A First Timer’s Guide To the MAMI Mumbai Film Festival

Between watchlist strategies, tatkal-like ticket booking and the mad scramble for food between shows, MAMI can be overwhelming. We help you ace it.
Mami Mumbai film fest
All images: MAMI Mumbai Film Festival

“Bro, did you see that yellow lens flare on the left vertex of the frame that formed a tetrahedron with the protagonist’s right eyebrow? I think it signified his deep sense of regret at not being able to confront his friend.” Or maybe this: “Isn’t it true that Sergio Leone films, with their elevation of mythic structures, their comic book visual style and extreme irony, are now perceived as signalling an aesthetic transmutation by a generation of artists and filmmakers?” When conversations like these start becoming commonplace, you know it’s that time of the year again. Hello, Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival. We’ve been waiting.


An opportunity for film buffs to enter a magical world of great movies from across the world, intense discussions, hurried scampering from one screen to another, and wolfing down an entire day’s sustenance in the ten minutes they have between two films—MAMI (The Mumbai Academy of the Moving Image) can be exhilarating. But it’s not all roses and daisies (replace with film reference of your choice). Your first time at the fest can leave you overwhelmed and exhausted. Fear not, though, rookie. We’ve got you covered to ensure you make the most of the movie week ahead.

Step 1: Make a watchlist strategy
The MAMI experience begins at least a week before the festival starts. As soon as the full programme is out, you ideally need to figure out your watch wish list. This happens in two stages. First, you make an unfiltered wish list of movies you definitely want to catch. Skip the big Indian and Hollywood films as you can catch them when they release. Make the most of the festival by vociferously researching each title and finding out its theme, country of origin and director. Once you have whittled it down to about 15-20 movies is when the real work starts, part deux of this painstaking process. You need to now filter each title by when it is being screened at which venue, and which venue you want to visit on which day. Don’t bother trying to do multiple venues on one day; it is just a waste of time unless you want to jog between the two PVRs in Andheri, which is not a bad option if you want to broaden the scope of movies you can catch in a day. Most people give up at four movies a day at most, but the real pros push themselves and catch a fifth. After which, they might as well spend the night on the cinema’s couch.


If you’re the sort who hasn’t done this prep work, fear not. Just being at the fest is half the battle won. Either you can submit yourself to a lucky draw of films, or go where the crowds are the thinnest.

Step 2: Book tickets for the ones that matter the most
Booking tickets is the only way you can guarantee a seat for a movie you definitely, 100 percent, HAVE to watch. But getting a ticket is like the tatkal system of the Indian Railways. You can only book up to four movies a day, and ticketing starts at 8am the day prior to the screening of a film. And the clincher: For most of the big films of the day, tickets run out in 45 seconds flat. I remember feeling super smug about walking in to a screening of I, Daniel Blake about 15 minutes before it began, while there were people waiting in the queue from three hours prior for a movie. I got begrudging respect from the crowd who acknowledged that I had succeeded where they’d failed.


Be wise and book tickets instead of spending precious hours on the theatre floors.

Step 3: Abide by the very extra etiquette to avoid getting a tapli
MAMI is a place for serious film buffs. They are serious about everything related to the movies—the directors, performances, cinematography, mise en scène, everything. Nowhere is the seriousness more serious than in the screening hall. I was at the screening of Call Me By Your Name in 2017, and the anticipation amongst the audience was palpable. Being a conscientious movie-watcher myself, I wanted to make sure that my phone was on vibrate mode, so I took it out just before the movie was about to begin. (Don’t know why I bothered to check because my phone has been on silent mode since the early 2000s). My phone hadn’t been out for more than a couple of seconds, but the light from it drew irritated sounds from all of my neighbours and the guy in the row behind me felt compelled to give me a tapli on the back of my head with a rude instruction to put my phone back in immediately. I was shocked, but the reaction of those around me made me feel I deserved it. I probably did.

Step 4: Believe in serendipity
The best thing about the Mumbai Film Festival (I suppose all film festivals but I’ve only been to this one so I won’t promise about the rest) is the sense of achievement you feel after having “discovered” an obscure film that you walk in to because you couldn’t queue up four hours prior to the screening of Mother! (true story). Chancing upon a Tunisian film that you didn’t even consider while strategising your watchlist and being blown away by it is such a satisfying feeling that in the moment you might even start believing in fate. Taking chances on films that turn out amazing is akin to a fleeting but fulfilling romance. It’s great.

Step 5: Make yourself a goodie bag to avoid passing out
The Mumbai Film Festival is a relentless deluge of cinema. There is no time for menial tasks such as eating, drinking, or even sleeping. Carrying a water bottle is a must if you don’t want to pass out of dehydration. You can fill it in between rushing from one screen to another if you have the time. Carry energy bars and light snacks that will fit in your MAMI bag. If you get half an hour between films, go to the nearest fast food outlet and get something handy. You’re not going to be eating too many thalis during this week, my friend.

And with all that knowledge in mind, go forth and conquer. Just be mindful of the aesthetic transmutations of this generation of artists and filmmakers.

Follow Sujay Kulkarni on Twitter.