Anupama Chopra on Balancing Life as a Critic and Festival Director
“We are working on many things…” says Anupama Chopra who is the festival director of the biggest film festival in India. She with her army has started a one of a kind inclusive Film Club where cine-goers need not wait for an entire year to catch their favourite films or attend masterclasses by talented people from the film Industry.
They’re already marching in the right direction having just devoured La La Land starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, at a special screening in Mumbai, much before its official release.
Q: MAMI Film Club is one of a kind as we do not see an extension of a film festival running all year round.
Anupama Chopra: We launched this in May this year with a conversation between Sir Ian Mc Kellen and Aamir Khan. The idea for us before we started all of this was to create an on going property because we want to be engaged with the filmmaking community and the cinephiles all year round rather than just doing it for a week. Last year when we took over the festival, we did not have the budgets to do this as we were barely able to put the festival together. Hopefully, going ahead with 2017, we would be able to do monthly things. Honestly, it is too hard for us to wait a whole year.
Q: Starting with Sir Ian Mc Kellen, to Brahman Naman and now screening Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling’s La La Land through the film club. The selection is extremely eclectic.
Anupama Chopra: We have always said that MAMI is an inclusive film festival, so our only criteria is quality. It can be a film from any language, a master class by any talent. We just believe that the experience should be a quality experience for people who love the movies.
Q: You’ve always said that a film critic is not here for applause, but now that you have this avenue for screening films even after the festival, are you aiming for some kind of applause?
Anupama Chopra: I’ll still say no. I am just not that person. We literally started meetings for 2017, the day after 2016 festival was done. We do a festival wrap, reports to understand where we can improve. I am not going to lie, it feels great when people walk upto us and say nice things about the festival. We got a lot of it this time, but are we waiting for it? No... we just move on and start working on the next one. There is nothing else that you can do because we need to keep improving. We can’t take a breather and say well done to each other. We do not have the luxury for patting each other on the back.
Q: How are you balancing between being a film critic and a festival director. Does it get on your nerves?
Anupama Chopra: Yes, it does. I stopped reviewing films from the 1st October till Rock on 2 released and I have been trolled and slammed hideously on social media because I did not review Shivaay and Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. People on the internet are saying that I am doing this because I am friends with Karan (Johar) and anti-Ajay (Devgn) or vice versa. There are all these conspiracy theories coming out. Nobody understands that these films released the day after the festival ended and by then I was completely knackered and had to take a holiday.
These two things are very different things. As a festival director my job is to find audiences for these movies and as a critic it is my job to advice audiences of what I think is worthy and what not. Sometimes the wires do cross, what are you going to do? It is what it is. It is not comfortable for me to be married into the film business either but what are you going to do?
Q: You have traveled the world to attend various film festivals. Now that you are designing the Film Club, did you negotiate for points to take the best of both worlds?
Anupama Chopra: For us, it is a huge learning curve as I am a journalist and not a festival person. Smriti Kiran is a producer and a journalist and Kiran Rao is a filmmaker. We sometimes travel together, like we went to Berlin and sat on meetings. Smriti and another colleague went to TIFF to learn from them. It is imbibing from the best as those guys have done this for 60-70 years and they are the masters. But you cannot translate directly. Something that might work in Berlin, might not work in Mumbai. We always have to customise things that we think work elsewhere, like we do not have a venue like Berlin, Cannes or Toronto does. It is a grand dream of mine that before I die, the festival will have a venue.
Q: Last year you confessed that you were blamed for ‘Bollywood-ising’ the festival. What’s the update this year?
Anupama Chopra: I did get asked that question a lot before the festival, after the festival no one said anything. I don't know what that means. The truth is that Bollywood has been very active in the festival than it has ever been before. That is conscious and by design. If that means that we are Bollywood-ising the festival, then be it. I love Bollywood and i think it is the biggest brand to come out of India and we would be stupid to not engage with one of the most amazing film industries in the world. What sense does that make to have a festival and not include Bollywood. I have never understood that.