Following a successful career as one of India’s most popular film critics and winning applaud for her books Sholay: The Making Of A Classic and King Of Bollywood: Shah Rukh Khan, Anupama Chopra is now moving into her new adventure as a festival director of the MAMI Mumbai Film Festival. The NRI scored an opportunity to speak to her and find out about what’s coming up in this year’s festival, and her thoughts on the ever-changing landscape of Indian Cinema.
How did you get involved with the festival?
This is the first year I’m involved with it. Before, I’d attend like any normal cinemagoer. But last year, it seemed like it was going to shut down and that’s when I got involved. I thought to myself “Mumbai is India’s centre for all things film. How can it not have a film festival?” MAMI has such a legacy, having brought so many great films to the city over the past 17 years. It was created by people like Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Shyam Benegal and we couldn’t just let it die.
How did the festival get to such a point where it was about to shut down?
It’s a privately-funded festival and doing a film festival is hugely expensive. The sponsors decided that they’d been backing the festival for too long and chose not to renew their contract, and then it was very difficult to raise money and find new sponsors. It got to a point where it just looked like there’d be no money to run it.
Social media played a big part in saving it. There was an article that was written about how it was shutting down, which is when everybody just came together. Manish Mundra, who produced last year’s award-winning Masaan, backed the festival with a substantial sum of money. Anand Mahindra contributed a substantial sum, and then everyone else pulled in – Aamir (Khan), Vinod (Chopra), Karan (Johar), Sandeep Raheja (real-estate tycoon) – they all donated money. It became like a movement, and that’s how we saved it.
How does the MAMI festival distinguish itself from other Indian film festivals like the one taking place in Goa?
MAMI is the only privately-run film festival in this country. It’s not organised by the government so has no such agenda political or otherwise. If you look up all the trustees of the festival, like chairperson Kiran Rao, they’re basically people who are making movies. I think that makes a difference. We have different programmers selected for films made in India, international films, we have a programmer for the genre section who specializes in cult and horror movies. These are people who are really skilled at what they do inside the film industry and I think that makes a lot of difference.
What events are you personally most looking forward to at this year’s festival?
All of it obviously! But for me, the thing that is closest to my heart is the Jio Mami Movie Mela (31st October), which is a celebratory carnival of South Asian Cinema. I’ve wanted to do this for many years, but it’s just never worked out. At Mehboob Studio in Bandra, we’re going to create a stage of Indian magic where stars and filmmakers talk about their craft, and it’s open to anyone. We’re going to have Deepika Padukone talking abut her journey into film, Rajkumar Hirani and Abhijat Joshi talking about how they create blockbusters, Sonam Kapoor talking about social media. As a fan, you can come in and watch these guys do what they do. I’m also very excited about all the films that are playing at the festival this year.
The “Indian Excellence In Cinema” award is being given rightfully to two of the best screenwriters ever, Javed Akhtar and Salim Khan. Do you believe writers are finally getting their due in India?
Well, Salim-Javed were the first guys who established the writer as brand. But after them, in the 80s the strength of writers just disappeared and the films were terrible. But yes, now writers are finally getting their rightful place, like Abhijat Joshi who wrote Lage Raho Munnabhai and Peekay. If you don’t have a great writer, there’s no strong foundation to a film.
Sholay actually got awful views on release and was declared a flop. Would a film with such reviews and first week figures have survived in the film climate of today?
Even in today’s world, a great film will find its audience. I’m not deluded about what effect a critic can have on a film, I just think a great film would find an audience much quicker. Everyone’s on social media now and sharing their thoughts, so word spreads far quicker now.
Now that you’re spreading your wings beyond being a film critic, have you ever had an urge to make your own films?
No, it’s not for me! There’s a huge difference between watching movies and making movies. I don’t have the talent or the courage to make a film!
With the exception of Lagaan and Mother India, what do you believe still prevents Indian films from winning prestigious awards like the Oscars and the Golden Globes?
I think Hindi Cinema often has a different syntax. Of course, we have a new generation of Indian filmmakers who are looking to create different styles of storytelling, which is why films like Masaan are getting officially selected at Cannes, and then you have the Marathi film Court which has been sent for official selection at the Oscars. I feel we now have a variety of cinema in India, which is wonderful.
Very few filmmakers outside of India have managed to make an impact on the Indian film industry. What advice do you have for NRI filmmakers trying to break into Indian Cinema?
Just keep trying. You need to come and live here for a while. But it’s just like they say in showbiz – as the great Hollywood screenwriter William Goldman said it, “Nobody knows anything”. If you have a story to tell, come out to India and just tell it!