Wooing back audiences – Marathi Movie World’s Renaissance

With fresh themes and novel premises, present day Marathi cinema has raised the bar for regional language cinema in the country. Marathi cinema’s transformation from producing run of the mill comedies to films that smack of intelligence and sensibility has taken regional language movies in India to an entirely different level. Whereas Bengali and Malayalam cinema had already carved a space for themselves by producing movies which were high on quality content, Marathi cinema till the previous decade was stuck in churning out laugh riots and family dramas which confined to the tried and tested formula of commercial success. The decade of 2000 however was the dawn of a new age cinema in Marathi language. As ‘hatke’ and critically acclaimed films began to be offered to the Marathi viewing audience, the entire landscape of Marathi cinema went it for a makeover.

Though there is no one film that can be credited with the revival of Marathi cinema, it is said that the entry of ‘Shwaas’(2004) as India’s official entry to the Oscars was the turning point which brought Marathi films into limelight. It generated a keen interest in the making and viewing of Marathi films and made corporate houses sit up and notice the presence of the Marathi film industry. Though ‘Shwaas’ could not make it to the final five of the Academy Awards, it set a precedent for the production of films that tackled socio-political issues with extreme finesse.

What followed was a brand of regional cinema that did not shy away from experimenting. This gave birth to a breed of talented actors and directors who have contributed no less to the flourishing of the Marathi movie industry. Viewers began to flock theatres; and multiplexes also began screening Marathi movies. Marathi youth who were previously disenchanted with cinema began to be drawn in by the bold and innovative subjects that film-makers took up. What drove movies towards better quality was richness of content, power of the script, unusual themes and a resolve to maturely portray the concerns of the rural populace as well as dilemmas of urban lifestyle.

Films like ‘Gabhricha Paus’ (2009), ‘Savarkhed: Ek Gaav’ (2004), ‘Jogwa’ (2009) talked about different concerns of the rural population. These brought to the fore serious issues like farmer’s suicides in Maharashtra, religious superstitions and their impact on people’s lives. Even subjects as serious as drought and famine have been given a very sensitive treatment in these films. The films ‘Dahavi Fa’ (2003) and ‘Shikshanachya Aicha Gho’ (2010) commented critically on the modern education system that accords more importance to rote learning than to knowledge. New Age Marathi cinema as it is also called empowered women on screen. Strong and independent women characters marked a paradigm shift from the portrayal of women as occupants of only the domestic space in Marathi films of the era of 1970s and 80s. Films like ‘Kadachit’ (2007), ‘Rita’ (2009), ‘Nital’ (2006), ‘Matichya Chuli’ (2006) and ‘Sanai Chaughade’ (2008) dealt with women protagonists who were shown to be self-sufficient and capable of defying archaic societal norms for want of freedom and choice.

The hallmark of the directors of this decade was that they were not afraid to talk and discuss the unconventional through the medium of cinema. Deep meaning messages were conveyed to the audiences in a simplistic manner as these films were not made on a spectacular budget. This however did not impair the production quality of these ventures. Film-makers also tried to revive the rich past of Marathi theatre, folk-art and music through films like ‘Natrang’ (2010) and ‘Bal Gandharva’ (2011). Natrang which brought much fame to actor Atul Kulkarni shows him playing an effeminate character of ‘nachya’ as he pursues his passion for Maharashtrian folk-art ‘Tamasha’. In the film, Kulkarni’s character is torn between his passion for folk-art and his family’s social prestige which suffers an imminent blow as a result of him playing the character of ‘nachya’. Other issues like corruption, political angst, political rivalry, personal struggle and victory have been captured very well in ‘Dombivli Fast’ (2005), ‘Zenda’ (2010) and ‘Mi SindhuTai Sapkal’ (2010) respectively. Commentaries on urban relationships and intricacies of urban life have been sketched in ‘Satchya aat Gharat’ (2004), ‘Mumbai Pune Mumbai’ (2010) and ‘Anandache Zhaad’ (2008).

This decade of success for Marathi cinema presented a perfect blend of both commercial and critical success. The icing on the cake came in 2009 when Paresh Mokashi’s film on the father of Indian Cinema ‘Shri Dadasaheb Phalke’ was selected as India’s official entry for the 82nd Academy Awards. This film was ‘Harishchandrachi Factory’. Even before this success, Marathi films had attained global recognition by winning audiences not only in Maharashtra and India but also in USA, UK, and Canada. Marathi films also made an entry in various international film festivals. This certainly widened the exposure and mind-set of film-makers who then got an opportunity to showcase their work worldwide. Valu was first Marathi film to be selected for The Rotterdam Film fest in Holland and Natrang was the only Indian film to be premiered at the MAMI film festival. Thus, even international audience noticed the vibrant and revived Marathi cinema.

As the content of Marathi films perked up, many corporate groups and production houses developed a keenness to invest in the Marathi movie scene. Eros Entertainment, UTV, UFO Movies, AB Corp and Mukta Arts have become active players in the business of Marathi entertainment. Besides this, Zee Taklies has continued to provide patronage to Marathi cinema since 2007. More and more Marathi youth are now entering the art of film-making. The Maharashtrian community shedding its old way of thoughts is now encouraging young people to get into the creative arts. As a result many young film-makers like Gautam Joglekar, Bipin Nadkarni, Prashant Pethe, Sanjay Surkar, Nishikant Kamath, Avdhoot Gupte and Sachin Kundalkar have arrived on the filmy scene.

The rise of multiplexes in urban centres has helped the cause of Marathi cinema as multiplexes give space to intelligent and sensible films rather than single screen theatres which cater to the masses. Multiplexes have also made movie-viewing a rather comfortable and leisurely experience and this tends to attract the middle class audiences towards regional movies. Today Marathi movies are frequently being released outside Maharashtra, especially in cities that have a sizable Marathi population. Earlier this segment of the public could watch a Marathi movie only on VCD/DVD or when it aired on TV. In places where Marathi films are not screened that often, Marathi youth have taken the initiative to form cultural groups which bring the best of Marathi cinema to its patrons. In the cultural capital of Gujarat i.e. Vadodara, ‘SwarGandha’ is one such group that screens three Marathi films in a year for its members. Such innovative ideas to increase the popularity of Marathi films have gone down well with Marathi people. Even non-Marathi speaking populace is showing interest in watching Marathi movies.

The ‘paisa vasool’ genre of films though has not completely diminished from movie panorama. But with the unrelenting and sustained movement towards new contexts in Marathi cinema, it will hopefully continue to enthral both the masses and the classes towards a quest for the best.

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