ENTERTAINMENT
23/10/2018 8:14 PM IST | Updated 24/10/2018 12:17 AM IST

MAMI: As #MeToo Grips Bollywood, Mumbai Film Festival Struggles To Stay Woke

Apart from dropping some movies, MAMI has cancelled the annual movie mela, a celebratory event that runs parallel to the festival.

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MAMI chairperson Kiran Rao at the festival's Movie Mela last year.

On 20 October, a few days before the commencement of the annual Mumbai Film Festival, or MAMI as it is affectionally called, filmmaker Shazia Iqbal wrote an open letter to festival organisers Anupama Chopra, Kiran Rao and Smriti Kiran, asking questions about her short film, Bebaak, being dropped from the official line-up.

MAMI had dropped the movie after a HuffPost India investigation revealed that Anurag Kashyap, one of the co-producers of Iqbal's film, had failed to act promptly on a complaint by a woman who was sexually assaulted by Kashyap's former partner, Vikas Bahl, when she was working with Phantom Films in 2015.

"I understand there are 'collateral damages' in a battle but my film is as feminist as this battle we are fighting; and if you're shutting down a film that starts a conversation against misogyny and patriarchy, then what side of the battle are you on? What side of the movement do you all belong to?" Iqbal wrote, adding that more than half the crew members on her film were women.

HuffPost India has reached out to festival director Anupama Chopra for an interview. Chopra directed the request to MAMI's publicist. This story will be updated with Chopra's comments once she responds.

The festival, which starts on Thursday, will go on till 1 November.

The world over, as the #MeToo movement gains momentum, institutions are struggling to come up with nuanced responses that reflect their stated "zero tolerance" position on sexual harassment.

Weeks before the release of All The Money in The World, American director Ridley Scott replaced actor Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer and reshot his scenes after the former was accused of sexual assault. Netflix dropped Spacey from the Emmy Award-winning series House of Cards and cut ties with comedian Louise CK, who was also accused of sexual harassment.

The world over, as the #MeToo movement gains momentum, institutions are struggling to come up with nuanced responses that reflect their stated "zero tolerance" position on sexual harassment.

In that sense, MAMI's response matches what festivals and film studios across the world have been doing in reaction to the #MeToo movement.

Iqbal's film isn't the only one to be affected by the #MeToo movement in India, after which a number of powerful men have been forced to step down and face investigation. One of the many films that MAMI has dropped include Satyanshu Singh and Kumar Devanshu Kumar's Chintu Ka Birthday, produced by the comedy collective All India Bakchod (AIB).

Earlier this month, AIB co-founder Tanmay Bhat stepped down as CEO after the comedy collective said that he knew about the sexual misconduct allegations against Utsav Chakraborty, whom AIB continued to work with.

Hours after AIB's statement on Bhat and another co-founder Gursimran Khamba, MAMI dropped the movie from the festival and the streaming platform Hotstar cancelled their news show, On Air with AIB.

While Bhat and Singh declined comment, people close to AIB revealed that the collective was willing to let go of their credit as producers to ensure that the film would be shown at the festival. But the decision had already been made and any retraction would reflect badly on a festival that was trying to express solidarity with the ongoing movement.

In an interview with The Hindu, Smriti Kiran, MAMI's creative director, said, "It wasn't easy with (Satyanshu and Devanshu). They are ardent MAMI lovers, helped us with the first promo of MAMI. It was horrible to make that phone call. But they all understood, turned around and said that they understood why this was happening. Everybody looked at the larger picture."

Rajat Kapoor's Kadakh, a film called Awake for which former Phantom partner Vikramaditya Motwane is a producer, and Binnu Ka Sapna, a film produced by Terribly Tiny Tales (TTT), were some of the other films removed from the MAMI line-up. Earlier this month, several women accused Kapoor of sexual harassment while a number of women came forward to share stories of sexual abuse by Chintan Ruparel, one of the founding partners of TTT. Ruparel was made to step down from his position.

Other than dropping films, the festival has also decided to do away with the MAMI Movie Mela this year, a glittering event that runs parallel to the film festival and features workshops from filmmakers and nostalgic reunions of cast and crew of celebrated classics.

Festival director Chopra told The Hindu that this year, given the current mood, having the mela felt "tonally off". She said, "At this point in the industry a celebration didn't feel right. We didn't want to do it in a lame way. I am such a Bollywood lover. I miss it. I wish we could have done it but it just felt that this was not the year."

Other than dropping films, the festival has also decided to do away with the MAMI Movie Mela this year, a glittering event that runs parallel to the film festival and features workshops from filmmakers and nostalgic reunions of cast and crew of celebrated classics.

Taking a cue from the Cannes Film Festival, which set up an anti-sexual harassment hotline in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal (the disgraced Hollywood producer was a recurring face at Cannes), this year, MAMI will hold a workshop to discuss the #MeToo movement and dissect the functionality of the Internal Complaints Committees (ICCs) that workplaces are legally required to appoint. HuffPost India has learnt that filmmakers Ruchi Narain and Anusha Khan are expected to be in conversation with Asiya Shervani, a senior HR advisor on sexual harassment prevention, who works on workplace ethics, diversity and inclusion.

While excluding films that have any association with people who have been accused of sexual harassment is an ethically sound stand, some have also expressed concerns that MAMI may be overreacting.

However, Aseem Chhabra, film critic and director of the New York Indian Film Festival, said that the MAMI organisers would have been criticised no matter what their decision.

"The festival falls right in the middle of the #MeToo conversations and there's no template or existing guidelines on what's the right way to react. Everybody is trying to process this and figuring ways to respond. No matter what they had done, it'd have been an unpopular decision. They did what they did and maybe they didn't take the best decision but in the time frame that they had, they couldn't help it," he said.

One of the points raised by Iqbal in her letter was her film's crew had more women than men and that its subject itself is about challenging patriarchy and misogyny. In response, social historian Audrey Truschke tweeted: