For many film buffs across the city, this is the highlight of the year as it brings with it a much-need dose of diversity in cinema. For regular attendees like this writer, this means a week of sleep deprivation, frantic writing at every spare second and the concept of ‘exercise’ being limited to the act of repeatedly standing up and sitting back down for the national anthem throughout the day.
A disheartening lack of non-screening events such as discussions and masterclasses aside, this year offers a fantastic lineup of films from around the globe to sink your teeth into. After pouring through them all and wave after wave of spreadsheet-ing, scheduling and rescheduling it finally becomes about watching the movies rather than overthinking which ones to watch. This year’s festivities kicked off with a suspiciously efficient Bookmyshow portal and I begin the week at Colaba’s Regal cinema.
Patti Cake$: Drops Beats And Steals Hearts
First up for me was Geremy Jasper’s feel-good charmer Patti Cake$, about an unlikely aspiring rapper from New Jersey. The film boasts of a rousing soundtrack with some great hip hop numbers which lift it above its predictability and make this well worth the ride.
Patricia a.k.a Killa P a.k.a Patti Cake$ (casually referred to by the neighbourhood as ‘dumbo’ due to her appearance) is a searingly talented teenage rapper who, as the sole breadwinner, is torn between chasing her dreams and supporting a family.
Evocative of films like 8 Mile, Jasper’s large-hearted comedy is an empowering look at the power of music in helping you escape your reality, if only temporarily and give you meaning.
Where the film soars is in capturing the setting of the impoverished nooks of New Jersey, as well as the diversity of its characters. How often we really get to see characters who look like Patti in movies, let alone lead them. Painfully rarely.
Aside from these wonderfully welcome elements, Jasper’s film relies a tad too much on convenience and formula. It adopts a surprisingly mainstream grammar in its telling and plays out like a typical Holywood-style feel-good comedy with dips and highs you can see from a mile away.
While it’s rough around the edges, it has an undeniable charm and leaves you with a spring in your step and unwavering smile to match. Now excuse me while I download the hell out of that soundtrack.
Wonderstuck : Ambitious, Affecting And Bursting With Life
Second in my day is Todd Haynes’ dazzling Wonderstruck which entirely lives up to the buzz it’s amassed, if not transcends it. The visually delightful film is a deeply moving and wholly absorbing experience which is in equal parts a fascinating piece of filmmaking as it is wonderful storytelling.
Haynes takes you on a journey into the lives of the hearing impaired through which he manages to conjure a complex mix of emotion within you which stay with you long after. I’m still processing much of it.
The film intercuts between two stories in and around New York city, that of a young deaf girl, Rose, in the 1920s (which unfolds in black and white) and that of a young boy, Ben, in the 1970’s who also becomes deaf after a tragic accident, told in colour. The film explores the curious connection between the two characters with Haynes constantly keeping you on your toes, jumping between both stories every few minutes, often with lingering cliffhangers. And like its young protagonists, Wonderstruck is self-assured, headstrong, pure, sensitive and deeply fragile.
The two characters entirely carry the film such that it’s difficult not to fall in love with young Ben and Rose, brought to life with affecting performances from Oakes Fegley and Millicent Simmonds respectively.
Haynes’ stellar use of background score to breathe life into a film largely devoid of dialogue is equally spellbinding. The film will break your heart, uplift you with joy, keep you on edge and have you revel in the spirit of adventure. It’s certainly the film to beat this festival season.
Wonderstruck is alive and beautiful and happening and it was happening to me and is an experience I’m deeply grateful for.
This was followed by the official MAMI opening ceremony and the Indian premier of Anurag Kashyap’s Mukkabaaz.
Mukkabaaz (The Brawler) – What Does An Anurag Kashyap-Made Masala Film Look Like?
Last on my schedule for day one of the festival was the premier of the latest from the prolific Anurag Kashyap, with a small town sports drama. Though it was admittedly difficult to process any unbiased, untainted views on the movie considering the theatre was filled to the brim with Kashyap-fanboys who seem to go audibly gaga at just about anything that happens onscreen.
Mukkabaaz is in many ways Kashyap's most mainstream outing yet and his attempt to embrace his inner masala sensibilities which he does marvellously in moments, but it may also be one of his most inconsistent films yet.
At a run time of almost 2.5 hours, the film is at times a slog to get through as it tries to do far too much and making it difficult not to get lost in the meandering film without quite knowing how to feel. This perhaps explains why it's such a tonal roller-coaster as it offers up heavy helpings of everything from light-hearted love story, good vs evil and beating up the baddies, to Kashyap’s brand of quintessential angst and strong political statements.
Mukkabaaz is also not the easiest thing to follow what with the filmmaker's distinct style of disorientating flow and jumpy editing. This isn't to say it isn’t also wildly entertaining in parts between some fantastic fight sequences, both in and out of the ring, and what feels like an assembly line of one-liners (this may be Kashyap’s funniest film yet).
The film entirely rests on the ridiculously well-defined shoulders of the well-cast Vineet Kumar who both commands your affections and scares the daylights out of you with his lurking ferocity. Kumar leaves not a doubt in your mind that he is a boxer in body and soul.
Conversely, Jimmy Shergill does his best with what is a largely one-note character but proves menacing nonetheless.
Set in Bareilly, the film isn't your typical sports drama and is far more focused on capturing the reality of sport in India, specifically the politics, corruption and some surprisingly on the nose caste commentary. Somewhere buried in Mukkabaaz is a poignant, crowd pleaser. It just happens to be buried in a whole lot of disorientating excess which is in equal parts rousing as it is frustrating.
(This is the first part of OutlookIndia’s ongoing daily coverage of the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival 2017).