Tina Ambani, Patron, Mumbai Film Festival, in conversation with Sagorika Dasgupta
It’s the 14th edition of MAMI. What has this journey been like for you as a cine fan?
Mumbai is the cradle of Indian cinema—this city of dreams has nurtured my own aspirations as a young actor and these strong roots, these unshakeable bonds have nourished my passion for cinema over the years. Thus, the Mumbai Film Festival is an event that has always been dear to my heart. And I am so proud that the Reliance Group has also wholeheartedly embraced it and made it its own. The Group was at the vanguard of the entry of corporate houses into the filmmaking space and I believe the association has been mutually beneficial and enriching; indeed, the advent of corporate houses has revolutionised filmmaking today, enabling filmmakers to take a quantum leap ahead and broaden their vistas.
Reliance Group’s association with the Mumbai Academy of the Moving Image (MAMI), which began five years ago and encompasses financial and logistical support, has given Mumbai an international-class event that now finds pride of place on the global Festival calendar. Our group company Reliance Entertainment is the presenting sponsor and our team, led by Mr Narayanan, the director of the Festival, works round the year to organise and conduct the Festival. Today, as a lover of cinema, I am delighted that we are able to bring the best of global cinema to India—and showcase our country’s best to the world.
Which films are you looking forward to watching this year, especially since there are as many as 200 films?
It really is a lavish spread this year and every cineaste is spoilt for choice. Personally, I am looking forward to watching the Cannes Golden Palm winner Amour by Micheal Haneke, a moving story about ageing and love; the much awaited Silver Linings Playbook, starring Robert De Niro and our very own Anupam Kher, which is the opening film; Ken Loach’s Angels’ Share, a British comedy-drama; and Thomas Vinterberg’s Hunt, a gripping psychological drama.
The screenings of films like Luchini Viscontti’s The Leopard also promise to be fascinating as will be restored films Kalpana by Uday Shankar and Once Upon a Time in America by Sergio Leone.
In fact, the two celebrations—of Italian cinema and the 100 years of Indian cinema—bridge a centenary of filmmaking in both countries. The Indian silent films from 1913 seamlessly merge into the latest productions of young filmmakers in the India Gold 2012 and New Faces in Indian Cinema. In its sweep, the celebration of Italian cinema too encompasses 100 years of filmmaking in Italy, from Inferno (1912) to Dormant Beauty (1912).
It’s wonderful to see how young and silver coexist beautifully in the Festival selections. Where else can you see 102 year-old veteran Manoel de Oliviera and Alain Resnais, 90 years young, on the same platform as Kauwboy, the award-winning children’s film?!
Which contemporary French films have appealed to you? Any film in particular?
Two films that immediately come to mind are the Juliette Binoche-starrer Another Woman’s Life, a touching tale about the coming of middle age, and the stunning animated film Le Tableau by Jean-Francois Laguioine, where the characters from a painting search for the painter who has left the painting incomplete. Rust and Bone by Jacques Audiard is also a beautiful, positive and heart-warming story. Of course, as I mentioned, I have also heard great things about Amour. Interestingly, Emmanuelle Riva, the leading lady of the film, was also the star of Resnais’s 1959 masterpiece Hiroshima, Mon Amour!
Two restored classics from renowned Italian directors Maciste (1915) and Inferno (1911) are being showcased. How critical is it to restore and preserve world cinema classics? Any favourites?
Cinema is a legacy, and every legacy must be protected and passed on to future generations. Cinema is also a universal language that transcends every boundary; it is truly shared wealth. Thus, preserving its heritage is an imperative. At Reliance Mediaworks, too, we undertake major restoration projects of films from across the world. And this year, the Festival will feature India’s first key panel on restoration and preservation of films, with leading speakers from 20th Century Fox, Cineteca Bologna, World Cinema Foundation, Film Foundation and the Motion Pictures Academy Archives on the panel. In fact, Kimball Thurston from the Los Angeles office of Reliance Mediaworks is specially flying in to attend the panel discussion.
I am keen to see the restored versions of Satyajit Ray’s Charulata and Shatranj ke Khilari, Uday Shankar’s Kalpana, Keisuke Kinoshita’s Ballad of Narayama (which was actually restored at Reliance Mediaworks), Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In America, and The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp on the silver screen at this year’s festival. Interestingly, Reliance Mediaworks had also restored Mrinal Sen’s Kandhar, which was screened at the Mumbai Film Festival in 2010.
What does the centenary of Indian cinema mean to you as a cine artiste and fan? Where do you think history will place Indian cinema in the context of world cinema?
One hundred years is indeed very significant. At the Festival, we will celebrate this milestone by recreating the silent era of Indian cinema with a live orchestra accompanying the silent films. Indian cinema has always been feted world over for the sensitivity of its themes and its underlying social messages. These accolades have only grown with the development of our technical expertise and excellence in every aspect of the filmmaking process. I believe our cinema has evolved admirably over the years—while our films continue to entertain and enthral, they reflect our diverse realities as a nation, and force us to confront them.
MAMI has provided a platform to 13 Indian-language films by debutant directors. Do you think we have ignored our language directors at the cost of mainstream Bollywood cinema?
It is certainly necessary to emphasise that while Mumbai is the cradle of Indian cinema, our country’s film industry is much more varied and diverse. The Mumbai Film Festival aims to celebrate this diversity, by providing a platform to filmmakers across the country. In fact, if you look at the selection this year, you will realise that ‘mainstream Bollywood fare’ is conspicuous by its absence. And other than Hindi films, we have films in Marathi, Kannada, Konkani, Gujarati, Sikkimese, Bengali and English playing at the Festival.
I’d like to emphasise that we are a ‘discovery’ film festival; with India Gold 2012, the new competition section for Indian films, the platform is the same for both debut directors and renowned filmmakers. In New Faces in Indian Cinema, we feature the 1st and 2nd films of Indian directors; and in Film India Worldwide, we show films that have emerged from the Indian Diaspora. This is also, perhaps, the first year in the history of the festival that two Indian films have been included in the International Competition for their outstanding content. Thus, we offer a level playing field for all cinema—after all, a good film is a good film, never mind where it comes from, what language it is in, or who the filmmaker is. That is the bottom line.
How do you make the time to remain so involved with the functioning of the film festival?
I believe in delegation and empowering people; and I have been very fortunate to have a wonderful team in all my endeavours. The Mumbai Film Festival is no exception. Our hand-picked team of professionals led by Mr Narayanan works around the year with commitment and zeal—travelling to film festivals around the world, working on film selection, interacting with prospective delegates—to ensure that the Festival is world class and does justice to the stature of the city of Mumbai. With such a process in play, it really is not difficult for me to spare my time whenever required to go over the finer details and aid in decision-making.
The festival has a new sponsor this year, American Express, which has previously sponsored major film festivals across the world. Do you feel this association will take the cause and scope of Mumbai Film Festival forward?
Of course! We are delighted to have American Express on board; we believe they share the vision of Reliance Entertainment, the presenting sponsor, for the Festival and wish to celebrate the cinematic heritage of this great city. With their support, the Festival is sure to grow bigger, better and stronger each year.