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Marathi Cinema In Limelight

By Nikhil Gajendragadkar

Maharashtra has a lot to cheer with this year’s National Film Awards. Marathi film ‘Kaasav’ (Turtle) bagged the Golden Lotus for the Best film. The prestigious trophy was won by the Marathi Film Industry after nearly two years. This apart, it also went on to win seven more awards. For many years, these awards were dominated by Malayalam and Bengali films, thus making the 64th National Film Awards extra special for both Marathi films and Maharashtra.

‘Neeraja’ a drama based on true events got the juries’ nod as the Best film in Hindi. Akshay Kumar’s selection as the Best Actor for Rustom, comes as a big surprise. However, these awards in a way have come to Maharashtra too. ‘Kaasav’ is directed by Sumitra Bhave and Sunil Sukhtankar. In the past, the duo has bagged several awards including six Silver Lotus, in previous editions of National Awards. The Golden Lotus is a crowning glory for them. ‘Dashakriya’ was adjudged as the best Marathi film and it also collected award for Best Adapted Screenplay. ‘Ventilator’ brought in Best Director’s award to Rajesh Mapuskar. This film also bagged Best Editing, Best Video Recording and Best Sound Mixing awards. ‘Cycle’ won an award for its Costume Designing.

These awards signal a paradigm shift in the way films are made in Marathi. From the very beginning, Marathi or Maharashtrian people have dominated the film industry. Dadasaheb Phalke, father of Indian Cinema, was a Maharashtrian. Prabhat Film Company of Pune was in the forefront since the silent era and gave many meaningful, socially relevant films. Director V Shantaram shaped Indian cinema with his brilliant ideas in the use of camera and editing and also treatment of the film.

Many Marathi people were applauded for their craftsmanship in the field of cinematography, production design (sets), editing etc. Raja Paranjapey was another revered director in Indian film industry. He along with famous poet G D Madgukar created films which are regarded as masterpieces even today. Socially meaningful yet entertaining films were their forte. However, that period now appears to be a distant past.

Soon Marathi films became so-called ‘rural’ and revenge stories were produced in abundance with ‘Tamasha’ (a folk art form, kind of a theatre) thrown in for entertainment. Thereafter came the phase of mindless comedies. And this is a reason why Marathi films could not win any important award at the national level after 1953, since President’s Gold Medal for ‘Shyamchi Aai’ (meaning Shyam’s mother-an autobiography of freedom fighter Sane Guruji), directed by journalist-activist Acharya PK Atre).

In the last 10-15 years, one can sense that Marathi cinema is changing. Though stories are still urban oriented, filmmakers are trying out new subjects. In 2003 ‘Shwaas’ won the National Award for the Best film. ‘Deool’ (2011) and ‘Court’ (2014) repeated the feat. This year, the number of awards has gone up dramatically for the Marathi film industry. 

‘Kaasav’ tackles the problem of depression in a sensitive way. Renowned theatre and film actor and a psychiatrist by profession, Dr Mohan Agashe is also the producer of the film. The storyline was his suggestion. The film brings a subject considered taboo, into main stream media.  Dashakriya (a ritual performed on the tenth day after a person passes away) takes a look at the disparity, inequality in our society and selfishness of individuals. ‘Ventilator’ revolves around a person on the death bed and reactions of his family and friends. It can be termed as dark comedy. Though some films have an American or European influence, such an impact is leading to better films in Marathi, and the trend should be welcome. In fact, it shows how Marathi filmmakers are boldly embracing new subjects and coming out of family drama — tear jerker routine topics.

As ‘Neeraja’ is based on true events it did get an award as expected. Yet Sonam Kapoor who portrays the protagonist did not get the award. Surabhi Lakshmi was adjudged the Best Actress for a Malayalam film, which deals with the single parent phenomena. ‘Pink’ with its feminist subject, got an award in the category of best film on ‘social issue’. Kannada film industry had to console itself with an award for music only. Apart from a regional language film section, Tamil films failed to win any important award.

Akshay Kumar is a very successful actor of the day. Nearly each of his films collects at least Rs.100 Crores at the box office. He is not known for his histrionic prowess. His lead role as Rustom is in many ways stereotypical. The portrayal lacks contours and complexity. The plot, which had the fairly predictable twists and turns, is based on the notorious Nanavati case in the late 50’s. ‘Yeh Raste Hain Pyaar Ke’ (1963) starring Sunil Dutt and ‘Achanak’(1973) having Vinod Khanna in the lead role and directed by Gulzar were also based on the same case. Perhaps patriotism, although superficial, shown in Rustom may have tilted the decision in Akshay’s favour.

A film is collaborative art and product. It is an expensive art. Nearly all regional, art house films are struggling to get exhibition space. In every language, mainstream or commercial films find ready acceptance in all major theatres or screens. Without popular support and money, different, artistic films cannot survive. While ‘Neeraja’ is a Hindi film, it still was not widely released as say ‘Dangal’ or ‘Fan’ or ‘Bajrangi Bhaijan’.

The scenario in Marathi is no different. Of late, while multiplexes do give Marathi films an outlet, yet majority screens and prime time is dominated by commercial Hindi films. ‘Sairaat’s success last year was an exception. ‘Nat Samrat’ collected few crores of rupees and made headlines. But this does not happen with every Marathi film even if it had a good subject. Box office collection of Dangal is enough to produce nearly 30-40 Marathi films. And remember, Raj Kapoor had famously stated: “a producer cannot survive on awards”.

‘Ventilator’ did good business in a limited sense. As leading Hindi actress Priyanka Chopra produced the film, money fortunately was not a problem. ‘Kaasav’ is yet to be released and we will have to wait to see how the Marathi spectator responds. Was ‘Dashakriya’ released? No one remembers. Attracting young Marathi crowd to Marathi films is one of the challenges faced by this industry. Many more like Ajay Devgan (he had produced ‘Vitti Dabdu’ in 2014) and Priyanka need to come forward to support artistic films. Besides, Marathi filmmakers must get theatres to showcase their work. Then only will Marathi film industry regain the past glory, else this year may well turn out to be just ‘one of’ the events. —INFA

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