screenings at the PVR property in the western Mumbai suburb of Andheri, has hosted a show of Vikramaditya Motwane's critically-acclaimed Trapped, Asghar Farhadi's Oscar-winning The Salesman, and is gearing up for the premiere of the Venice-returned Mukti Bhavan.
"We don't just want the MAMI Film Club to be a place for film screenings but for masterclasses, workshops, and boot camps for writers and aspiring filmmakers," Chopra said. "We have a permanent team now that looks after the day-to-day logistics of it."
The larger idea, according to her, is to make the club a hub, based on the lines of the Lincoln Center in New York or the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, a cultural center that hosts screening round the year.
This isn't the first time Chopra is spearheading an initiative such as this. In March 2015, she, along with Kiran Rao, launched a dedicated center for indie cinema, called FilmBay. It was a sprawling space in the heart of Mumbai and the plan was to use it as a hub for alternative cinema. However, due to several bureaucratic problems and red-tapism (it was owned by BMC), the plan had to be aborted.
The MAMI Film Club, it appears, could make for a healthy substitute.
Among the other attractions (it offers free membership) that make it an absolutely essential initiative is the fact that the films screened here are exempted from the conservative scissors of the Indian Censor Board. In a country notorious for clamping down on a filmmaker's freedom of expression, this is a welcome respite.
"There has been a lot of industry support for this and we are constantly working on adding more activities at the club. While we have a long way to go to reach the levels of a BFI or a TIFF Bell Lightbox, it's definitely a start in the right direction," Chopra said.
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