Mumbai: As the 12th Mumbai Film Festival - MAMI as it is popularly called by the initials of Mumbai Academy of Moving Image - gets under way Thursday, festival director Srinivasan Narayanan is a proud man. "It`s one of the best selections of films you`ll ever find in any film festival, both in terms of classics and current films," he said.
And why not. A few months back, when the selection committee was finalised and it asked for guidelines, Narayanan had only a one-line brief to offer: "Ruthlessly remove bad films".
Many fights ensued in the last few months over selection, and Narayanan says, "If we had only 50 good films, that`s what we would have screened."
Eight days (7 if you discount the opening day which has one film), 215 feature films from 59 countries, 15 documentaries, 24 short films, 9 screens across Mumbai and over a crore rupees given in prize money finally gives India`s cinema capital the festival it truly deserves.
And the apple of Narayanan`s eye is the 49-film Japanese retrospective, including five in competition, that spans the entire history of Japanese cinema - from the silent era to the awarded films of 2010. Perhaps even Japan never has had such a detailed chronological prism of its cinematic history in one place.
What also marks this year`s MAMI from most festivals in India is its impetus on the business of cinema. The Film Business Centre created at main venue Chandan cinema in Juhu is meant to be a meeting point for buyers and sellers of entertainment content. The team at MAMI has invited major studios worldwide to take advantage of it.
"I would consider this venture a success, when let`s say, someone from Malaysia buys a French film here. The aim is to make MAMI a meeting point for global B2B entertainment dealings to take place," Narayanan told reporters.
However, Narayanan believes that it will take another four years at least to realise the full extent of this dream. "This is a start, and a strong one at that," he says.
Its emphasis on the business of cinema began last year when Narayanan, with his years of experience as a producer and his experience working for the NFDC, became the festival director. If it succeeds, MAMI, in the heart of Bollywood, might become India`s answer to Cannes Film Festival.
Yet, ask him what his legacy in the festival will be and he is quick to answer, "The thrust we are giving to youngsters."
First there is a short film competition called Dimensions Mumbai where 24 films from hundreds of short films by filmmakers younger than 25 years have been selected for screening.
Then there`s Mumbai Young Critics where a specially selected 32 college kids, who have undergone a two-day workshop in film criticism by journalist Mayank Shekhar, film historian Amrit Gangar and German critic Daniel Kothenschulte, will form an independent jury and give away an award.
Academy Award winner Jean Campion who was president of an all-woman`s jury this year, would also be taking two master classes. Club that with a discussion between eight emerging Indian women directors, including Sooni Taraporevala ("Little Zizou"), Anusha Rizvi ("Peepli Live") and Zoya Akhtar ("Luck By Chance") among others and you understand another reason why this festival is indeed different.
Business of cinema, the appreciation of cinema and its makers, young filmmakers and critics, emerging Indian filmmakers, women filmmakers, seminars, workshops etc. MAMI this year seems to have cooked up one of the most perfect cinematic dish for a festival. And when Narayanan says his eye is on making it one of the best in the world, you know he really means business.
The ball is now in the viewer`s court, whether they have got it in them to complete the icing on the cake. For great cinema cannot be made in the absence of great audiences.