Mumbai Musings: Day 1 -A film on society, and a session on how society consumes films
The columnist talks about how the ongoing Mumbai Film Festival has thrown up the sort of raw visuals you could scarcely hope to catch in an Indian cinema hall
You know the Mumbai Film Festival — or Jio MAMI 20th Film Festival with Star, as it’s officially called — is back, when all you hear inside the theatre are the sounds of a film, when all you see inside is the bewitching light of quality cinema. It helps, of course, when the film is as good as the first film I caught at the festival: Leave No Trace, an adaptation of the novel, My Abandonment. The film — powered by terrific lead performances, especially from 18-year-old Thomasin McKenzie — is about a father and daughter, who live in the wilderness. Unlike, say, in Into The Wild, which is striking for the protagonist’s total reluctance to engage with society (remember when he sets fire to his cash?), Leave No Trace’s lead characters are less militant in their approach. They walk into civilisation every once in a while to gather reinforcements, in scenes that without trying too hard, have you reflect on what society takes from us as it hands out security and safety. There's a deeper issue being discussed in the film too -- again, one of what society has taken away from the male lead character. Eddie Vedder’s Society (“Society, you’re a crazy dream. Hope you are not lonely… without me”) may not have been entirely inappropriate in this film. In one poignant scene, after they are discovered in the wild and brought into society, the father and daughter have trouble sleeping in a bedroom. The walls are prison; the safety, suffocating. You almost want to cheer a moment later, when they sleep outside the house, bed sheets and all, gazing at the stars, basking in moonlight…
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows though, and unlike in Into The Wild, life in the forest isn’t problematically romanticised. You make many observations as you watch the father and daughter survive in the wild. Creating a fire is tricky, cooking is time-consuming, shelter is a struggle. And sometimes, when a pack of wild dogs/wolves surround your tent, sleep isn't entirely assured. Like many good films, Leave No Trace is punctuated by its use of silences, and economical use of dialogues. It’s a story that cuts across regions, but on some level, the worry is, will such quietly powerful films see the light of day in centres like ours? After all, as the protagonist of Into the Wild writes at the end, "Happiness, only real when shared."
Fascinatingly, it was this very question that was addressed in a session later in the day when the Chief Content Head of Netflix, Ted Sarandos, shared some of the company’s strategies for the future. “Someone in America loves Sacred Games as much as someone in India does,” he said, pointing out that the localisation of the TV series had not alienated its foreign audiences. “Earlier, we had all these conclusions about some centres needing subtitled films, and some others, like Germany, needing dubbed films. But those rules don’t exist anymore. It’s about giving people options, and letting them choose.” Ted also went on to discuss Alfonso Cuaron’s latest film, Roma, that Netflix has acquired distribution rights of. The film had its Indian premiere on Friday, and the conversation veered to why the film could not be screened at Cannes as planned. “The festival rules there prohibit films from being played on Netflix for three years after the screening,” he revealed. “We felt it wouldn’t be fair to French audiences.”
These are times as tumultous as they are fascinating. A Netflix distribution, Roma, is being touted as a serious contender at the Oscars. Meanwhile, filmmakers like Spielberg and festivals like Cannes still seem reluctant to embrace the growing domination of OTT providers. At a festival like MAMI, ideas and films collide, and conversations ensue. And to think it’s just been a day so far.