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Siraj Syed


Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for FilmFestivals.com 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. 

 

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Restored Pak-Indo classic at Jio MAMI’s 18th Mumbai Film Festival with STAR

Jago%20Hua%20Savera%2C%20Poster.jpg

by Siraj Syed

It was through the thoughtfulness of a WhatsApp group member that I came to know about a Press Conference being organised on the 29th of September by Mumbai Academy of the Moving Image (MAMI) to announce the 18th Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival. MAMI is a trust that was formed 19 years ago, and the trustees included Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Shyam Benegal, Amol Palekar and Sudhir Mishra. The reins are now held by Kiran Rao, who is also Mrs. Aamir Khan and Anupama Chopra (journalist, also Mrs. Vidhu Vinod Chopra). The prefix Jio stands for the telecom service provider, Reliance, owned by India’s richest billionaire, Mukesh Ambani, with wife Nita and daughter Isha on the Board of Trustees. The suffix, STAR, is for the TV channel chain.

Director-editor-producer Hrishikesh Mukherjee passed away a long time ago, and Benegal and Amol stayed with the brand for many years. Around two years ago, when the fate of the festival hung in the balance, a new set of industry professionals stepped-in. Out went Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group (ADAG), headed by the estranged brother, Anil Ambani and represented by his former actress wife, Tina Munim-Ambani, and in came Big Brother. That should care of finances, and if having Reliance as a partner (among many others) doesn’t, nothing can. So the show goes on. And I was expecting to hear from the organisers about this year’s affair anytime now.

As it happened, they chose to have a Press Conference in the middle of another film festival, Jagran, which is a more recent happening. Jagran began on the 26th and ran through 2nd. October. The WhatsApp message mentioned the time as 3 pm and the venue as Rang Mandir, Bandra. No phone number or email id was indicated. Moreover, it came only at about 1 pm. I called the MAMI landline number to confirm the time and place, since the name Rang Mandir was confusing. A ramshackle amphitheatre like open-air auditorium, it was a place where I had performed as an actor, in the 80s. Later, it was torn down, and that was the last I heard of it. Hardly the place where a star-studded press conference would be held! A woman named Richa answered, and told me that there was indeed a press conference scheduled that day, and that Rang Mandir and Rang Sharda were the same. The latter is a reputed hall-cum-hotel, that came at up just about the time Rang Mandir was demolished.

While it was sad that a regular attendee like me, a journalist who always gave wide coverage to MFF, was not informed or invited, I still decided to go for it. At Rang Sharda, the security staff was clueless about any Press Conference whatsoever. Driving around, I could not find any Rang Mandir in that area. That is when flashback came to my rescue. What if the Rang Mandir, attached to the Municipal park, opposite National College, had been renovated, and that was the Rang Mandir they had booked? It was a good 3.5 kms away, but I placed my bet and reached at 3.45 pm. Bingo!

A PR lady called Anisha Sengupta Yanger, who knows me, was seated at the reception. As I ran up the steps, she said she was part of an in-house PR team, and held out a Press Release. “On second thought, you are very late; rush in. I will email you the Release.” I told her about the Richa and Rang Sharda run-around, and she promised to look into it. I took my seat at 3.50 pm. All of 10 minutes later, the Press Conference was over. All I was privy to were repeated attempts by some fellow scribes to get producer-director Karan Johar to talk about several high-voltage controversies, and he gingerly side-stepping them. Then there was some routine talk of sections of the festival, with director Zoya Akhtar stating that times have changed, and she doesn’t face stereo-typing as a woman-director in cinema. Another probing question that could have raked-up controversy was about Pakistani films in the festival. There were none, Kiran, but she was reminded that there was the restores classic, Jago Hua Savera (Day Shall Dawn). More about this film below.

Post PC, I met Anisha again, gave her my card, and requested here to keep me posted. She assured me she would. Not a word has come, three days later. Post PC, a couple of journalists and I were craving for a cup of tea. We went up to the 7th floor, since others were heading that way, but drew a blank. Back to base, we heard somebody say that there were arrangements on the first floor. Indeed, there were, but not a word from the organisers. I rushed off to Cinépolis, 10 kms away, to catch Bawra Mann, a documentary on Sudhir Mishra, and to have a quiet word with him. Ironically, I had just come from a MAMI press conference, a trust with whi8ch he had been closely associated not too long ago. No press release came from Anisha or anybody at MAMI, so I have culled their website to check who said what. Information will be shared, as and when available.

Film-maker/writer/music director Vishal Bharadwaj, “Our Indian Excellence in Cinema award goes to film-maker Sai Paranjpye. Sai Paranjpye’s career has spanned over four decades. Her are milestones in Indian cinema. Sai’s cinema is defined by certain humanity. Her films didn’t have oversized heroes and villains. She told slice of life stories about common people. Her work continues to inspire generations of filmmakers.”

Director-writer Anurag Kashyap, “This year, the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival with Star will include a new programme, Country Focus. This year the country in focus is Turkey. The festival will screen 10 films from Turkey, which represent the different strains of cinema in the country. The selection will include films of the Turkish New Wave and directors like Zeki Demirkubuz and Nuri Bilge Ceylan. It will also have classics like The Bride (Turkish title: Gelin), from 1973 .”

 

Film-maker Karan Johar said, “We are also thrilled to announce a special award this year called the MAMI MasterCard Best Indian Female Film-maker 2016 award. This award for 15 lakh (1.5 million) rupees is also for Indian films only. This award aims to strengthen the female voice in Indian cinema. Over the last five years, we’ve made some progress here but it’s much too little. The representation of both genders onscreen can only benefit with the inclusion of more female voices. This award is a step toward that.”

Festival Director, Anupama Chopra said, “Our section for children Half Ticket will be open to the public on certain days. Our experimental film section is now called The New Medium. It includes some very exciting titles that offer new ways of seeing film. We also have a Word to Screen Market, which puts book publishers and content creators into the same room. And our book award now includes books on cinema in Hindi also.”

 

Of particular interest is the Pakistani film, Jago Hua Savera. Famous Pakistani film-maker and director Akhtar J. (AaeJay) Kardar, kid brother of Indian legend A.R. (Mianjee) Kardar and cousin of Pakistani cricketer Abdul Hafeez Kardar, made this film in 1959. It had Bengali actress Tripti Mitra in the lead, with many first-timers, and was shot in East Pakistan (now BanglaDesh, over 48 days, at the banks of the river Meghna. Based on a 1930s Bengali story by Manik Bandopadhyaya, Padma Nadir Majhi (Boatman of the River Padma), it had dialogue and lyrics by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, and music by Indian maestro Timir Baran. A.J. spent his childhood in Mumbai, with his brother, who was already an established film-maker and studio-owner.

Faiz and A.J. often worked together after Jago Hua Savera. A.J. also made a documentary on the great sub-continent poet, Iqbal, and several others in Pakistani painters. He even made a film on Inder Sabha (1972). A great Indophile, A. J. had made a film on Budhha, in the 80s, and Mianjee had asked me if I could help market that in India, since there was little interest in the subject at home. After serving on Pakistan’s National Film Development Corporation (NAFDC, to avoid confusing it with India’s NFDC), he moved to the UK, where died in 2002, aged 76. Jago Hua Savera was the only feature he ever made, but for a docu-feature, and though it was a commercial disaster, it won eleven international awards, including one at the Moscow Film Festival. It was also Pakistan’s entry at the Oscars.

 

Day Shall Dawn’s reappearance on the big screen has been brought about largely by Anjum Taseer, son of Nauman Taseer, the businessman who produced the film. Anjum tenaciously dug out the prints from storage in France, London and Karachi. Thereafter, screenings at the Three Continents festival in Nantes in 2007, and New York in 2008, followed. In 2009, painstaking restoration was begun, frame by frame. The film was screened in Kolkata, at the ICCR auditorium, as part of a tribute to Faiz, on his birth centenary during the Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival, in January 2012.

Jio MAMI's 18th Mumbai Film Festival will be held across various venues in central and suburban Mumbai, during October 20-27. Registration fees range from Rs. 2,000 to Rs.1,600.

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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 FilmFestivals.com 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.


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