With the newly-released Zombivli (2022)—the first-ever Marathi zombie film—it seems Marathi filmmaking has made a lot of progress. Right from the make-up, VFX to the camera angles. Director Aditya Sarpotdar had conceptualised the film in the Covid lockdown, hoping to create something that had not appeared on the Marathi big screen.
While watching some foreign zombie movies on OTT, he got impressed and decided to bring zombies in his film. However, he had a condition. He wanted to retain the typical Marathi flavour, unlike what Go Goa Gone (2013) had done—mix a Goan background with Russian zombies. “Then, I learnt that the Covid spread was more in Thane, Kalyan, and Dombivli near Mumbai. On the other hand, the new settlement growing outside Mumbai faces a lot of social problems. Some places have a serious water problem, and in other places a tech company is causing serious air pollution. I included these facts in the script, and have called this genre, ‘social zombie horror’.” For the venue, Sarpotdar thought of Dombivli, which is rife with these problems. Plus, it rhymes with Zombivli. In the film, Sudhir moves to a Dombivli slum from Pune with his pregnant wife, after getting posted at a water purification factory. But soon the slum dwellers fall ill due to a virus outbreak, which the protagonists feel was engineered by the factory owner to expand his water tanker business. “The film was made keeping in mind actual social problems, which the audience appreciated as well,” informs Sarpotdar.
Zombivli reminded me about Zapatlela (1993). Director Mahesh Kothare had added shades of horror to family-packed entertainment films Thirtharat and Dhadakebaaz. In Zapatlela, he made full use of a puppet called Tatya Vinchu created by India’s top ventriloquist Ramdas Padhye. Kothare says the film was first dubbed in Hindi as Khiluna Ban Gaya Khalnayak and in Gujarati as Jhadti Lidho, and that even today, has die-hard fans.
However, special care was taken to make the movie viewable to children, who are dissuaded by parents from watching horror films. “I wanted everyone, including children to enjoy the film. So, I made a comedy horror film, so people either just laughs or laughs with fear. We focused on this thought while writing the script, which is why Tatya Vinchu is popular with kids even today,” says Kothare. However, the sequel Zapatlela 2 (2013) is one of the last Marathi films you can see the use of puppetry. To millennials and Gen Z today—that watch the most movies, and form a large chunk of the digital generation—that is obsessed with computer and mobile games, they are no longer attracted to puppets or even find them relatable.
Some good social references and horror films made in Marathi are visible in Lapachhapi (2016) by producer Jitendra Patil and director Vishal Furia. In rural Maharashtra and Rajasthan, there is such tradition that if you sacrifice a girl, the harvest will be good. This film was an attempt to highlight this thought centred on blind faith. Patil, who is the film’s producer, says, “I used to watch horror films like The Omen, etc., and felt if I ever become a filmmaker, I will make such a horror film. One day I met director Vishal Furia, he told me about this horror plot with a social angle. I agreed, but I wanted the film to be shot in a huge empty field. We looked all over western Maharashtra for four months for the right location, and finally found a place where there was a house in the farm but there was no good connectivity by road, lighting, mobile network, but we shot there. Plus, horror films are always shot at night, but we shot Lapachhapi completely during the day,” says producer Patil.
One thing is clear that suspense and horror films are rarely made in Marathi. What could be the reason for this? When I asked Ek Ratra Mantarleli director, Kumar Sohoni, he said that horror films don’t have a repeat audience. “When viewers get to know what happens after the suspense, they are no longer interested to have that experience again,” says Sohoni. Marathi film director Ramesh More says there has been a lot of diversity in Marathi films, but in horror film making, the budget in special effects increases and there is not much market for such a film. “I am now going to make a horror film named Shoobhoot. The digital generation has been watching such horror on social media and I am sure they would love to see something similar in a Marathi film as well,” More concludes.
(The writer is a Mumbai-based Marathi and Hindi film journalist. Views expressed are personal.)