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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. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Festival diary, MAMI’s Mumbai Film Festival (MFF), Part I


Back in the mid 90s, a group of Mumbai-based film-enthusiasts felt that it was time the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) stopped alternating every year between New Delhi and other metro cities like Chennai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Thiruvananthapuram and Mumbai, and settled down in Mumbai for good. Some of the strong factors in favour were:

1. Mumbai is the birth place of Indian cinema and the film capital of India, although films are made aplenty in other cities as well.

2. Mumbai makes Hindi films, which are almost pan -national in reach, and also have an overseas market.

3. Offices of bodies like the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC), the Children’s Film Society of India (CFSI), the Films Division (FD), integral to the organising of such festivals are located here. The ‘stars’ also live here.

4. Other such bodies, like the Films and Television Institute of India and the National Film Archive of India (NFAI) are located in Pune, less than 200 km from Mumbai.

5. It has probably the best air and sea port facilities in the country, facilitating travel and cargo.

6. It also has probably the best communication, telecommunication and courier infrastructure.  

7. The city is well-connected through an extensive road and rail network, both inter-city and intra-city.

8. State-of-the art film-related technical facilities and cinemas are located here.

9. A large number of Hotels operate here and wider varieties of food are easily available.

10. It has already hosted several international film festivals and currently holds the Mumbai International Film Festival (MIFF) of documentary, short and animation films biennially.


Arguments against any move to make Mumbai the permanent venue were:

1.      The very idea of a travelling festival was to expose different cities to international cinema, and this purpose would be defeated.

2.      Mumbai already had access to a lot of international cinema.

3.      Traffic and parking is a major problem here.

4.      There are no major multiplexes.

5.      Property is prohibitively expensive and it would cost a fortune to build a permanent facility here.

6.      Hindi cinema is not necessarily representative of Indian cinema, which makes films in many languages.

I too participated in such discussions, and proposed a solution to problems 3, 4 and 5--Build a complex in the suburbs of Mumbai, 30-50 kms from the city centre, which would include office of the Directorate of Film Festivals (DFF), cinema halls, storage facilities for film, hotels, technical support and parking lots, among other vital spaces.

Prominent film-personalities like Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Basu Bhattacharya (my neighbour and well-wisher), Shyam Benegal, Amol Palekar, Shabana Azmi, Ramesh Sippy, Gulzar, Manmohan Shetty (producer, lab-owner), Amit Khanna, Kiran Shantaram (studio and cinema owner), Sudhir Nandgaonkar (film society veteran), Supran Sen (Secretary General, Film Federation of India-FFI) held meetings. I am not aware of whether they followed-up the matter with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) which hosts IFFI, and the response, if any, they got from MIB. But they decided to form a as a not for profit trust called Mumbai Academy of Moving Image (MAMI), and decided to hold an annual Mumbai Film Festival, starting 1997.

MAMI Board of Trustees clarified in their Mission Statement, "We feel it is the need of the hour to disseminate and inculcate good cinema among Indian audiences. The only way to achieve this is to celebrate cinema by hosting an international film festival in Mumbai (birth place of Indian Cinema), India's film and entertainment capital. Mumbai Academy of Moving Image is committed to start Mumbai's first independent international film festival organised by practicing film makers."  

And so, it began. November 1997 saw the holding of the first, modest, International Film Festival of Mumbai (IFFM), as it was then called. It had a budget of about Rs. 70 lakh (7 mn) of which Rs. 10 lakh came from the Maharashtra state government (Mumbai is the capital of Maharashtra), 200 delegates attended and 65films from 23 countries were shown. Sadly for me, I could not attend. I was away in Singapore at that time, having relocated to the city-state in March 1996, to set-up the India-centric service of the satellite sports channel, ESPN. My first MFF was to happen years later. But once I returned to India, I made it a must attend annual event.

Prominent film journalist and critic Anupama Chopra wrote a highly encouraging piece in India Today, welcoming the festival. That was on 24 November 1997. Little did MAMI, and Anupama herself, know, that 17 years later, Ms. Chopra would be among a die-hard few that would rescue the festival from imminent extinction. MFF 2014, the 16th edition, would not been held, but for the generous support of scores of stars, production houses and funds, both Indian and foreign.


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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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