2015’s Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival opens its doors for a new-format of films that create a hullabaloo in the virtual world through PLAY. In an exclusive chat, Nikhil Taneja, curator of PLAY and a guy who plays many roles in film-making, talks about what to expect from the new section.

Nikhil Taneja

Nikhil Taneja

This is the first time MAMI has a section called, PLAY, dedicated to digital content. Can you tell us what it is and how it came into being?

Cinema is for everyone so why should film festivals cater to certain audience. MAMI has been showing interesting stuff, but it was always perceived as a festival for mature audience. So, a few months before the festival, Anupama Chopra (Festival director), Smriti Kiran (Creative Director) and I were discussing on ways to make MAMI younger. We wanted to cater to young audience, say anyone in 20 to 35, who are not necessarily fans of cinema but of story-telling.

So, PLAY was conceived after that. The Internet is becoming a new medium for story-telling, earlier we only saw cat videos and funny content becoming viral. But now it has become an avenue for interesting, new, bold, fresh, uncensored and unabashed content; basically content that pushes the boundaries. There are very few film festivals acknowledging the medium (of internet) for what it has become, so it is our way to give MAMI a younger vibe.

This way we also want to give respect to the medium. Who is to say filmmakers are only to make films for theaters? Today, anyone who has a DSLR, a story to tell and spirit to tell, is a filmmaker. Play was to give respect to those who may not be making films for the big screen but are still telling great fantastic stories that are courageous and can’t be made for the theaters because of censorship issues.

This year we have attempted to make MAMI seem younger and cooler. Apart from PLAY, which is a three-to-four hour event on November 1, we have a section called ‘After Dark that will screen horror films after 8 pm. There’s a Movie Mela, something on the lines of Comic Con, on October 31st at Mehboob Studio. So, we have tried to make the festival younger, cooler celebrates all kinds of cinemas and forms of story-telling. If you are fans of Francois Truffaut, Jean Luc Godard, Anurag Kashyap, Vikramaditya Motwane’s films, you will go to the festival, but we also want fans of Rajkumar Hirani, Kabir Khan, AIB (All India Bakchod) and TVF (The Viral Fever) to come to the fest.


Yash Raj’s Y Films Bang Bajaa Baaraat, which you have produced, is premiering at the event. Comment.

I am glad you asked me and I would like to clarify. I have been with MAMI for the last three years and was helping them out with digital promotion strategy. Back then I was with MTV and now I am with Yash Raj Films. And Bang Bajaa Baraat’s selection for premiere has nothing to do with my association.
Yash Raj Films is the first ones among the Eros and Balajis to get into the digital space. I had approached Rohan Sippy, who is working on content for the digital medium, but they weren’t ready. Likewise, the MAMI team spoke to Y-Films as they were ready with original content for the digital medium. In fact I wasn’t part of any discussion Anu and Smriti had with the marketing team of Y-Films. They saw Bang Bajaa Baraat and liked it. So they selected the film for the premiere section. That is the only film they curated for PLAY, rest of the films are curated by me.

What other films will be screened at PLAY?

PLAY is split into three parts. First is the Best of 2015, when we will screen films by Sujoy Ghosh, Navjot Gulati, Devashish Makhija, AIB, TVF and EIC (East India Comedy). Second is World Premiere section, where we will screen films that haven’t come out anywhere, like Y Films and Anand Tiwari’s Bang Bajaa Baaraat, Aditi Mittal’s Facebook Pe Mummy, Emotional Fulls’ The Proposal, SNG Comedy’s Fu***** Censorship and Conde Nast Traveller’s Journeys Of A Lifetime: Fatima Bhutto. And it will be followed by panel discussion – A celebration of the digital narrative – by Satya Raghavan, Alex Kuruvilla, Smita Jha and many renowned names.


What was the biggest challenge you faced while curating the section?

Festivals are usually an event to showcase new and unseen stuff, except for the retrospect sections that show some old and important films. So, we were hoping that we would go the same route for PLAY. But the biggies of the internet world – TVF, AIB, EIC, Emotional Fulls, etc. – didn’t have new content. Of course, AIB had a news comedy show but it is not the type of narrative that fits the concept of PLAY. So, you can’t not celebrate the digital narrative without having films made by the guys who started the trend of digital content. It would be wrong. So, as we couldn’t find original unseen content we decided to have two sections – Best Of 2015 and World Premiere (which will show exclusive short films). There is no precedence of PLAY, so it is not like we were inundated with entries. We had to reach out to people. But we hope people will reach out to us next year onward and we will only have premiere segment.

Do you think digital content can sustain on its own and PLAY will have a future?

In fact, we are extremely excited about PLAY. I think it is going to be one of the big attractions as we get forward because, today, digital medium is becoming bigger every single day. While YRF has already gotten into this, Eros is going to announce a bunch of massive shows for digital world, Balaji’s Alt Entertainment has lined up shows. Sony Liv is also making web shows. As of now it is on a small scale, but I am sure they too have bigger plans for it. So with television studios, channels and movie studios entry in the segment will only make it bigger. I have heard that Eros is investing Rs 20-30 lakhs per episode, YRF has put in similar amount per episode in our series as well. So, the money going into the production of the shows is only rivaling television. And the great thing about the internet versus television and movies is that there is no censorship. We can have bolder, which I don’t mean sexually, but as ideas, fresh and forward-thinking content. The importance of Play will only increase. I see this becoming big thing in future. Imagine there will be a line-up of shows similar to Netflix, HBO level of productions. Audience may not go for traditional films but may come for this.