2013 was witness to something that has never been achieved before: a Marathi film – Sanjay Jadhav’s Duniyadari – grossed more than Rs 30 crore. And the film, produced by Zee Talkies, is still going strong.
Other films – like Ravi Jadhav’s Balak Palak (BP), Mahesh Kothare’s 3D Zapatlela 2, Sameer Vidwans’ Time Please, Kedar Shinde’s Shrimant Damodar Pant, Aditya Sarpotdar’s Narbachi Wadi and Satish Rajwade’s Premachi Goshta – kept the cash registers ringing. Over 10% of the 65 Marathi films released made significant profits. So it would be safe to say 2013 was a good year for Marathi cinema. It shows not only do audiences throng to theatres now to watch a Marathi film, they also eagerly await one.
More importantly, producers have now mastered the art of promotion and distribution. When Zee Talkies produces a film, it obviously uses its channel to advertise it. But other producers too, have understood that to earn people’s appreciation, a film needs to be promoted, and promoted well. That is probably why the Marathi film industry seems to be flourishing.
However, it would be an injustice to judge Marathi cinema merely on the basis of its bank balance. A film’s success is not just about whether it is a hit or a flop, it is also about its quality, and Marathi films have scored on that count too. A new breed of directors, though small in number, has not hesitated to experiment. Box office numbers are not their only concern, and this has given hope to film connoisseurs and audiences alike. The fact that there are films that did not succeed at the box office as much as some of those mentioned above does not make them any less successful.
2013 kicked off with Ravi Jadhav’s enchanting and thought-provoking film Balak-Palak (BP) (meaning “Child/Children-Parents”). Jadhav’s previous film, Natrang, had caught the attention of spectators and critics alike, and BP justified the anticipation it carried. This film deals with the subject of sex education. When a group of teenaged students begin to experience attraction for the opposite sex, they have no clue how to deal with it. This is something they have or can get very little information about, mainly because they cannot talk to anyone, especially their parents, about it. Had this topic not been handled with care, BP would have ended up being a cheap film for cheap people. But Jadhav has balanced sensitivity and humour perfectly.
Satish Manvar’s Tuhya Dharma Koncha? (“What’s your religion?”) tells the story of a tribal family struggling to survive, and their experience and self-discovery of religion and religious fanaticism. That such a film was made is a feat in itself, as its subject is controversial, to say the least.
Other films that must be mentioned include Mrinal Kulkarni’s Prem mhanje Prem mhanje Prem asta, Sachin Pilgaonkar’s Ekulti Ek, and Ratnakar Matkari’s Investment. But the major letdown for Marathi cinema was Amol Palekar and Sandhya Gokhale’s We Are On, Houn Jau Dya. The film was supposed to be a tribute to Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Basu Chatterjee but it turned out to be nothing but cheap double-meaning jokes, and displayed the wane of a renowned director.
Films in 2013 were more commercial than experimental. Most of them did not deal with new subjects, as compared to those made in the decade previous to this year.
The most encouraging aspect of Marathi cinema in the recent past is the impact it has made at the national level. Sandeep Sawant’s Shwaas won the National Award for best film in 2004, half a century after the last Marathi film to earn this honour, Pralhad Keshav Atre’s Shyamchi Aai.
Since 2003, Marathi cinema has experienced a purple patch. The last ten years have seen films like Mangesh Hadwale’s Tingya (the best Marathi film in the last decade, in my opinion), Umesh Kulkarni’s Vihir, Rajeev Patil’s Jogwa, Satish Manwar’s Gabhricha Paus, Ravi Jadhav’s Natrang, and Rajesh Pinjani’s Baboo Band Baaja, to name a few.
These films dealt with farmer-suicides, the coming of age of an adolescent boy, dated customs in rural Maharashtra where a family donates its son as a servant to God, to be dressed as a woman; the tragedy of a man working as a eunuch in a Tamasha, and the struggle of a mother who wants her son to study, as opposed to the father who wants his son to follow in his footsteps and play in a street band.
Other films included Balgandharva, the biopic on renowned stage artist Narayan Sripad Rajhans, who popularly known as Balgandharva for his heavenly singing, and Umesh Kulkarni’s Deool (Temple), a satire on commercialisation of faith, which won national acclaim.
Earlier, I mentioned the boldness of new directors to experiment. That boldness has rubbed off on producers as well, as is evident from the list of films coming up in 2014. Nagraj Manjule’s Fandry, a hard hitting film about rural traditions and challenging the caste system, earned much appreciation at this year’s Mumbai Film Festival (MFF – organised by the Mumbai Academy of the Moving Image (MAMI)) and the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa. It also won the award for best regional film from the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI, short for Fédération Internationale de la Presse Cinématographique).
Renowned actor Subodh Bhave’s debut directorial venture is based on a musical play Kattyar Kaljat Ghusli. A biopic on Lokmanya Tilak, too, is in the works. Sujay Dahake, who was widely acclaimed for Shala, is working on Ajoba, and with Urmila Matondkar starring in it, it has earned much curiosity.
This list shows new directors have gone back to their roots. With a few exceptions, most of Hollywood is caught up in technical stunts and breath-taking visuals. Not just Marathi films, but even world cinema would struggle to match computer dominated stunts because of their budgets. So Marathi cinema’s strength lies in its content, subjects based in Marathi ethos that have universal appeal. Today’s younger generation seems to have recognised that.
Let Bollywood compete with Hollywood. Marathi directors are better off dealing with meaningful topics, without the burden of a budget hanging palpably around the neck. This has allowed them to make honest cinema. And it need not be underlined that an honestly made film has more impact on the audience. The limited budget is, in a way, a blessing in disguise.
Meena Karnik is a freelance journalist, publisher, and a film critic. She has translated the award-winning book Bitter Chocolate, and is author of Gautam — the biography of ace glamour photographer Gautam Rajadhyaksha.