Mahasatta: A morally relevant tale for our troubled economic times
revival: marathi cinema
Young, debutant directors infuse fresh life in a languishing Marathi filmdom

Box-Office Biggies

  • Ankush Chaudhury and Sachit Patil’s Saade Maade Teen, a remake of Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, grossed about Rs 4 crore
  • Umesh Kulkarni’s Valu fetched Rs 3 crore
  • Mangesh Hadwale’s Tingya made money,mustered fans, bagged numerous awards, got screened at Cannes and is now headed to the Oscars as an independent entry

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Subjective Notes

 

  • Love in old age: Uttarayan
  • Commuters’ woes: Dombivli Fast
  • Taming of the bull: Valu
  • Workers’ plight: Mahasatta
  • Girl Child: Urus
  • Sexual exploitation: Dohaa
  • Primary education: Jinki Re Jinki
  • Infertility: Ek Dav Sansar Acha
  • Reservation: Joshi Ki Kamble

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Shining Lights


Young turks of new Marathi cinema: (From left) Nishikant Kamath, Umesh Kulkarni and Mangesh Hadawale

 

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In 2003, two retrenched workers of Tata Power set themselves on fire outside Bombay House. Anant Ganpat Dalvi and Akhtar Khan committed suicide after leaders of the Tata Hydro Employees Union refused to include their demand, and that of over 70 other temporary workers, for permanent jobs in the company. The incident made headlines in its time but was forgotten soon after. Till now, when Marathi filmmaker Ramesh More decided to make it the subject of his searing full-length feature film, Mahasatta. "There are thousands of Khans and Dalvis in our midst, who're on the brink of getting scorched," says More. "I felt it was necessary to bring their story to the public."

Mahasatta is outstanding in the way it addresses and stirs our collective consciousness. It recreates the heartlessness of the new economic order, the betrayal of the expelled workers by the company as well as the union, their desperation. However, it is not just another stern, plodding, didactic pamphlet on a serious social issue; it's also inventive, edgy, engaging storytelling. Shot almost entirely with hand-held cameras, the film's shaky images brilliantly parallel the instability and precariousness of its protagonists' lives. Made on an unimaginably meagre budget of Rs 38 lakh, it has been nominated as one of India's competition entries at the International Film Festival of India in Goa and is slated for commercial release next month.


Urus: Honest mirror of a social milieu

Quite different in spirit but comparable in ingenuity is FTII graduate Umesh Kulkarni's delightful maiden attempt, Valu (The Bull). The film, about the taming of a wild bull in a small Marathi village, is an allegory, the bull representing free spirit and individuality.

 
 
It once boasted of stalwarts like V. Shantaram and Master Vinayak, but in the '70s Marathi cinema came to be associated largely with the bawdy comedies of Dada Kondke.
 
 
Simultaneously, it's a self-reflection on filmmaking; the villagers' attempts to catch the bull are being canned by a documentary filmmaker and they interact blithely with his camera. "It's about my own experiences of shooting documentaries in Maharashtra's interiors," says Kulkarni. Made on a budget of Rs 1 crore—amassed with loans from families and friends—Valu has already had a successful box-office run of over six months. "Collegians who'd never seen a Marathi film saw it in big numbers," says Kulkarni.

Mahasatta and Valu are part of an exciting new trend in Marathi cinema. This year has thrown up a string of such films, rooted in, and honest to, their contexts, exploring a wide range of themes and reflecting fiercely individualistic sensibilities. "We can become universal while being rooted in our own culture and by telling our own stories," says Kulkarni. One such story is Shekhar D. Naik's simple and sensitive Urus, which traces how even progressive parents get caught up in the orthodoxy around them while bringing up a girl child. "Our films have to be relevant, responsible to contemporary India," says Naik.

Marathi cinema is showing many efforts in that direction. Pushkaraj Paranjape's Dohaa, based on H.M. Marathe's novel Kaleshar Pani, is an intensely dark tale of a mother and daughter whose lives are ripped apart as they fall prey to sexual exploitation. Sachin Kundalkar's Nirop (Taking Leave) is a quiet, tender portrait of relationships between a group of friends getting redefined on a trip out of Bombay to Konkan. Chandrakant Kulkarni's Kadachit is a psychological drama while Rishi Deshpande's Jinki Re Jinki, set in rural Maharashtra, perkily traces a teacher's efforts to get a truant kid to school.

Together, these films have marked a new star turn for Marathi cinema. It may have once boasted of stalwarts such as V. Shantaram, Master Vinayak and Bhalji Pendharkar but that was a long time ago. Nor did commercial Marathi cinema benefit much from the arthouse films of Jabbar Patel (Sinhasan, Umbartha), Jayu and Nachiket Patwardhan (22 June 1897), Vijaya Mehta (Smriti Chitre), Amol Palekar (Bangarwadi), Sumitra Bhave and others. Rather, in the '70s, it came to be associated largely with the bawdy comedies of Dada Kondke and was stuck for a long while in the "double entendre" groove. It also suffered due to poor marketing and distribution, and proximity to Bollywood, which cast its long shadow over Marathi cinema.

It was in 2003 that Sandeep Sawant's directorial debut Shwaas, an emotional take on a young boy with eye cancer and his doting grandfather, revived interest in Marathi cinema, even among non-Maharashtrians. Nominated as India's official entry to the Oscars, it also found box-office success. "Shwaas opened a door for independent Marathi filmmakers," says More. It was followed by commercially successful films like Sudesh Manjrekar and Atul Kale's De Dhakka, inspired by Little Miss Sunshine and critically acclaimed ones like Amol Palekar's Anaahat and Chitra Palekar's Maati Maay. However, the most exciting films are independent productions, by debutant directors, be it Shwaas; Nishikant Kamat's rendering of commuter woes, Dombivli Fast; Bipin Nadkarni's sensitive love story about two old people, Uttarayan; or this year's other big hit, Mangesh Hadawale's Tingya (budget: Rs 21 lakh!), on the emotional bond between an old, ill bull and a boy.

But even as bright young directors are galvanising Marathi cinema, the fear is they'll eventually migrate to Bollywood. Right now, though, most are sticking to their roots. More is working on a film on street kids. Naik is making one based on P.L. Deshpande's Mhais (Buffalo). ABCL is making Kulkarni's next film, Vihir, on an adolescent's view of life and death. "I find I can express myself only in Marathi," he says. No one's complaining.

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