Anupama Chopra On The Resurgence Of Jio MAMI & Her Vision For The Future Of The Festival!

By Aditya Savnal. Posted on September 21, 2015

In 1997, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Shyam Benegal, Yash Chopra and others came together to start the Mumbai Film Festival. In the 18 years of its existence, the festival which is organised by Mumbai Academy Of Moving Images (MAMI), has managed to carve a niche of its own as one of India's best film festivals.

Last year, the festival almost didn't happen. When a major sponsor pulled out, there were rumours abuzz that the festival may be cancelled due to lack of funds. But the film fraternity and film lovers rallied around and the festival rose like a phoenix from the ashes. One of the people who was instrumental in this turnaround was the prominent Indian film critic and author, Anupama Chopra.

The festival is back this year. With a new team in saddle, led by Anupama Chopra the festival seems to be hitting all the right notes thus far. The new board of trustees of Jio MAMI include Kiran Rao, Vikramaditya Motwane, Farhan Akhtar, Karan Johar, Siddharth Roy Kapur & Manish Mundra and the festival is backed by Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Jio as the title sponsor this year. The team led by Anupama Chopra has been working hard at making this year's Jio MAMI a successful affair.

It's funny how the festival & the industry seemed to inhabit two different worlds. There has always been a gulf separating the industry from the festival and that seems to have been bridged with her coming on board. She has been the driving force behind getting the Hindi film industry to back the festival.

We interviewed Anupama Chopra on the challenges of organizing the festival, her vision for the festival and much more. Published below are excerpts from the same.

1. MAMI was in shambles last year, yet people pooled in to get it up on its feet. How did you get involved in the festival?

I got involved with the festival when I read on Twitter that it's shutting down. Before that I had barely been to MAMI - somehow it was easier for me to get to Cannes than South Mumbai! But I couldn't bear the idea of the city not having a film festival.  So I called the festival director and asked, how can I help. That phone call changed my life. Before I knew it, we were raising money, calling guests, chasing films, setting up panels. Once that festival was over, the team, lead by Mr. Benegal, decided to hand over the reins. And here I am, now the festival director.  It can only happen in India!

2. What were the key challenges you and the team faced when you started work on this year's festival? How did you & the team go about getting the house in order?

MAMI has been the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. We inherited a Rs. 75 lakh debt and a skeletal team.  There was no money to even run the office, forget about planning another edition of the film festival. So we moved the team into my office. Vinod Chopra Films subsidized the entire operation for several months before our sponsors signed on. The first thing of course was to raise the money. We created a detailed pitch and went to several brands and offices. We were literally pounding the pavement, like door-to-door salesmen. And eventually JIO and Star Networks signed on. I will always be grateful to them for having faith in us. We are still in the process of getting the house in order.  Each day presents a new learning curve.

3. A team from TIFF led by Cameron Bailey was here to work with the Jio MAMI team. Could you tell us about that engagement? Will that engagement with TIFF be a regular one? How did your team benefit out of that?

I was having lunch with Richard Bale, the previous Consul General for Canada in Mumbai. The topic of Toronto came up.  He very generously offered that the Canadian Consulate would pay for Cameron and his colleague Natalie Lue, VP of operations and production at TIFF, to come to Mumbai and do a workshop with us. Cameron and Natalie also very generously offered their time. The unkindest cut was that I was down with Swine flu in the week that they were here so I actually couldn't be in the workshops. But my team benefited tremendously by listening to these veterans at the art of putting together a film festival.

4. How will the festival this year be different from the past? What can the festival going community expect from Jio MAMI this year?

It is a different beast this year but it's too early for me to reveal any plans.

5. Indian films have been winning acclaim internationally in the last few years. Yet Indian festivals fail to showcase some of our best independent films. Festivals like Jio MAMI can help give a boost to these indie films. Are there any plans to do so?

Absolutely. I think Jio MAMI's first function has to be to serve Indian cinema. We need to showcase our own films and our own industry. We need to be the gateway to the best in Indian cinema.

Anuapma Chopra

6. Film festivals in India continue to be sad state-run affairs or shoddily produced private efforts. Jio MAMI has a sizable pool of regular festival goers in Mumbai, yet there is a lot of scope to get the city involved in the festival. What are your plans on that front? How do you intend to grow the festival beyond its core group of loyal followers?

We want to reach out to film lovers across the country. We want this to become a sort of cinema pilgrimage, in the way that JLF (Jaipur Literary Festival) is a pilgrimage for book lovers. We will reach out across the country to do the same.

7. The biggest festivals world over not only screen the best films from across the world, but also serve as markets that bring filmmakers, producers & distributors together. That hasn't happened previously with MAMI despite being based in Mumbai. Are there plans to build a film market alongside the festival?

Yes there will be a market and we will be revealing more details about the same very soon.

8. The new organizing body has a fair representation from mainstream Bollywood, which wasn't the case earlier. How do you intend to leverage that to build a better & bigger festival?

Bollywood is one of India's biggest brands. We can only gain from the association. I think ideas of art house and mainstream being two different spaces are very old school. The film industry has come forward to support Jio MAMI in every way - time, talent, money. Again, I can't share specifics but we will be working very closely with the Hindi film industry.

9. How has the experience of running the festival been thus far? What have you learnt in the last one year of running this festival?

It's been an exciting and scary adventure. I have learned that no matter how connected we are digitally, eventually what matters is relationships and face to face interactions. And I've learned that essentially people are generous - this festival has been made possible only because everyone I asked for help came through!

10. What is your vision for Jio MAMI? How do you see it evolving in the coming years?

My vision for Jio MAMI is that it becomes a vibrant celebration of cinema, bringing the best of world cinema to India and the best of Indian cinema to the world. I hope that someday people around the country block off Jio MAMI week on their calendars and come to Mumbai to partake of a movie feast.


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