In 2004, Shwaas, a Marathi film was not only India’s official entry to the 2004 Oscars, but was ranked sixth in the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film category. It won the National Award that year too, 50 years since a Marathi film had last earned it. And then in 2009, Harishchandrachi Factory, another Marathi movie was selected as India’s official entry to Academy Award in the Best Foreign Language Film category. In the last couple of years, Marathi films have also been at the forefront of National Film awards. Not only are the budgets going higher, the new breed of Marathi filmmakers are leaving no stone unturned to venture into unchartered territories, creatively as well as technically. Probably the biggest change Marathi cinema has seen in the past one year or so, is the interest Bollywood is showing in it. While Akshay Kumar and Ashwini Yardi co-produced 72 Miles Ek Pravas, Riteish Deshmukh too chose to turn producer with Balak Palak, a comedy-drama on the subject of sex education.
The changing scenario of Marathi cinema, believes filmmaker Mahesh Manjrekar, is because of the advent of new filmmakers who are keen to experiment with newer subjects. He explains, “The biggest threat to Marathi cinema is Hindi cinema, because everybody in Maharashtra speaks and understands Hindi. It’s not like that in the South, as people there don’t understand Hindi, so for them, Hindi cinema isn’t a threat. So to stand up against Hindi in Maharashtra means one has achieved a lot.” Manjrekar goes on to say that when it comes to Marathi cinema, there was never a dearth of good filmmakers. “We’ve always had great filmmakers and good films. In fact, if you compare the old Marathi movies to today’s Hindi cinema, the Marathi movies will fare much better. But Marathi cinema went through a phase where directors started copying Hindi cinema, which was a foolish thing to do as everyone watches Hindi films in Maharashtra anyway. Now, with the advent of new filmmakers who are willing to experiment and give something new to people, the audience is flocking to watch Marathi films in theatres,” he says.
While Balak Palak dealt with sex education, Sanjay Jadhav’s recently-released Duniyadari is about an individual’s journey to find the reality of life. The subjects that Marathi cinema is dealing with currently, reflects the change in society and mindsets. Manjrekar believes that the audience is coming to watch Marathi films, because unlike Hindi cinema that is hell-bent on making remakes of South films and Hollywood, Marathi cinema is trying to come up with original scripts. Mandar Shinde’s Dhyaas, the first Marathi film to be shot on a 3DCC company in 7.1 Dolby Atmos sound, deals with the dying art of circus. “The person who started the first circus in Maharashtra was a Maharashtrian, but how many people are aware of that?” asks Shinde. The filmmaker shot the entire film in 29 days in Chennai and Thailand. “I believe that if the content of the film is good, people will go and watch it, irrespective of the language,” he adds.
Looking towards Marathi
When Riteish Deshmukh decided to turn producer, it wasn’t a Hindi movie that he chose to back, but a Marathi film called Balak Palak. The reason for this, says Deshmukh, was because he felt that script’s subject demanded an explored space of Marathi cinema. And now, he’s not only producing more Marathi films, but even making his acting debut in one. “I think Marathi cinema has been doing well for sometime now. Yes, producers and filmmakers have figured out that if you make interesting content, there is an audience that will love watching Marathi films. It’s the content one needs to concentrate on,” says Deshmukh. While the actor says he will act in Marathi cinema as and when the role appeals to him, he will definitely produce more Marathi films.
Other B-town actors like Akshay Kumar followed suit with his Grazing Goats production 72 Miles Ek Pravas, that was screened at the London Film Festival recently. Newer markets always attract newer investors. And going by the number of new producers wanting to get their share of the pie in Marathi cinema, the latter certainly seems to be going places. Not only Kumar and Deshmukh, even Vikram Bhatt’s production house is venturing into Marathi cinema with a film titled Ek Doosrey Ke Liye. With Zapatlela 2, Viacom 18 Motion Pictures, too, recently made their foray into regional cinema. Explaining the venture as a four-point agenda, Ajit Andhare, COO, Viacom 18 Motion Pictures said, “The first reason is strategic. We’re part of a broadcasting group, so we have interest in regional broadcast. So what we’re hoping to exploit or leverage is our own requirement in terms of satellite demand itself, which is in addition to the theatrical revenue that the film can generate by itself.
Also, Marathi as a consumer base offers both kinds of opportunities -- so you can tell mass entertainment stories like a Balak Palak or Zapatlela 2. At the same time, one can tell sophisticated and evolved stories too. So from a storytelling point of view, it offers a great landscape to tell various kind of stories.” The third point, he says, is that given their vast experience in Hindi cinema, they can always innovate. “We made Zapatlela 2 in 3D. It gives us an opportunity to be leading innovations in this market. Also, cinema flourishes where there is a great pool of talent. Marathi industry has always been a great resource for talent. That, therefore, is an additional reason that makes the Marathi market very attractive for us,” he says. With developments like these, it’s no wonder that Marathi cinema seems to be flourishing. But Manjrekar warns that it’s too soon to celebrate. “What we’re looking for is for the non-Marathi audience to be interested in Marathi films. If they come to the theatres, Marathi cinema will really thrive. The day is not far. Slowly, but surely, people are warming up to Marathi cinema,” he concludes.