It's that time of year when hordes of wide-eyed, excitable, soon-to-be-sleep-deprived cinephiles emerge from the recesses of #FilmTwitter and descend on venues across the city for the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival with Star (taking place between the 17th -24th October). Lovably known as MAMI, the festival marks one of the few times when being a film buff is a title that carries some weight and for once isn't brushed off as having terrible priorities.
This is a time when people with a shared love for the big screen come together to watch strange and peculiar films without being judged for being either. A time during which we feel a kindred connection with all those who have that distinctive laminated lanyard dangling from their necks. A period during which the concept of 'exercise' becomes limited to repeatedly standing up for the National Anthem.
Work is missed, leave is taken, opinions are broadcast, booking systems are bitched about, friendships are formed, conversations are struck, and recommendations exchanged.
Ahead of this year's festival, we've collated the definitive list of MAMI hacks. A guide on how to survive, thrive and make the most out of the festival.
If you, like me, have serious FOMO, invest in an extensive three-hour exercise that involves going through the trailer and synopsis of each and every film to see what catches your fancy.
If French Cinema's your jam, or it's the Indian indies you're after, Scorsese's latest, or hidden gems from World Cinema… this is an undeniably fun add-to-cart exercise.
Once you've got your watchlist in place, some cool people nerds like me further split it up into categories like 'OMG Must Watch', 'Wouldn't Mind' and 'If There's Nothing Else'.
Film festivals favour the well-prepared. On the spot decisions are all well and good, but for a smooth experience you need to get ahead of the Book My Show booking system curve. With your wishlist in place, it's time to marry it with the schedule to figure out the logistics of how, when and where to see what. There will be clashes and you will feel angry Tweets bubbling inside, but on the bright side, you'll get to see great films either way.
If you've pre-booked a film, it means you have to be at the venue 15 mins before the start time, so factor that into your travel plans. Avoid ambitious location-hopping thoughts like 'I can make it from Andheri to Town in an hour, right?'. These tend to come back and bite delegates in the ass.
After talking to delegates from previous years, I've heard every sort of excuse – family wedding, serious illness, death in the family, and work from home requests. Just ensure your boss isn't a closeted Kore-eda fan who you may accidentally run into at the festival because #Awkward.
For the uninitiated, this is a pan-city festival with venues ranging from Andheri to Juhu to Bandra to Kurla to Colaba, and it can be quite daunting for first-timers.
First thing to know – on this rare occasion, Andheri is your friend. The majority of the festival is concentrated between two venues which are a few hundred metres from each other, PVR ECX and PVR ICON. Aside from the maximum number of screens in one location, the advantage here is that there are plenty of nearby restaurants and food courts for all your sustenance and general recovery needs.
Then there's the Regal Cinema (in Colaba) advantage. With over 1100 seats, many delegates will tell you the golden rule is to stick to Regal because it's rare that you won't get a seat (which is why this year a big-ticket film like The Irishman is only being screened there.)
It's going to be a long week so make sure you're rested and ready to go for what lies ahead. Be ready for a full week full of sleep-deprivation, 8 AM alarms, buckets of caffeine and more samosas and popcorn than is medically acceptable. Maybe watch some good old comfort films to make up for the barrage of hard-hitting cinema coming your way.
For newbies, how it works is that bookings for a specific day's films open the day before at 8 AM on BookMyShow. You just log in with your festival ID and access the system. For many of us, that means a daily 8 AM alarm to trudge out of bed and book the films we want to see before they get full up. The hot titles will sell out quickly but be rest assured, most films have multiple screenings through the week.
Understand that there are times the site may crash, especially on day one when the whole world is on it at once. But don't panic, just be patient, it always bounces back. Also, despite conventional millennial wisdom, raging on Twitter doesn't help.
If you ever get stuck with the booking system, a common hack is to haul ass to the nearest venue and book your tickets there. Also note, just because a film is booked out online doesn't mean there are no seats available. There are always some reserved for walk-ins.
Booking a film online means you're assured a seat if you're in the pre-registered queue 15 minutes before the start time. Yes, that means 15 minutes right down to the last second. Even 20 seconds makes a difference and you will lose your seat to someone in the standby queue who's probably been waiting much longer. For the big films, even if you're pre-registered you're advised to be there at least half an hour before.
Follow MAMI's social media handles. In case of any schedule changes, added screenings or new events, all updates and announcements will be posted on their social handles. Also, follow the official hashtag. Chances are no list of hacks will be as valuable as real-time updates from fellow delegates on ground.
Amidst all the running around and scrambling to watch as much as possible, people forget the emotional toll that comes with sitting through multiple films in a row. Many delegates will tell you they've had days of watching a series of tragic, depressing, and/or harrowing films back-to-back that have left them drained and desperate for a rom-com. So just be aware of the day of watching you're in for and try and balance it up where possible.
Once you've seen enough multiplex menus with popcorn at 400 bucks a pop or expensive #GourmetMichelinStarHowIsThisEvenCinemaFood, you realise you're going to have to unleash your inner Ethan Hunt and find ways of sneaking the good stuff in. Just try and stick it in the smaller pockets of your bag because the security guards are only so thorough.
Failing which, PVR Icon gives you access to the mall food court which is a Godsend in refuelling between screenings. Alternatively, the lane across PVR ECX has some quick fix street food options. Also know that every PVR venue has a free water cooler, so you don't have to keep buying water bottles. Locate it.
The snazzy MAMI festival bag is all you need to carry your festival survival kit in. That includes the basics like a powerbank and a jacket (you're spending the entire week in the AC, so you're going to want to keep warm). In addition to that, also carry drugs. No, not the kind 'cool kids' take 'enhance their world cinema experience', but simple Crocin. A few days into it and there's a high chance you'll be hit by the festival flu as a result of the exhaustion and temperature.
Earphones would also be advisable. It may sound silly/antisocial but it can be a useful tool during long wait periods to block out the repetitive cinema music. 2017 delegates famously developed a special hatred for the Secret Superstar album which played on loop around the venue.
Much like Mumbai traffic, long queuing is a sacred part of the festival experience. Find cool ways of passing time. You could always carry a book, read the catalogue, daily festival bulletin, or read reviews online. Beyond that, nothing beats talking to people, sharing stories, and trading film reccos. Last year saw one delegate watching a film on their laptop while queuing to watch a film at the festival. Efficient.
Despite having rigid hopes of watching as much as you physically can, after a point you have to just go with it. You're not going to catch everything you want to, you're going to hear about great films that weren't even on your radar, you'll watch things you regret. And it's okay. Aside from all strategies and hacks and plans, the aim is to just have a great week and enjoy yourself. So just submit to the festival and be prepared to take a punt on a random film or panel discussion. Sometimes you'll be bloody glad you did.
If there's one thing you take away from this list, let it be this. MAMI is famous for arguments breaking out amongst crowds and queues with people who don't get seats berating the event staff. People get so entitled passionate about what they want to see that they get angry and violent. Don't be that person. You're not owed anything and shouting will get you nowhere. Just follow the rules and you'll get a seat and if you don't, you don't.
*A big thank you to Harsh Desai who's been attending the festival for the past 9 years, for providing his inputs and helping crowdsource tips from other MAMI regulars.