On the final day of MAMI 2015, as the closing awards ceremony was taking place in some distant part of the city, I was sitting with a passionate group of film fanatics in Juhu with a pen and a paper, eager to crown our own festival winners. Many of us strongly believe that our tiny exercise produces a more credible list of the most loved films of the festival. Everyone picks the three best films in their order of liking, after having watched a few dozen that week, and the added total results in the final top 3 most enjoyable films at the Mumbai Film Festival that year.
MAMI is the only annual ritual that I religiously follow every year. And I speak for several fellow film buffs, that there's no other event or ceremony that we wait for as eagerly as we do for the Mumbai Film Festival. I ecstatically prepare myself for an overdose of cinema in that week. A normal person watches about 20 - 30 films in a year, but a MAMI delegate has an option of watching up to 35 films in just a week. I had been doing precisely that for the last few years, but after a funny scheduling flaw helped me achieve a record score of 37 films last year, I had decided to discard my obsession for '5 films a day' this time. The aim was just to catch all the great films from the lineup. But thanks to the fantastic lineup, I ended up watching almost 5 a day this year as well.
I took the entire week off from work, plus another 4-5 days before it started just for thorough research and planning. Once the schedule was out, I met up with some of my fellow regulars as we dedicatedly sat to watch trailers of all the films that sounded exciting. It was like an exquisite scene from an exam where everyone wanted everyone to top.
The first day at MAMI this year sort of symbolically reflected the overall experience that I have every year. It started with film shows getting cancelled one after the other. There was anger, frustration, complaints and arguments amongst film folks and the festival committee. And then came one film, which completely became the conversation changer. It uplifted everyone's mood; reminding me of the fact that only good cinema can wash away the dust of frustration from my mind. I watched my personal favorite of the festival, Room. A part of me will always be stuck amidst those four walls.
And for the rest of the days of the festival, it was that beautiful time of the year again when the meals of a day change from 'Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner' to 'Popcorn, Nachos and Coffee'. I was highly conscious of time and traffic, as running between screens and venues became a matter of thrill and fulfillment. The alarm settings on my phone stayed constant every morning as I had to book seats for films I wanted to watch, sharp at 9 am, before they get blocked by worthy competitors. I even made a 'Whatsapp' group consisting of film folks who kept informing us about the best and worst during the course of the fest. And the desire to not miss any good film in the lineup again overtook every other thought in my head. I ended up watching a total of 31 films, which is my lowest MAMI score in all these years but the most satisfying one too.
And when we arrived at our very own list of festival winners, my eyes gleamed with joy as I observed that I had managed to catch all the films that people mentioned as their favorites. And my personal top three also happened to be the three most loved films of the festival that everyone's added scores resulted to. For those who missed MAMI 2015, here's our 'weeks of hard work' summarized for you in a three-point list:
1. Room - A film that'll make you marvel at the power of story and characters, all over again. Just find it and watch it at the earliest!
2. The Brand New Testament - Belgium's official Oscar entry this year that goes by the following log line: "God exists. He lives in Brussels with his daughter."
3. Victoria - A one-shot film of almost two and a half hours where every minute will keep you hooked. It's a true cinematic achievement in every sense of the word.
Although the festival still needs to improve a lot in terms of administration and organisation, it has yet again managed to give me a fulfilling experience over-all, and I'm already waiting for MAMI 2016 with a smile.