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A Storehouse For Applause

In no small way, Marathi films have caught the ­mainstream’s attention, and are sprinkling it with nuance

A Storehouse For Applause
Nana Patekar in a still from Natsamrat
A Storehouse For Applause

Marathit sangitlela kalat nahi ka?
Ki English madhe samjau?
(Don’t you understand Marathi?
Do I have to explain in English?)

—Archi, now an iconic female character in Marathi cinema, from Sairat

The king of romance, peddler of family dramas and the guru of feel-good, Karan Johar, buying the rights of a film dealing with gruesome honour killing, caste wars and real politics? That’s the power of Marathi blockb­u­s­ter Sairat. A Disney-like ­Dharma­ Productions is reported to be planning to remake it in Hindi. Sairat (Wild), a love story on the surface, but a sca­­t­hing commentary on caste ineq­u­­ities deep down, amazingly won both ­cri­tical as well as mass acclaim. It broke all ­records at the box office and made waves among the non-Mara­thi aud­ience too. The songs composed by Aja­y-Atul were played at Ganesh Chaturthi, Navratri and every other public fun­ction in the state. ­Whether­ a film like Sairat, with its very Marathi rooting can ever be rem­ade in Hindi or in any ­other­ lan­­g­u­­­age, is another story, but the fact that it was screened over ­Hindi and Holly­­w­­­­­o­o­d­ films at multiplexes in Mumbai does spell good times for Marathi ­cin­ema.

Johar is yet to work out the details but there Bollywood stars and producers have already started tapping the Marathi cinema industry. Priyanka Chopra’s Ventilator, Ajay Devgn’s Vitti Dandu and Akshay Kumar’s 72 Miles-Ek Pravas, are some Marathi films produced by Bollywood stars in the recent past. The Nana Patekar-sta­rrer Natsamrat also made waves. In addit­ion to this were Riteish Deshmukh’s Lai Bhaari and Shreyas Talpade’s Poshter Boyz, where both acted in as well as produced the films. Govind Nihalani’s Marathi directorial venture, Ti Ani Itar (She and the Others) based on a play by Manjula Padmanabhan, is also nearly ready. “Currently, the best space to make meaningful cinema is the Marathi ind­­u­stry,” says Nihlani. “My as­s­­­ociation with Marathi films dates back to the first experimental film that I co-produced with Satyadev Dubey (and the then NFDC) called Shantata! Court Chalu Aahe. Now I am making a film because there are good actors, good subjects, makers are willing to experiment with new mater­ial­­ and there is an audience ready for it. The generational shift of young filmmakers and audience in the past few years has hel­ped.”

Rinku Rajguru as Archie in Sairat

Rajesh Mapuskar, who, after having worked in Bollywood, made Ventilator in Marathi with Ashutosh Gowariker and Priyanka Chopra on board, agrees. “We are reaping the benefits of all the work done by writers, directors and producers a few years ago. They made quality films within a budget of Rs 75 lakh to Rs 1 crore,” says Mapuskar. “Investors are interested beca­use of the growth potential. Though the expression is strictly Marathi, the presence of Bollywood and its marketing strategies help in attracting attention. People still call me because Priyanka is associated with the movie.” He believes that after  his film Shwaas won the National Award for the best film (President’s gold medal) in 2004, a different kind of energy was infused into Marathi cinema and many filmmakers ventured into making films on all kinds of subjects – rural, urban, literature-based, realistic. Soon the numbers started showing too. From 30-odd films in 2004, the number went to over 50 in 2010 and has now reached more than 100 films per year.

“It is an important indication that theatres showed Sairat instead of Hindi movies. It is really a golden period for Marathi cinema where many kinds of films are being made,” says Amruta Subhash, who was brilliant in Killa and Astu, and in Anurag Kashyap’s Raman Raghav 2.0. “That Priyanka Chopra produced a Marathi film before a Punjabi film says a lot. And she chose a film like Ventilator, driven by good content,” she adds. “Then there is a separate Filmfare for Marathi now. It is a great sign people are looking to do regional cinema.” What’s ref­reshing is that no subject is taboo—Katyar Kaljat Ghusli, a musical film on a sangeet natak written decades ago; Fandry, a film about a Dalit boy whose family is entrusted with killing pigs; Yellow, a true story of a girl with Down syndrome who swam in the Paralympics; Deool, a film that questions God and religion and politics around it; BP, a film on school children trying to watch an adult film, and of course Court and Killa.

Marathi cinema, fed by regional theatre and literature, has produced many gems in the past, but the entry of new producers like Zee, which made two of the biggest films of this year, Natasamrat and Sairat, has fired the market. “Everyone is getting on the Marathi bandwagon and that’s worrying, but in Marathi the script is the hero,” says Nikhil Sane of Zee films. “Three generations of directors, starting with Mahesh Manjrekar to Ravi Jadhav, and now Nagraj Manjule, have made sure people come looking for a story.” With that, distribution has become easier. “Take the example of my film Astu,” says Subhash. “We won awards for the film but because of challenges in distribution, it was not seen by many people. With producers like Zee that has changed.” Along with the so-called art films, many ‘formula’ films, such as Mumbai-Pune-Mumbai, Lai Bhaari, Dun­iyadari and Timepass, have also been hits.

(Top) Jitendra Joshi and Ashutosh Gowariker in Ventilator (below left) a still from Jaundya Na Balasaheb (below right) a still from Avinash Arun’s 2014 film Killa

But isn’t the number of hits still few for an industry producing over a 100 films each year? “Yes, the number of films and kinds of films are plenty but the success ratio is small, barely five or six films can be called hits,” says Mahesh Manjrekar, who recently made Natasamrat, Me Shivajiraje Bhosle Boltoy and Kaka­sp­a­rsh. “Currently everybody thinks they’ll make money. But producers are getting fooled by the government subsidy, satellite rights and a promise of huge returns,” he adds.

Girish Kulkarni, one half of the Umesh-Girish duo that gave films like Deool and Vihir, says the big positive from the ­increase in number of films is that it creates more employment. “Quantity has an ­adverse impact on quality. The eligibility criteria get lowered and it becomes easy to become writer or director.” He ­recently made Jaundya Na Balasaheb (Let it go Balsaheb), a political satire.

The crowding of films has an obvious imp­act on the business. Though it’s easier now than before, a big Bollywood film can still push the Marathi film to some odd hour on the multiplex. Sachin Purohit, who produced Disco Sannya says splitting of screens means losses for everyone – quality or no quality. “The industry already has an overdose of creativity. But the business part of it is yet to be tackled,” says Nanubhai Jaisinghani, a veteran producer of Marathi films. He says there is no room for more than 40 Marathi films in a year. But going by the frenetic pace, nobody seems to be listening to his advice. Among the fans, the buzz about Ti Ani Itar and Zee’s upcoming romcom Ti sadhya kai karte” (What is she doing these days) has already gone Sairat.

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