MAMI Film Club – A year-round celebration of cinema
Italian film theorist Ricciotto Canudo said, “Cinema is the seventh art.” Architecture, Sculpture, Painting, Dance, Music and Poetry being the predecessors. Cinema combines all of these and culminates with a projection. The projectionist is the last person to tangibly feel the process. But intangibly there is a lot more to it. As audience, we engulf the images and the soundscape. We breathe them and enjoy being trapped within them, like Harry Houdini locked in a tub. We discuss moments over cups of tea, coffee or our respective poisons. We banter each other’s opinions. These discussions are precious and are quite addictive. These people join film clubs and look at cinema from a different lens, a theoretical one.
Recently the coveted JIO MAMI Film Festival launched its Film Club in Mumbai and it’s second event was the Indian premiere of Brahman Naman by film auteur Q. The event was attended by Kiran Rao, Chairperson, MAMI, the team of the film and the who’s who of the city. The post-screening session was an interesting discussion moderated by writer Vasan Bala. Q started off in his explicit style full of puns, addressing the crowd as ladies and genitalia. The discussion ranged from why the actors from the film can’t show it to their parents to what digital filmmaking really meant. It was an evening that made us ponder over the overall significance of film clubs, not just for cinephiles but filmmakers as well.
The first clap
In India, the concept of film clubs dates back to the early 40’s when a group of documentary filmmakers came together to screen films. In 1947, the Calcutta Film Society was started. One of the founder members of the society was Satyajit Ray. This society was functional even before the inception of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI).
A filmmaker makes a film to be screened. As much as you may debate about cinema being a medium of self expression but for every filmmaker getting eyeballs is definitely a concern. And filmmaking is an expensive art form. Even if one makes a film by self-producing or crowdsourcing, the puzzle of screening it remains unsolved for the longest of time.
On the same lines Kiran Rao says, “The JIO MAMI Film Club with Star was started to create opportunities to grow and bring together our film lovers and the film loving community in the city. Essentially the aim is to conduct screenings, masterclasses, workshops, boot camps and other activities around which we can gather and share knowledge and essentially have some fun. There aren’t many ways in which we can engage with our audience. We felt that one week a year, during the festival, was just too short a time for all of us to get together. So, this was thought of as a year-round connection with the cinephiles of the city. As far as the frequency of screenings is concerned this (Brahman Naman) is our first film and let us see how this shapes up. But yes, we will have a year-round calendar of events. Most of which will be free of cost, barring a few special events which will be chargeable.”
And how are they looking at spreading the word and how can one sign up for the club? “The traditional problem that most people have is that we don’t know how to get the word out without any money. We don’t really have any media spend so to say. We are hoping that word of mouth about it will grow. At least the festival loyalists will sign up. It’s an absolutely free registration and only certain events might be chargeable depending upon what the event is. But the idea is to make it accessible to all. So,I am requesting people to please spread the word for it. It is important that people come and make use of this,” explains Rao.
WYSIWYG is an urban acronym for ‘What You See Is What You Get’. And that is the best part about film clubs. Today when the debate around censorship continues and the Censor Board’s very existence is being questioned, Kiran Rao heavily censured the Board. She said, “We believe that the audience can decide what to watch and what not to. For the MAMI Film Club, we are choosing films that we think are worthy of our audience. Our only censor is quality.”
When Q was asked whether he is looking at a theatrical release for Brahman Naman, the filmmaker smiled and replied, “We have a release. It is on Netflix. That’s our release. Period! We have to wake up to the fact that things are changing. I am a digital filmmaker. I think digitally. I write on a computer. I shoot digitally. I edit digitally. I post-produce digitally. So, ultimately I have to be digital when I am distributing my films. It is a perfect marriage.”
Continuing on the importance of film clubs he stated, “I grew up in Calcutta in the late 70s and 80s. My dad was part of a couple of film clubs. I know for one that my early language of cinema was what I learnt from those clubs. This was the only way of accessing the films that otherwise wouldn’t get distributed. It has been a parallel system that has been fully functional since the 60s. I think it is a great system. It still works. The best part is that it is a choice based system. It is very critical for people to understand that film clubs like any other club bring together a society of passionate like-minded individuals. These are the people who love the craft clinically and with great passion.”
One question, Three points of view
We played a bit of vox pop and asked Kiran, Q and Tanmay Dhanania (Actor of Brahman Naman) about their expectations from the club.
Enthusiastically Kiran says, “Our first event was a conversation with Sir Ian Mc Kellen while the second one is the Indian premiere of Brahman Naman. And we will keep you guys guessing about the other events too. It would only be interesting if we have a correct mix of different genres. Technicians, actors and filmmakers across genres will be talking to the audience. To mix it up we’ll definitely have a good blend of different kinds of films and people.”
“I think it is a great idea to have one (film club). As far as I am concerned I am practically living in festivals. I go around the world visiting festivals. Most global festivals now have year long screenings. This is so because it was quickly established, especially over the last ten years, that cinema is changing very rapidly and new forms are being created all the time. These films do not get mainstream distribution and they shouldn’t get one either. These works aren’t made for mainstream distribution. How else then do you show these films and reach out to people who want to watch such cinema! You name a festival be it Sundance, Berlin or any other major festival they follow this very concept. So, what we are seeing here is something very international as well as relevant,” says Q.
For Tanmay Dhanania this was an opportunity worth cherishing. With gratitude the actor asserts, “First of all I’d like to thank them to include our work in their selection. My expectation is that they carry on the amazing work and show films that people don’t get to watch otherwise. We are still lucky to have got distribution from Netflix but there are many other films that don’t get viewers because of the commercial setup of the country. I am sure that’s exactly what the MAMI Film Club is aiming at. They are doing a fantastic job and I don’t think there is any need to change.”
As you are busy reading this piece, in the parallel universe there are filmmakers looking for producers, censor certificates, channels, middlemen and festival entries. There are some making videos for their crowdsourcing campaigns, convincing people about the final penny that will help complete the film’s post production. There are lots of efforts being made in making and distributing films. But if a film club was a human form, he would just open his arms like a Bollywood hero and sing in Mukesh’s voice, “Maine tere liye hi saat rang ke sapne chune. Sapne Sureelay sapne..”
(For the uninitiated, the song in the end is from the film Anand and it talks of hope).