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Marathi cinema goes modern

In an exciting phase, Marathi cinema has risen from a creative slump to offer some fantastic subjects that don't lack the technical finesse of a big Bollywood production. Read on for our pick of some of this year's best films at the Nave Valan festival at the NCPA this month

Marathi cinema is in an extremely exciting space right now. The variety, technical mastery and scope of ideas is just astounding," says a passionate Deepa Gahlot, Head, Programming (Theatre and Film), National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA), Nariman Point, when asked why the Nave Valan Festival, a showcase of the best Marathi cinema of the year, now in its third year, was conceived.


A poster of the film

One look at this year's schedule for the festival, scheduled to begin today, and you know she's right.
Two of the five films that will be showing at Nave Valan this year have been nominated for the National Award, and almost all of them deal with subject matters that are a far cry from the crude comedy that Marathi cinema had come to be associated with about six years ago.

"Shwaas was the game changer," offers Gahlot, talking about how the film's selection as India's official entry to the foreign film award category at the Academy Awards in 2004 changed the way Marathi cinema was looked at.

"That's when Marathi cinema came into focus. Before that, there had been a bit of a slump in terms of content, which was mostly comedy, directed at the rural audience."

The arrival of actors and directors from Marathi theatre into cinema has changed all that. "This film proved that Marathi films too, were capable of world-class storytelling. The synergy of theatre and cinema that's happening right now has really brought sophistication into Marathi cinema, and that's what Nave Valan attempts to showcase."

Here's a look at our pick of this year's films:

Shala (School)
(105 mins with English subtitles)
Cast: Dilip Prabhavalkar, Nandu Madhav, Jitendra Joshi, Santosh Juvekar, Devika Daftardar, Ashwini Giri and Amruta Khanvilkar
On: Sunday, 3.30 pm and 6.30 pm, October 9

Directed by Sujay S Dahake, this film about adolescence and nostalgia, set in India during the Emergency in the 1970s, the festival premieres with this show.

Dahake says he was struck by the universality of the theme of the best-selling novel of the same name (2004) by Milind Bokil. "For one, I was attracted to the idea of the target audience -- not too many Marathi filmmakers have looked at this age group (14 year olds). Secondly, it's a bestselling novel."

The story is one of love, set against the backdrop of children in Standard 9, and takes the viewer through the changing societal and cultural structure of the time, as seen through their eyes.

Dahake is quick to add, "But it's not a film for children. It's just a story told through their eyes, and will appeal to people who were in school in the '70s and have been through the restrictions on their speech and movement."

Challenges included creating the '70s look for the film, which included scouring villages that didn't have the ubiquitous Coke, Pepsi and Tata Docomo advertising signs.

The film also has a Spanish director of photography, and a Hollywood technician on its roster, giving it technical finesse. Little wonder then, that Shala was very well received in London, where, laughs Dahake, "I was mobbed for the first time!"

Balgandharva - Sound of Heaven- The Story of Balgandharva
(120 mins with English subtitles)
Cast: Subodh Bhave, Suhas Joshi, Kishor Kadam, Avinash Narkar, Sagar Talashikar, Anand Abhyankar, Vibhavari Deshpande, Prachiti Mhatre and others
On: Tuesday, 6.30 pm, October 11


A still from the film

The idea of showing the film to a non-Marathi speaking audience is what excites producer Kedar Kadam most. "Although we have released the film commercially, and had screenings in Montreal, Cannes and New York, this further widens the scope of the film, so I'm really looking forward to it," he says.

Balgandharva is the never-before-told musical biographical drama of Indian theatre legend Narayan Rajhans, alias 'Balgandharva' meaning 'Singer from the Heaven' (1888-1967). Born in a poor town in Pune, Maharashtra, he was famous for his roles of female characters in Marathi plays, since women were not allowed to act on stage during his time. Admittedly, Kadam is fascinated by this aspect of Rajhans's personality. "The film is an attempt to show what he did for Marathi music and theatre at the time. His portrayal of women characters too, was very believable. He actually looked extremely beautiful," Kadam feels.

The interesting bit is that Rajhans never approached what he did from a purely professional point of view. "He spent much more than he earned. It was more out of a pure love for music and theatre than anything else. In fact, as the film shows, a huge amount of money was spent on sets, perfumes, and sarees," Kadam explains.

He too believes that Marathi cinema is going through an interesting time, one that's putting technical mastery at a premium. "The challenges on this film were to get the costumes and the look of the era just right, but we've managed. Marathi cinema is very technically strong at the moment," he says, citing the example of Shala. "It looks like a European film! The way we now conceive and shoot the film, makes it international in the way it looks, while still maintaining the regional, traditional, down-to-earth flavour of it."

Also catch Champions, directed by Ramesh More on October 10 at 6.30 pm, Taryanche Bait (An Island of Stars), directed by Kiran Yadnopavit on October 12 at 6.30 pm and Baboo Band Baaja, directed by Rajesh Pinjani on October 13 at 6.30 pm.

Admission passes are available at the Box Office for members and the Public.

There will be a session everyday post the show with the cast and crew of the films. Call 66223737
.

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