The magic of the movies comes alive at the MAMI fest
Oct 24 2013
The best decision they made when starting off was to get someone as wise and knowledgeable about films as Shyam Benegal as the chairman, and get a professional executive committee, headed by the energetic Narayanan Srinivasan. MAMI has many sections, several competitive ones in different categories, plus a prominent section on world cinema, which showcases films from all over: Spain was featured prominently this year, with countries like Iran and Japan which make noteworthy films, always contributing something worthwhile.
The wonderful and recently refurbished Liberty cinema and Metro’s multiple screens were the South Mumbai hubs, while films were shown in Mumbai’s twin city too ( I am joking: I mean North Mumbai). The opening night featured Lifetime Achievement awards to Costa Gavras (of Z fame) and Kamal Hassan. Also presented on the stage were prominent film-makers like the well-known Australian director Bruce Beresford.
So far so good. Then in a flurry of flashbulbs walks in a celebrity who is late, these two elements adding up to the certainty that it had to be a Bollywood star. So it was. The ‘star’, and that’s stretching the word a bit, was Sonakshi Sinha. You can forgive the photographers their scale of values, but can you do the same for MAMI’s committee that it gave Sinha, young and charming and presentable as she is, as much prominence as Costa Gavras? I know cinema needs its stars, but even among stars surely there has to be a grading system. If Sharmila Tagore or Waheeda Rahman are given prominence, no one will quibble. Or if they are considered too yesterday, get Kareena Kapoor, Vidya Balan or Aishwarya Rai, actresses at the top of their profession.
The opening film, incidentally, was The Butler, an American film which has been around for a while. The closing film is The Fifth Estate, ironically going on general release the next day. Why this predilection for American films, especially when you have world cinema at your command? That said, The Butler worked on an interesting premise: to see history in the making from the viewpoint of the servant. We always see history through the eyes of those who make it— kings, emperors, presidents, prime ministers -- but rarely from the viewpoint of those who are deeply affected by the decisions of their leaders.
The Butler is based on a memoir written by a black butler who served eight US Presidents. Eisenhower Nixon, Kennedy Johnson Carter, Ford, Reagan, Bush flit in and out of the White House, but the butler remains, growing older and wiser, listening in on vital conversations because to important incumbents of important houses, servants are invisible. This is made especially poignant because what we see discussed is the issue of racial equality, and listening in is a black man.
History moves so fast that you don’t realise that racial equality in the US is barely half a century old. “Negroes” as they were called then, sat in President Eisenhower’s time in the back of buses, in segregated sections of restaurants, had separate washrooms.... So when the film ends with a television grab of President Barack Obama, a black occupant of the White House, and not a member of its serving staff, you realise what a transformation America has been through.
Talking of invisible servants, how often do you see people(even yourself) speak about themselves in the most intimate detail in their presence, as if the servants didn’t exist? Women discuss their extra-marital affairs in cars driven by the chauffeur, husband and wife talk of their troubled teenager's drug problem, they get agitated about their monetary problems.... I often wonder what our domestic staff say about us when we are not around. What mischief does that obsequious manner hide? What tales does your maid carry to her friends, your driver to the neighbour’s driver? Good, honourable things you hope, don’t you?