While the focus was on the renaissance in Marathi cinema, Gujarati cinema crept up with its own surprises. The sharing of a WhatsApp message by a colleague revealed that a Gujarati film called Bey Yaar was packing in audiences weeks after its release, when so many Bollywood films sink after the first weekend. This film also got a wide international release and has taken Gujarati cinema to another level.
Gujarat has a film industry which works in fits and starts - there were phases when actors like Kiran Kumar, Aruna Irani, Upendra Trivedi, Naresh Kanodia and Rita Bhaduri ruled the small film industry. The movies - like so many commercial Gujarati plays - were family melodramas, more often than not set against a rural backdrop, with a lot of song-dance and dandiya. These films did business in their own limited circuits and did not make much of an effort to step into the world outside. So, Gujarati cinema chugged along like this for a while, without any dramatic change in content or style, and never managed to grab a young viewership. This is pretty much the problem Gujarati theatre faces too - an aging audience; the new generation either does not speak the mother tongue well, or is not interested in the old-fashioned stories.
Finding a youthful voice: Filmmaker Abhishek Jain (left) with the cast of Bey Yaar. After the film released in 2012 and ran for an astonishing 16 weeks it even got a multiplex outing in Mumbai and did well commercially, the trend in Gujarati cinema moved to fresh and urban stories about young people
Then, a new wave crashed the shores, and one of its leaders was Abhishek Jain, an alumnus of Whistling Woods, who after working as an assistant director in Mumbai, returned to Ahmedabad to make his first film, Kevi Rite Jaish. He picked a contemporary subject, cast some young and some known names from stage and TV and made a film that appealed to young Gujarati audiences - about the craze among some in the Patel community for emigrating to the US.
After the film released in 2012 and ran for an astonishing 16 weeks - it even got a multiplex outing in Mumbai - and did well commercially, the trend in Gujarati cinema moved to fresh and urban stories about young people. Jain’s second film Bey Yaar was even more ambitious in its reach. Jain did away with all that was formulaic about Gujarati films - imagine a movie set in Gujarat about Gujaratis and no dandiya sequence! Divyang Thakkar from Kevi Rite Jaish was cast again, along with Pratik Gandhi, Kavin Dave and Amit Mistry from the Mumbai stage, and Bollywood Gujarati stars like Darshan Jariwala and Manoj Joshi.
There is an interesting scene in Bey Yaar, that many young men in Gujarat would identify with completely. Chintan’s (Thakkar) father Jitubhai (Jariwala) overhears him talking on the phone about a booze party his friends are planning. Gujarat is a dry state and access to booze takes travelling outside the state’s border or getting it from the local supplier - a risky proposition. The father understands that forbidding the boy from drinking alcohol would have no effect; it would be safer if he drank at home. He makes plans to leave home for the evening with his wife, so that the son can invite his friends over. He gives Chintan some money for drinks and is then so exasperated to learn that his son does not even know where to obtain booze, that he makes a call to his own secret supplier.
Jain also understands the Gujarati youth’s ambition and desire to make money - business is in a Gujarati’s blood. Chintan and his friend Tapan (Pratik Gandhi) want to invest in real estate and make a quick profit and to do this, they steal a painting from Jitubhai, which is precious to him, not because it was painted by a famous artist, but because it was a token of friendship. The boys get their artist friend Uday (Kavin Dave) to replicate the painting, and make a deal with an art dealer, Gandhi (Manoj Joshi), to let him have a share of their profits if he would lend them money to invest. Gandhi cons them by claiming the painting is fake, and Jitubhai’s story of friendship with the great artist M F Hasan (Husain would presumably have gotten the film into trouble) is a lie.
The friends now have to get the painting back and also fight for the honour of Jitubhai, who has been publicly humiliated through no fault of his. How they go about it - by making a junkie actor (Amit Mistry) impersonate an internationally renowned artist and show Gandhi dreams of fame and wealth - is a bit like Khosla Ka Ghosla, but fun nonetheless, with a bright and enthusiastic team doing its best.
Abhishek Jain is a talent to watch for. Meanwhile, other Gujarati filmmakers have also been experimenting with new subjects - Dinesh Avasthi’s Koi Ne Kehsho Nahin, for instance, picked a gay theme, which would have been unheard of a few years back; Raghuvir Joshi’s Happy Family Pvt Ltd, was about a rich family going to a place called Antillapur (wicked!) where the concept of money is unknown - hell for a Gujarati. There are a lot of very talented Gujarati-speaking actors, and the state is not short of scenic beauty. The media has already coined the word Gollywood. The time is right for Gujarati cinema to find its youthful voice.
Deepa Gahlot is an award-winning film and theatre critic and an arts administrator. She tweets at @deepagahlot