Bollywood stars including Akshay Kumar and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan turned out for the opening of the Mumbai Film Festival (October 14-21), which is celebrating its 16th edition despite almost being shut down a few months ago due to lack of funding.
Saved through donations from filmmakers, stars, industrialists and audience members, the festival put on a glittering opening night ceremony at the historical Chandan Cinema in Mumbai’s Juhu district.
Almost losing the festival appears to have convinced the Bollywood fraternity to show unprecedented levels of support. Sponsors and partners including HBO, Rentrak, Pinkerton, Bajaj Group and Mahindra Rise have also recently come on board the event.
Kalki Koechlin played compere for the evening, while Rai Bachchan inaugurated the festival and Kumar presented a lifetime achievement to veteran Bollywood diva Helen. Rai Bachchan and industrialist Niraj Bajaj also presented Catherine Deneuve with a lifetime achievement award.
Also present in the audience were stars such as Ranbir Kapoor, Deepika Padukone, Sanjay Suri and Rahul Bose; filmmakers Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Raj Kumar Hirani and Anurag Kashyap; and industry figures such as PVR Cinemas’ Ajay and Sanjeev Bijli, UTV founder Ronnie Screwvala and UTV studio head Siddharth Roy Kapoor.
Susanne Bier’s Serena, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, played as the opening film.
The evening kicked off with a speech from Shyam Benegal, chairman of the Mumbai Academy of Moving Image (MAMI), which organises the festival. “Nothing succeeds like success and this year’s MAMI stands testimony to that. On behalf of MAMI, I thank everyone who made our dream to make this year’s festival happen despite all odds, a reality,” Benegal said.
Benegal also paid tribute to Indian journalist and critic Anupama Chopra who helped rally the Bollywood troops to support the festival. “It was Anupama Chopra’s relentless pursuit to bring together the film professionals to not only help run but also finance this iconic festival for the first time ever,” Benegal said. “Not only that, contributions also came in the form of crowd funding and I hope this new form of support continues for years to come.”
Despite the last minute preparations, the festival has pulled together a programme of 185 films from over 65 countries, including three competition sections. UK director Peter Webber is heading the jury for the International Competition, which also includes The Lunchbox director Ritesh Batra, Canadian documentary film director Ron Mann and film curator Ian Birnie.
The India Gold jury includes Chinese actress Bai Ling, UK producer Colin Vaines, film preservationist Serge Bromberg, Sri Lankan filmmaker Prasanna Vithanage and Serbian filmmaker Goran Paskaljevic.
The festival closes on October 21 with a screening of David Ayer’s Fury, starring Brad Pitt and Shia LeBeouf.