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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



Mumbai Film Festival: Pot luck and glam game

Mumbai Film Festival: Pot luck and glam game

MFF, run by Mumbai Academy of Moving Image (MAMI), is among four Indian film festivals recognised by FIAPF ((Fédération Internationale des Associations de Producteurs de Films/International Federation of Film Producers Associations), which is based in Paris and has its Secretariat in Brussels. International Film Festival of India (IFFI, Goa) is the only one recognised as certified for International Competition. Kolkata and Thiruvananthapuram are recognised as competitive for women directors and for films from Asia/Africa/Latin America, respectively. MFF is listed as competitive for first film makers. Thus, IFFI is the only full grade film festival, falling in the ‘A’ list. The other three are considered as members of the B group.

Since Mumbai is synonymous with the widest reaching Hindi film industry, and MFF is run by active films professionals (producers, directors, actors), it has, theoretically, the greatest potential to score big. Moreover, it is backed financially by business houses like Jio (Reliance) and STAR (TV network), so bank-rolling is a non-issue. It even has multiplex cinema partners and tie-ups with a host of organisations. Here, I’ll evaluate the 12-18 October 2017 event, on the parameters of films screenings and its approach to film critics and serious film journalists.

Screenings were held in several theatres all over the city, and that is a welcome arrangement for those who live in various central and suburban areas of this sprawling metropolis. On paper, you could see five films, but rules allowed only four reservations. Fair enough. The registration badge did not guarantee you right of entry: for that, you would have to book your seats on line or at the venues. Great? Hardly. Bookings opened at 8 am online, and the website jammed immediately. You would have to be on your toes in advance and then hope pot luck favours you, for, otherwise, you could end up with fewer tickets than you wanted, and even end up empty-handed. This cycle could favour or disfavour you all through the festival, resulting in missing out on many films of your choice.

All is lost? There was one other chance: join the walk-in queue, hoping some delegates with confirmed seats might not turn-up. This is pot-luck too. Many waited two hours or more, only to be turned away. Others were lucky enough to be allowed in as soon as the mandatory twenty minute advance occupation condition applied, and the take-a-chance queue members were allowed in. Of course, seats were reserved for VIPs and guests of film-makers whose films were being screened, at every show. Twenty minutes is a long period, considering hundreds of film-buffs run from venue to venue in order to catch their selection. A much more practical time-frame would be ten minutes.

A press conference was held about three weeks before the commencement of the festival. Only selected members of the cinema press were invited. Continuing the tradition of past several MFFs, most of the senior film critics and serious film journalists were kept away from the following events: the inaugural function, the inaugural film, the launch party (if there was one; there usually is), the closing film, the awards/closing night, the farewell party. In fact, not a single press release or invitation of any kind was received, before, during or after the festival, about any session, master class, interview, reception or what have you. No seats were reserved for journalists and critics at any show, and they had to stand in queue, like all other delegates, to try their luck. Even the list of award winners was uploaded on the MFF website a full five days after the festival was over, referring to the star-studded event as “this evening”.



Jio MAMI 19th Mumbai Film Festival with Star announced the winners across its 7 distinct categories this evening at a star-studded ceremony at the JW Marriott, Juhu.

(the festival concluded on 18 October)

Most festivals, including IFFI, publish a daily bulletin. MFF published it on alternate days. Outsourced to a company called Pandolin, it was first seen at the venues on the third day of the festival. All of 18 pages, it must have cost a substantial amount to publish, but flipping through one of these, I could not find one by-line, famous or rookie. Surely a festival that spends huge sums on such a publication must show some concern for the journalists attending the festival and get reputed writers to contribute to the bulletin.

The Head of MFF’s own dedicated media team did not respond to emails or phone calls on many occasions, and there was no real media-centre at the festival. Of course, in an era where senior critics (I started reviewing in 1969 and have been covering international film festivals since 1976) and veteran film journalists, from the press or the web, mean less and lesser to film event organisers than glamour columnists and TV cameras in the glam game, it is some relief that we are still allowed to watch the films for free.

FIAPF or FIPRESCI (the critics’ international federation) or any other body/bodies must make serious efforts to impress upon festivals to take the media more seriously, and ensure a few things, like

1.      Accreditation must be given automatically to persons who have covered three or more previous editions.

2.      Some seats must be reserved for media at shows as well as other events.

3.      All journalists must be invited to inaugural and closing events, and all pre event and concurrent press conferences.

4.      All press releases must be sent to all accredited media-persons.

5.      There must be a dedicated media centre, with basic amenities that include water/toilets/tea/coffee/PCs/laptops/chairs/tables, and there should be at least two of the organising team’s media liaison members available there at all times.

6.      Every festival must have on its steering committee or organising committee or consultative committee at least five media-persons, with experience of having attended 10 or more festivals. No such media-person should be allowed to serve for more than three terms.

Anupama Chopra, Festival Director at MFF, is a film journalist, critic and author, a fact that rubs it in. It is her and her selection jury’s prerogative to include films made by trustee members in the programme, but the media-favourites attitude of the MAMI media team sticks out like a sore thumb.



About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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